A Process for Visioning (part 1)

by Tim Woodroof and Jon Mullican – 

Discovering or uncovering a church’s vision requires prayer, time, effort, committed people … and a good, godly process. Common steps that help churches discover vision are listed below. Typically, the decisions required, the pace set, and the steps taken are determined by church leaders (elders and often the ministers as well).

Consider Using a Guide

Since a Vision Process will be accomplished by a church infrequently (every 10 years or so), it can be extremely helpful to employ a guide: a third-party expert who can help the church work through the visioning process. Such an expert will have experience aiding other churches with their visioning, understand the need to customize a church’s process to its culture, and recognize a church’s idiosyncrasies, tendencies, strengths and limitations.

Choose a Time Horizon

How far into the future will you choose to look? To be clear, this process emphasizes vision (or God’s dream for your specific church), not planning or implementation. One can dream further into the future than one can plan. We’ll discuss planning below.

Typically, visions look at least 10 years ahead. If your needs are more immediate, it may be that your church should address urgent issues (like conflict management or debt burden) before moving into a visioning process. Be aware, however, that near-term issues can frequently prevent looking forward effectively. The urgent “now” tends to take precedence over the important “tomorrow.”

Yet “tomorrow” is not so far away. Consider that looking back ten years (to 2006) seems like only yesterday. The iPhone would soon be launched. Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion. Samuel Alito became a Supreme Court justice. The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks to win the Super Bowl. Looking 10 years ahead may seem daunting or intimidating, but the future is not that far away.

By engaging the members of the church in a conversation about the church’s future, the eventual vision can be more fully owned by those who participate…

Determine participants in the Vision Process

Selecting, directing, and supporting the people who will guide the vision process for your congregation involves several sub-steps:

  1. Vision Team—It is strongly recommended that a team of 7 to 15 individuals be formed to steward the vision process. Who makes up this team should be determined by the culture of your church. For some churches, the vision team will consist of elders and ministers only. At other churches, a cross-section of the church will be chosen – young & old, men & women, single & married. Those chosen should exhibit the following characteristics:
  • Commitment to the local church body (participation on the Vision Team should not be used to enfranchise marginal members or as a sop to those considering leaving)
  • Mature, thoughtful Christ-followers (but do not equate maturity with age!)
  • Team orientation (lone rangers need not apply)
  1. Commission—Church Leadership should provide the Vision Team with a written commission (usually no more than one type-written page) providing parameters for and a description of the expected outcome of the team’s work, and when that work is due. (Vision processes should not be rushed – five to nine months is typical.) This “commission” should identify a chosen core process (see below) and include specific expectations to ensure that:
    Looking 10 years ahead may seem daunting or intimidating, but the future is not that far away.
  • the leadership is clear on what it is asking the group to accomplish, and
  • the group is clear about their responsibility to the leadership.
  1. Support People—As the Vision Team does its work, the team should feel free to access gifted people and needed skill sets found within the church to help with the vision effort. Demographers, economists, and futurists can be of great value. Alternatively, these people could be placed directly and intentionally on the team from the beginning.
  2. Focus Groups/Large Group Conversations—The Vision Team, following their leadership commission, may choose to engage the entire church (or significant portions of the church) through large group conversations or Focus Groups. Seeking expertise in such methods is highly recommended. By engaging the members of the church in a conversation about the church’s future, the eventual vision can be more fully owned by those who participate, lessening the need to “sell” the vision once it is formed.
  3. Surveys and Assessments—The Vision Team may also choose to engage the church through a survey or assessment instrument. [The Siburt Institute for Church Ministry has recently launched a statistically validated and reliable Church Health Assessment (CHA) that can provide information about a church’s health in nine areas of church life. This can aid the Vision Team in understanding where the church stands with respect to leadership trust, facility satisfaction/fit, value of education programs, etc..] Surveys can be used to learn useful information about the church’s well-being, habits, gifts, etc.; however, surveys can also generate frustration and confusion. If surveys or assessments are used, it is highly recommended that the questions be reviewed by a professional and the results be shared (at minimum) with those who participated in the surveys. People deserve to know what was learned from the survey. To not do so is to poison the well for future surveys.

We will continue exploring “A Process for Visioning” in the next blog.

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