A SWAP review is best done by a team. Ideally, this will be some form of your church leadership, including the board and/or staff members. The main thing is to include people who want to be involved and are going to help you move things forward. If at all possible, you need to avoid obstinate and critical people. You don’t need naysayers to be part of this phase.
Once you’ve got your team in place, take several evenings in a compact period of time to work together. Stretching it out with long gaps between meetings tends to break momentum and causes a loss of synergy. Sometimes the process may take months to complete, but you need to have focused concentration to properly evaluate and discuss the information, so, if possible, take an overnight retreat somewhere to get started or to wrap it up… And if you can get an outside facilitator, consultant, or another seasoned pastor to guide your time, even better.
When your team is together and focused, it’s time to do the work of processing and determining how to move forward. This is where the SWAP review comes in. As a variation of a more popular business model used to determine the feasibility of a project or product called SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), a SWAP review allows you to have group discussions based upon the information you’ve gathered, to draw some non-threatening conclusions, and to funnel those conclusions down to clear and viable action points. This is what it looks like:
Strengths — Make a list of your congregation’s strengths. This includes what you are doing well and the areas God appears to be blessing. Also list where you have traction or momentum and the ministries that are bearing fruit. Include the healthy values you already have in place and the opportunities you have that can be leveraged and built upon.
Weaknesses — You then need to list the areas where your church is struggling. What obstacles are you facing? What challenges are looming ahead? What is not working? Are there blind spots you’ve been avoiding? Where do you have value gaps—unhealthy values that are hindering you or healthy values that are absent? Which things need to be addressed immediately, and what things can wait?
Applications — You must then move beyond theory and discussion, putting down on paper what you are going to do in light of the information you have gathered, prayed over, and discussed. You will begin to list specific action points that need to be addressed. Don’t make your list too long. If it is long, prioritize and break it down into time frames. It’s also helpful to determine who is responsible for what applications and then talk about how you are going to follow-up down the road.
Principles — You are now at the point of actually determining the values for your congregation. More than just making a list of applications that deal with programs, ministries, people, or policies, you must define and establish a list of values that need to be cultivated within the church. Your list should include existing values that need to be reinforced, expanded, or built upon. You also might need to consciously eliminate, tweak, or move away from some values that are presently part of the church’s culture. You will need to determine if there are any new values the church should aspire to that can be cultivated over time. Put together your list of principles (values), and whittle it down to between four and seven.
After finalizing your list of values, you need to define exactly what those values mean and look like within your church. This will include a definition, Scripture verses, and maybe even practical examples of your values in action. Don’t just assume people will have the same understanding you do of the values you list.
Once you have sampled the soil of your church culture, reflected on its composition, and processed the results by walking through a SWAP review, you are ready to begin instilling your values into the life of the church. But that’s a topic for next week…
--from Chapter 11 of Dirt Matters: The Foundation for a Healthy, Vibrant, and Effective Congregation
Next week, I will offer insights from Chapter 12, “Breaking Ground.”