Learning to SOAR
Most of us have come across the term 'SWOT Analysis' used to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. But there's another acronym – SOAR – that can help you move forward with a gospel vision.
“I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit, I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened for me and there are many who oppose me.” (1 Cor 16:7-9)
It could be argued that what the Apostle Paul gives us here is an early Christian form of SWOT Analysis. Strengths (time spent with you is important), Weaknesses (fleeting visit not helpful), Opportunities (wide open door), and Threats (many oppose me).
As Paul considers his plans, all under the Lord's sovereignty (Jas 4:13-17), he considers the various aspects that shape his decisions.
SWOT can be a very useful tool to focus a leadership’s thinking on the complexities they face without getting paralysed or overwhelmed with too many points to consider. And it is realistic – not everything then or now is rosy (note again that final phrase), even when God is so very obviously at work. The ‘T’ of SWOT is always the reminder that we are engaged in a spiritual fight.
But there is a weakness with SWOT because it ends on a negative. For pessimists like me that plays too strongly to our ‘Guardian Voice’ cautiousness. Though Paul recognised the problems, he was not paralysed into inactivity. But, partly because of using a SWOT analysis of difficulties, too often I am.
One way to overcome the problem is to use a different form of analysis – SOAR.
What is SOAR?
It starts, as before:
What is someone good at, or what are we good at? That’s familiar territory. Then it goes straight into:
The open doors that God is providing.
The tendency in talking about opportunities is that the cautious people (like Martha and me) immediately worry about things. What will this change involve? Is there a lack of volunteers? How difficult will it be? What is the cost and the consequence?
Instead, the SOAR approach says: “Okay, let's think, if we had the money, or the right people, or the obstacles weren't there, how would we develop this opportunity?” It also helps us to think through the answer to the question SWOT doesn’t raise: “What’s the cost of not taking this opportunity?”
Looking at the opportunities here encourages a positive mind-frame in a negative, sinful world. You may remember the advert jingle of yesteryear, “We’re the bank that likes to say ‘Yes!’.” Too many Christians belong to an organisation that says, “We are the church that usually says ‘No’.” SOAR can perhaps help us to stop always adopting that approach, and replace it with something better. The analysis then moves on to:
Our hopes, vision, and dreams. This aspect of a discussion recognises that people aren't machines – it consciously acknowledges the importance of emotional intelligence, and it helps articulate the deep longings of the believer’s heart which seeks to serve the Lord faithfully. It encourages a “What if…?”, but always acknowledging, “In God's goodness.”
One way to get this part of a conversation going would be to ask the questions: “What would a great joy look like to you?” and “What would you love to see?”. As we give freedom to discuss hopes, we can also uncover the layers of latent fears, anxieties, and discouragements. As Christian leaders we can help believers to put these into the hands of the Lord who can do, “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…” (Eph 3:20). Then comes:
What good things might happen? What can we do now to use our strengths; to exploit an opportunity; to bring about what we long for as we develop the people God has given us?
Remember: the visionary Apostle Paul dared to hope – and then concretely plan – to get the gospel to places it hadn't reached. For him that meant Spain (Romans chapter 15:8). What might it mean for you and your church?
SOAR is not a denial of problems in reality nor is it wishful thinking. In 2 Corinthians chapter 1, Paul exemplifies it – his weakness has become a Strength, for then God’s power rests on him and he knows God’s comfort. This then opens Opportunities to comfort others.
Paul later found himself way out of his depth but this came about so that he might rely on God, and that his hope (Aspiration) would be more fully placed on him. And as God's people pray, the Result is thanksgiving to the Lord.
SOAR can be used to help a leader to listen more effectively to an individual – to a staff worker or a volunteer so that they can be developed to their full potential. Appraisals can benefit from the kinds of dialogue all this opens up – a more positive and appreciative method for releasing the gifts God has given to his church1.
It can be also used by a team to think about future direction.
Recently we used it to think through an ambitious potential hire of a staff worker asking the question that SOAR prompts, along the lines of, “If we did take on this person, we could also do…”
Too often I have led the team by too quickly looking at the bottom line of what we can afford, or by anticipating the members’ meeting and the count of those who might disagree, or the management issue of implementing a problematic change. But we freed ourselves a bit so that we could get a stronger feel for that ‘great door for effective work’. I trust that, in God’s good time it will bear much fruit. I am glad that SOAR got us going on it.
Over the years I think in our church we have become better at managing things – developing processes, structures, and better ways of doing things. You may have too. It is a key aspect of good leadership (Acts 6:1-7).
But SOAR helps – enormously – with that other key ingredient to better leadership: vision. Inspiring people to hope for something better. Many of us struggle with that aspect of leadership.
Maybe a bit of SOARing as well as SWOTing may help your leadership team grow and provide a slightly different feel to get the church’s visionary juices going.
1. Sarah Lewis, Jonathan Passmore, Stefan Cantore, Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management: Using AI to facilitate organizational development 2nd Edition (Kogan Page, 2016).