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PLOT Analysis: Playing to the Potential of Churches in Rural Development

SWOT is a commonly used tool for helping organisations understand themselves in organisational analysis and strategic planning. We look at the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats that the organisation faces and this helps us to look at its identity, and to decide what needs to be done.

A common way of using SWOT is to try to overcome some of the constraints by addressing weaknesses. This in practice means to some degree changing the nature (and therefore identity) of the organisation to overcome the weaknesses. This is most commonly done through training etc. coming from the opportunities. This is the basis of much Capacity Building. Weaknesses are somehow seen as something to be ashamed of, but we are being strong in facing up to them!

SWOT is often used to try and help an organisation be more acceptable and able to work with outside partners or donors.

Churches do not however work in the same way as NGOs and other similar organisations. In doing a SWOT analysis with churches we often find contradictions and difficulties. The same or related characteristics come up in both the strengths and the weakness section, or characteristics may appear as weaknesses that we feel should be in the strengths. Through using SWOT with both NGOs and churches I have feel that SWOT is not entirely appropriate for churches and have sought to work on a modified tool. In particular I have felt that the aspect of trying to change the nature and identity that results from most implementation of SWOT is not appropriate.

I have taken recently tried to take a different approach with churches, namely looking at Potentials and Limitations rather than Strengths and Weaknesses. This seems to give us a much clearer idea of the realistic situation of the church as a vital body. It is not an organisation like a business or an NGO, though some churches are in this country registered under both categories. It is fundamentally a body with a membership that operates effectively at a number of different informal levels in most cases.

The methodology is not very different but the differences are I believe significant. The resultant analysis may be called a PLOT Analysis!





The analysis can be applied in basically the same way as SWOT. The thinking may need to be on a different level, as potential must look a bit deeper than strengths and weaknesses sometimes do. The resulting picture is however somewhat different from the outcome of a SWOT with different types of characteristics coming up, and no real room for something to come in both the potentials and limitations columns at the same time.

Once the boxes are filled in the way I use this is different from SWOT. In SWOT a lot of emphasis is put on weaknesses as if they are something to be ashamed of. They are not good for our relationship with partners or donors. Looking at them in this way means that you try to overcome weaknesses and do away with them. You focus capacity building mainly on this. In PLOT you use the analysis to face up to reality, and to use the picture of the church to get an understanding together of where the church fits in to the wider scene and what its strategic position is as an imperfect human organisation. It is a tool that is particularly useful for determining which relationships are going to work, and how to develop those relationships in a spirit of true understanding and partnership. You deal with Potential and Limitations in different ways:

  • Potentials are those areas that point to what you can expect to be able to do well. They need to be worked on and developed, not just accepted with a pat on ones own back (as strengths sometimes are). They point to what the church could be doing well and where it has a strategic advantage. In the analysis it is however recognised that potential has not yet been reached. Developing potentials then becomes the focus for capacity building, with the focus being on how to bring the Opportunities to strategically realise the potential. The potentials are what the church brings to a partnership.
  • Limitations are those things that the nature of the church point out as being the reality. Rather than trying to overcome them, and thus try to change the nature of the body, they are accepted as the background for planning and help planning to be realistic. They are also things that you may look to in others to compliment the church in partnership. Partnership of this sort recognises that you don’t have to do everything yourself!

What are the advantages?

  • It does not try to treat the church in the same way as an NGO, as a constituted organisation
  • It becomes less threatening than SWOT
  • It becomes less related to personalities and the resulting confusions can be avoided
  • The church does not get pushed into changing its nature in order to realise some unrealistic OD goals
  • It gives us tools for saying “No” to irrelevant activities, especially when donor driven
  • It is a very positive starting point for real partnership
  • It helps us to decide in strategic planning what is appropriate for the church and what is not

The following two pages are like appendices with thoughts that come out of this basic thinking:

Some thoughts on PLOT and the church in rural development:

What sort of picture does this give for the conventional type of rural development project that most churches get involved in because they are the only ones that they know? Churches are well equipped for certain types of activity and not for others, so why not get involved in the types of activity that they have high potential for, and for which secular and governmental organisations do not?

I would like to briefly focus of four aspects of the potentials and see how these relate to a distinctive model for development. This is a development based on teaching not on projects. These inevitably link to what we are trying to do in REAP because it is this thinking that out teaching is based on.

Biblical Motivation:

One of the most difficult things for development is to motivate people. The Bible motivates, so should be the basis for any church development teaching.

e.g. 1 Stewardship of the Earth for sustainable agriculture.

e.g. 2 The Body as the Temple of the Holy Spirit for Health teaching

e.g. 3 Absolutes in AIDS teaching

A structure that reaches to the grassroots:

This is potential for gaining good understanding and information for planning. It also enables replicable teaching.

e.g. Teaching through women’s fellowships

This being in touch with the reality leads on to:

A concern for the poor:

This means new teaching that is relevant for the poor or marginalised. Should not be based on money in order to benefit.

e.g. 1 LEISA

e.g. 2 Expense substitution – body oil, fuel saving stoves, home gardens, preventive health etc.

(NOTE: Does credit ever help the rural poor? Is it something suitable for churches to be involved in?)


Because of the above the church has enormous potential for achieving what others cannot through replicable teaching that spreads:

e.g. Vetiver & fruit trees through 867 local churches in Wolaitta Kale Heywet Church

(NOTE: With things whatever is given means there is less to give, with teaching there is always potential for more)

Some Characteristics of Churches from my experience

The following table lists some of the issues that I have identified as being fairly common amongst churches:

Potentials Limitations
  • God centred
  • Bible based
  • Motivated and committed membership
  • Teaching valued
  • Holistic
  • Distinctive
  • Absolutes to teach from
  • Reaching to the grassroots
  • Local information
  • Respecting the marginalised
  • Loving
  • Care / Compassion
  • Counselling
  • Weak administrative structure
  • Expertise
  • Management of money
  • Accountability
  • Maintenance of capital
  • Material resources
  • Vehicles
  • Physical Infrastructure
  • Political Power