Let’s face it. Life is intense and time-consuming. It often takes everything you have just to keep up with the routines of managing people and tasks—at work and at home. Sometimes at a church conference, you’ll hear phrases likelong-range planning, vision, strategic planning, and you might think, “That stuff sounds great for people who have a lot of time, but I’m treading water just keeping up with the day-to-day functions of my job.”
The fact is that a collaborative and thoughtful visioning process will help your church in the areas where you’re most burdened: time management, priorities, responsibilities and leadership challenges. Developing a strategic plan, looking at the organizational structures and processes, and addressing some of the actions and practices of the culture at your church will maximize the effectiveness of the church’s mission and take the church from good to great.
So, how do you know when your church should invest the precious time, effort and money it takes to do a visioning process? Here are six clues:
1. Lack of Excitement
If there is no excitement in the church around what God is going to do in and through the congregation in the next three to five years, you need a visioning process. Lack of excitement about tomorrow is a clue that people either do not like the vision, or the church simply does not have a vision to get excited about. The latter is often the case. Visioning that includes compelling goals to make a difference in people’s lives can ignite a fire in a congregation.
2. Same Stuff, Different Dates
If the reality is that you simply repeat programs from year to year with minor updates, then a visioning process is needed to break through the barrier that may be holding the church back from increasing its impact. Routine is fine, and continuing what is working is important. But churches often get in the rut of pulling out the same program and not asking if the world has changed in the meantime. Clarity of purpose and knowing what kind of a difference you are trying to make in the world will bring energy and creativity to your ministry.
3. Too Busy Putting Out Fires
If the church is spending too much time navigating conflict around the essentials (or nonessentials), then a visioning process is a must. Conflict is really about competing values that need to be navigated. The competing values can either be around the essentials of mission or they can be around people’s self-interest. Either way, a visioning process can clarify and solidify identity, purpose and direction and, in the end, reduce conflict!
4. The Pastor Just Resigned or Retired
If the church is in a time of pastoral transition, a visioning process can identify and articulate core ideology for the call process. God has created your church uniquely. The identity, purpose and direction are all given to you by God and can be seen in and through the unique giftedness of the gathered community of faith. Calling the right lead pastor cannot happen unless you can clearly articulate who you are, why you exist and what your strategic priorities are moving forward. Once you know that, you are ready to do your pastoral search process.
5. Running Low on Members and Servants
If the church is plateaued or declining in attendance, involvement and community impact, then some transformational change is needed. The reality is that too many congregations live in this reality for way too long before engaging in a visioning process. Don’t wait! The sooner the better. Feeling stagnant? Numbers the same for the last few years? God has brought you together for a powerful reason to make a godly difference in the world. Get busy visioning!
6. Everything Is Great
If the church is growing quickly and all things seem to be humming, you need a visioning process. Really? Yes! Growing churches that are in the zone need to keep their missional and strategic priorities focused so as not to become a mile wide and an inch deep. In fact, this is the best time to engage in a visioning process. Visioning doesn’t always need to be about fixing what is broken. It can provide continued tools and processes for ongoing creative faithfulness. It can assure the leadership that it is keeping up with a changing world. It is the best way to continue to honor God.
Have you found a clue that describes your church? Get visioning! You’ll be blessed.
After a career as a pastor, John is now a consultant with TAG Consulting. He specializes in coaching individuals and teams in the process of transformational leadership.