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As a church we have recently been through the process of articulating our vision and building a vision statement. Our goal was to bring clarity and focus to our activities and inspire us to press ahead into what God has for us next. It was an exciting process but experience tells me that for many it feels daunting. So I wanted to share how we approached it and maybe it can help you on your journey too.
Why Does Vision Matter?
Vision matters because it helps provide clarity and focus for a group of people. When a group is clear on where it is going or what it is becoming it is easier to be aligned as individuals. When individuals are aligned it is much easier to achieve something significant together. I often describe vision as a picture of a preferred future. Like a signpost pointing in the direction of travel, or a description of the kind of community we want to embody.
Organisations, both secular and faith based, understand that a compelling picture of the future will gather people and resources.
Perhaps the most famous verse on vision in the bible is Proverbs 29:18. Older translations say “Where there is no vision, the people perish”. Newer translations such as the NIV better convey the sense of the words with “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint”.
The sense for this verse is that without a clear picture of the future people become unfocussed and confused. The antidote to this is a clear vision or revelation. It includes within it the sense of hearing from God also. In other words where there is no signpost people will travel all over the place and never reach a destination.
Now as Christians, we find ourselves with the most compelling vision ever. Yet there are probably thousands of ways to articulate that vision! This is what artists and poets and song writers have been attempting to do for thousands of years – and they are not about to run out of ideas.
For churches and ministries the goal is to try and sense which part of God’s grand vision are we in particular going to emphasise. Whilst some feel nervous about becoming too particular I actually think there is a beauty in a diverse Church that expresses parts of the whole. Whilst there are obviously some practices that form the core of what a church is – it will always be like light shining through a prism. Our personalities and culture affecting the outcome. This is part of the beauty of the Church.
What is a Church Vision Statement?
A church vision statement is normally taking a vision and articulating it in a sentence or two. It is normally something easy to remember and repeat. It articulates the main heart beat of the community and it defines some loose boundaries around what a churches focus should be. The process of development will be creative and try capture feeling as well as factual correctness.
A Process For Discerning a Vision
- Listening Together – within a church community the process of vision discovery is best done with a leadership team. I believe this is a healthier approach than vision simply being dictated from a single leader. So we began by inviting our leadership teams to begin to intentionally pray and listen to God for our churches vision. We asked for them to take notes of anything they sense. We allowed a period of weeks and months for this part. We also mentioned it to our wider church community if they had anything to contribute.
- Sharing Together – we then invited the feedback of all our leaders to share what they sensed. We brought the different ideas, thoughts and scriptures together.
- Drafting Our Thoughts – given what had been shared with us, as senior leaders we then went through a process of looking for themes or common ideas within our team. We then drafted a document which outlined what we sensed could be our church vision. We spent a little time as part of this trying to craft that single sentence church vision statement. This is where you want the help of the creatives and wordsmiths amongst your church.
- Praying, Discussing and Reviewing – we sent our draft document to our leadership team well in advance of a day together where we would pray, discuss and review. We presented the vision to them and invited their feedback. We then adapted what we had to fit this feedback. We found our team were hugely supportive and excited about the possibilities. It also provided a chance to dream together – filling in some ideas about the details of the future.
- Waiting – we decided to sit on it for a few weeks to allow time for any further reflections or feedback after our time together. If after returning to it – it still resonates then its time to move onwards.
- Sharing With The Church and Implementation – we then took the first step which was to share this vision with our church. If we were a larger church this might begin with staff teams or key volunteer roles. For us this took the form of a teaching series exploring the vision. In this series we would attempt to paint the vision in as much colour as we could muster. Beyond that we need to have many more conversations about how we best implement and adapt our activities to fit this vision. Implementation is by far the most challenging part of this process.
Helpful Questions For Discerning a Vision
As we have been in the process of understanding our vision it has been helpful to ask ourselves questions that help us discern what God is saying and what he might want us to do. These are the sort of questions we have been asking:
- What birthed this church community? Was there a unique circumstance or prophetic dream or impetus that led to the creation of this church?
- What testimonies do we have of what God has done here? Are there any themes within these testimonies?
- What prophetic words and revelation have been given to this community? What have external voices said to us in the past?
- What unique skills and gifts do we have?
- What is unique about our location or local culture?
- What scriptures feel core to our church community?
- How are we known within our local community?
These questions have helped us understand something of our uniqueness as a church but also to see the threads of God’s hand throughout our churches history. A well crafted vision statement should feel like it both fits the journey so far, as well as stretching us towards a future goal. So often what is birthed at the beginning of a church community becomes fundamental to its DNA. A vision that ignores this will be unhelpfully divisive.
Crafting a Vision Statement
The actual process of creating a sentence that articulates the vision for a church is very much a creative process. If you have people in your church who are naturally strong with language then you should call on their help. Coming up with a simple, compelling and inspiring sentence is the challenge, and skilled people make it look easy. I think ideally it should be one sentence though perhaps two at a maximum. If it will be memorable brevity is helpful! Here are some other tips:
- Use the strengths of creatives in your community
- Start by brainstorming as many ideas as possible then thin it down
- Try your phrases and sentences on others and get their feedback
- Is the sentence memorable after a few days?
- Pray for clarity around the main topic or key words you want to include
- The statement should create a wide enough umbrella for your community to dream within – it should be clear enough people know what you mean without being overly prescriptive on the details.
In the end your leadership team must be comfortable that this sentence or two articulates the vision so they can own it and build with you.
After you have managed to articulate a vision in a form that your leadership team are happy with the next step is implementation. Most people in your church will be delighted to hear the vision so clearly and well put. However the challenge comes when that vision requires something to change! This process will eventually demand change.
The process of implementation is the hard miles of taking a churches activities and culture and assessing whether they are helping or hindering that newly articulated vision. Anything that feels like a distraction from the vision needs to be questioned – this is the hard part.
If we refuse to align our activities and culture to the vision then little by little the vision will become nothing but some words on a wall somewhere. It is only a radical commitment to the vision that will ultimately lead a church community onwards to achieve what they hope for.
Implementation is measured in months and years. If your leadership team are with you, by being included in this process, you already have the key support you will need. At a regular interval things need reviewed through the lens of vision. Is this activity moving us towards this vision?
I believe this process is incredibly helpful for churches that want to make an impact. The process can be clarifying and really build unity within your leadership. Churches with a clear sense of vision are churches that can make a difference in our world. That excites me.
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