It’s Time for a SWOT Analysis

Dr. James Emery White
Dr. James Emery White

If you’ve spent any time in the marketplace, you know what a SWOT analysis is. It’s when you examine the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats a company faces in the effort to find and experience growth.

This is a strategic time for business to engage in a SWOT analysis. They are emerging from the pandemic while still very much operating from within it. And for almost every business, COVID-19 has changed at least some aspect of what the future may hold.

Churches and other non-profits are no different.

Now is the time to know not only where you are coming from but what you must overcome in order to seize any and all opportunities that will arise in the months and years to come.

So, what might a SWOT exercise reveal? Let’s imagine a church that was running 300 before the pandemic, a blend of contemporary and traditional in style, five people on staff, in a bedroom community of a suburb of a medium-sized city.

Strengths. The typical strength of such a church is community. Often involving families going back two or three generations, the pandemic only made this tie all the more revealed and treasured. Financial stability is also often present. Long-term pastorates, if the church itself is healthy, are also a hallmark.

Weaknesses. Such churches are often turned inward. That’s why, after let’s imagine a 50-plus year existence, it’s still only 300 or so in attendance. It’s been suggested that if a church doesn’t break the 200 barrier in the first five years of its existence, it probably never will. Why? It’s clear the culture wasn’t one of growth or vision, and soon, that becomes the church’s DNA. Another weakness is that being thrown online was probably well outside of its wheelhouse, much less comfort zone, and it will want to stop that as soon as possible despite it being the future of every church. Finally, it more than likely had a Sunday-centric approach to what it means to do and be church, and left to itself, will return to it once the pandemic is over.

Opportunities. The pandemic threw this church online—which means, it has a golden opportunity to stay there and nurture and develop its online footprint. The pandemic also gave them a taste of what it meant to have to innovate; they can keep that innovation going. They were forced to break out of a Sunday-service mentality into a seven-day-a-week missional approach. That, too, could be maintained and expanded. Finally, their online presence may have led to reaching/attracting new attenders. When that comes, they can embrace the newcomers and use that as a catalyst for further growth.

Threats. These include the members of the church who are resistant to change, resented everything the church had to do (and was important to do) during the pandemic such as online offerings, and will be suspicious and even threatened by new attenders that might “appear” after the pandemic due to the online outreach. Also, it has been well documented that Christians have been more susceptible to disruptive and divisive conspiracy theories during the pandemic that may infect the church even more when all are gathered together. All to say, new divisions erupted between people over the last year or so that didn’t exist before.

So, what does a SWOT analysis like this do for a church?  

First, it obviously helps you think through strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. All four areas are extremely strategic to be aware of. As is often noted about a SWOT analysis, it helps peel back the layers of the organization.

Second, it aids decision making. It will assist in making the kinds of decisions that capitalize on strengths, shore up weaknesses, seize opportunities and ward off threats. It also allows your decision making to be informed by “strategic fit.” In other words, is what you are thinking of doing attainable on the basis of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Third, it forces your thinking to include internal and external factors. That is, if you do a SWOT analysis thoroughly. A good SWOT analysis would look at both. In regard to a business, internal factors would include personnel, finance, manufacturing capabilities and marketing. External factors would involve macroeconomics, technological change, even legislation, culture and changes in the marketplace at large.

For a church, internal factors might include current budget, membership, size of campus, present staffing and church structure. External factors might include the demographics of the surrounding community and future growth projections.

All to say, now is the time to use a good SWOT analysis to gauge where you are, and then use the same analysis to inform where you want to be. 

James Emery White

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I Believe” is now available on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.


Originally published April 15, 2021.