by Melanie Williams
Our flight was 25 minutes late, and I wasn’t looking forward to running through the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, possibly the worst airport in the world for making quick connections. To my surprise, however, the airline was holding our connecting flights and had agents at the gate, ready to speed us to our new gates. A flight attendant waved us on board when we got there without even a cursory glance at our boarding passes. (This was before 9-11, mind you.)
All was fine until an attendant welcomed us onto flight whatever-it-was to Denver. Denver? Now, I like Denver, but I was supposed to be going to Calgary, as in Canada, to meet my husband. I started waving at them not to close the door as I gathered my stuff and hurried back down the aisle. Eventually I made it to the right gate and boarded the flight to Calgary just in time. As I settled into my seat, I thought about what had happened. Instead of checking the gate number myself, I had relied on the flight attendant to steer me in the right direction.
That can be a problem for churches and leadership teams, too: if we don’t ask the right questions, we can end up somewhere other than where we want to go. It’s not always easy figuring out where God is leading, but it’s doable and it’s necessary if we are going to succeed.
Know Your Mission
Crafting those questions requires a church or leadership team to understand two things beforehand: its mission and its core values.
Although this post is focused on vision and not on mission, core values, and strategy, defining them here is still helpful:
Mission asks this question: Why do we exist?
Core values, What do we believe?
Vision, Where are we going?
Strategy, How will we get there?)
If your church has a clear statement of mission and core values, you have your starting point for articulating a vision—determining where you want to go. If not, you need to back up and start there.
For more on mission, vision, values, and strategy (and how not to create situations in which ministries are working against each other), you may want to check out Tony Morgan’s short form ebook 7 Warning Signs Your Church Has Ministry Silos.
Define Your Vision
A vision statement answers the question, Where are we going? It paints a picture of what you believe your ministry should look like in the future. It’s specific, measurable, and unique to your church (or ministry area). It’s bold, yet attainable. A good vision statement gives people an idea of what you will and won’t be doing. An excellent one is also exciting—engaging and energizing to your team and to others.
Whether that sounds thrilling or overwhelming to you, it is—it should be exhilarating, and it shouldn’t be a job for one person, in one sitting, to be done in a short period of time. A vision statement, for the church or for individual ministries, has far-flung effects and is better created in cooperation with other ministry or function areas in your church.
Here’s one way to go about it.
Step 1: Choose your team(s). Decide who meets, what they work on, and at what points they enter the process. For instance, an executive leadership team may cycle through all these steps. Leaders from ministry teams (limited to four to six people) may enter at Steps 3 and 4. Decide what will work best for your situation.
When you meet, facilitate, don’t dictate. Inviting a well-chosen team to tackle an issue like crafting a vision doesn’t just earn their buy-in; it results in something better, benefiting from their wisdom and experience, and giving the Holy Spirit more room to work.
Tip: Consider bringing in an outsider or consultant. Someone who doesn’t work with you on a daily basis can be helpful when capturing a vision.
Step 2: Research. Read blogs, books, and articles about vision. Look at the vision statements on other churches’ websites. Look at those for businesses that serve the people you do. Identify statements that move you or bore you. Note the words they use. Jot down vague, meaningless words or phrases to avoid. Keep this list of “banned words” for use when you meet in Step 4.
Further, be critical. Collect five to ten vision statements, good, bad, and middling. When you meet with your team, lead them to critique the statements. Here’s a starter checklist; add to it as needed:
- Which vision statements identify a problem to solve?
- Which statements are specific? Which ones apply to almost any church or business?
- Which ones are measurable? Too hard to measure?
- What words capture your imagination? What phrases are cliché and should be avoided? (This is a good time to pull out your list of banned words and add to it.)
- Which ones are memorable or too long or complicated to recall?
- Which ones would excite you about the future?
The goal here is to help your team become more discerning.
Step 3: Answer four key questions. Write the following questions on tear sheets or white board. Lead your team to answer them. (In a subsequent meeting, evaluate the answers, prioritize them, and circle the standouts. These are the ideas most likely to make it into your vision statement.)
- What problem do we exist to solve? Why does our church exist? Why do each of our ministry areas exist? How will they work together to meet the needs of people?
- What are we best at? What do we love doing? Where do our strengths lie? What resources have we been given to do our ministry?
- Who are we going to serve? The more specific your “target audience” (for church and ministry area), the more impact you’re likely to have.
- What will our ministry look like when we’ve put the vision into action?
Then, brainstorm opportunities unique to your ministry. Consider your community and the problems or opportunities your church (or ministry area) may be uniquely positioned to address. Make a list of these as well. (Again, be prepared to let these sit until your next meeting, when you’ll evaluate them.)
Step 4: Write and rewrite your vision statement. Once you’ve worked through these questions and steps as a team, evaluating, adding, and reducing ideas as needed, it will be time to draft your vision statement. Concentrate first on getting the key ideas onto paper. Then edit, rewrite, and edit again until every word captures what you mean to say.
Defining a vision—determining where God is leading—is not the easiest thing you’ve ever done. It needs prayer, time, attention, and hard work. It also requires grace, flexibility, an open hand, and a sense of humor. But when you’ve finished, you will have a fresh and durable vision of where God is leading your church or ministry that will empower and excite people about the future.
Where Are You Headed?
Do you have a vision statement for your ministry? Share it with us and others in the comments section.
Melanie Williams is executive editor at Orange Books. She has spent the last 20 years leading teams through creative processes.
Tony Morgan’s short form ebook, 7 Warning Signs Your Church Has Ministry Silos, is just one of 14 books on the Summer Reading List to help you “work on your ministry.” Get your copy of the list here: http://bit.ly/OB-SRL1.