Our world has changed. Our communities have changed. Our context has changed. It seems like everything has changed! How is your church responding and adjusting to these changes? While the days of adapting for survival were tremendous these past several months, the days of innovating for fruitfulness are ahead of us. How we navigate the upcoming months is critical to the future of the church.
If we go back to a common assessment tool, the Church Life Cycle by Bullard, we are reminded that vital churches are driven by vision. Declining churches are driven by structure. Granted, relationships and programs are important elements in the church life cycle, too, but vision driving when growing and structure driving when declining are predominant indicators of church health. Thom Rainer in Breakout Churches reminds us that vision (God’s preferred future for the unique way a church lives out the mission) comes from the intersection of the needs of the community, the passions of the leaders, and the gifts of the congregation. Anytime any of these three changes, then vision needs to be re-visited. Since everything seems to have changed, it is indeed time to revisit the vision for the church.
If vision is driving the church, there is momentum, excitement, energy, and everyone rowing in the same direction. Mission and vision are the measuring sticks for decisions. Resources (staff, ministry team leaders, time, energy, dollars, facility, calendar, ministries, worship, etc.) are aligned to mission and vision. When vision is no longer driving, management takes over, processes trump programs and internal relationships trump mission.
While some leaders are asking how could we possibly go through a visioning process right now, I ask why wouldn’t you be going through a visioning process right now? As everything seems to be shifting, how are you discerning God’s preferred future for the church? Continuing the vision of last year seems irrelevant to the vision of tomorrow for this new time. It would be like looking for sea shells in the desert!
If you find yourself needing to go through a visioning process, I offer these reminder steps of the process: 1) Since vision is a discernment process, the first step is to put together a prayer team to pray for the process, the vision, the church leadership, the mission field, and the community leaders. 2) Before the vision is discerned, we need to be fully informed. Take a look at the newest demographics. Who is God calling you to reach? What is your targeted Mosaic Segment? 3) Conduct community interviews with leaders (mayor, city council, principals, counselors, fire, police, business owners, etc.). What are the greatest needs of the community? How could the church be helpful in meeting those needs? What do these leaders know about your church (community reputation)? 4) Conduct community interviews with unchurched people asking some of these same questions. 5) Have someone from the outside lead a visioning day workshop with the leadership and congregation. 6) Prayer walk the mission field. 7) Pastor will take the work from the visioning day and finalize the vision. 8) Pastor will roll out the vision through a sermon series. 9) Leadership Team will create a strategic ministry plan to live into the vision including resource alignment. 10) Staff (paid and unpaid ministry leaders) will implement programs to fulfill the vision through goals.
Don’t waste this opportunity to seek God’s preferred future for your church in this liminal time. If we do squander this opportunity, I fear we will grow more contextually irrelevant, realize further decline, and struggle with future church vitality. But most of all, I fear fewer and fewer people will come to know Christ because we are not disciplying people!
For more information on visioning, see Gear Up, Ten Prescriptions for Healthy Church, and Strategy Matters by Kotan.