Today, honest leaders are expressing constant exhaustion as an ongoing challenge, even around the SED. It is no wonder because when asked what they are working on personally and/or organizationally, the typical response is a laundry list of goals, objectives, programs, and ministries.


In the book, The Discipline of Execution its authors, McChesney, Covey & Huling, explain how the law of diminishing returns scientifically applies to goal setting. Here is how it works.

When we set 2-3 goals, in addition to our normal day-to-day responsibilities, we can focus and achieve with excellence 2-3 of the goals we set. That is a great outcome for a year.


If we set more goals, such as 4-10, we will only achieve 1-2 of them with excellence. Our results are already being diminished.


If we set 11-20 goals in addition to our normal day-to-day routines, statistics prove that we will achieve none of them.  Wow!  No wonder our leaders are exhausted and feel defeated. We are trying to do too many things at once.


How does this work out in real church life?  It’s great to set a few goals to achieve but they either need to be personal, corporate, or a combination. That doesn’t mean 2-3 in each of those areas.


Simple math questions:

  1. If I set 2 personal goals for personal growth this year in addition to my normal routines and I am working on 3 organizational goals with my team, that is 5 combined goals. How many might I achieve with excellence? Answer: Stats prove no more than 2.

Here is the hard question:  So, which ones get dropped?…personal goals or organizational?


  1. If I am working on 3 overarching church goals, 3 departmental specific goals, and 2 spiritual growth plan goals, and 4 personal targets, that is 12 total goals. How many will I achieve with excellence? Answer: Stats prove none will actually be completely accomplished with excellence. All the activity looks good and the initiative sounds good, but the actual results are hollow.


Here is my question for many of our leaders who are personally hard-wired with a results-orientation:  Are we going to believe the science or our own ideas about goal setting?


So how do we manage this with discipline in our church?

  • Set only 2-3 church-wide goals per year. This will require prioritizing and focus. It may mean that some projects wait a year until everyone can help achieve them.
  • Instruct pastors and department leaders to focus their efforts on only 1-2 of those goals, as well as, 1-2 personal goals, but no more than 3 in total. Then hold them accountable to this focus.
  • Ask each leader what he/she will do personally or in their area over the year to help everyone accomplish the organizational goals.
  • And accumulate this information centrally to determine if collectively that will actually accomplish the goals. If not, then solicit some to change their focus for this year.


I would rather accomplish 3 things per year for each of 5 years successively than live with flat and failing results each year for 5 years because we attempted to accomplish them all simultaneously.


  1. Eric Bartell on July 5, 2018 at 2:49 pm

    Thank you Paul. This is thought provoking and good information. The science is forcing me to rethink attainability. Which, in turn, impacts our planning and expectations. I’m looking forward to the consistency of success.

  2. Bill Holland on July 7, 2018 at 2:04 pm

    Thank you Pastor Paul:
    this is hitting close to home for me. if you would could you speak on this at our October leadership meeting…
    so often depression follows lack of success in fulfilling our goals or expectations.

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