Vision is so often a part of the discussion when trying to bring health and growth to a local church. And rightly so. One of the sessions in our ReVive! Church Revitalization seminar is dedicated to vision and core values. But why? Why is having a clear, well defined, and memorable vision so important to church health? That’s what I want to address in this article.
Anyone who has served in leadership in a local church has heard of vision statements. Many a vestry has hammered one out and printed it somewhere, maybe even in the weekly bulletin, but often not much is ever done with it. When I speak on church revitalization it is often the case that no one can even remember what their vision statement is. Is it just a waste of time to have one or is it really important? It is very important! One of the main reasons is that the vision should drive every decision the church makes.
Think about the hundreds and hundreds of decisions a local church must make year in and year out.
- Should we spend this money on that?
- Mrs. New Idea wants us to start this new program, should we?
- Mr. Liturgy is insisting we add or remove some part of the Sunday service, should we?
- Should we change the style of music?
- Should we do Alpha or Christianity Explored or Celebrate Recovery or Rooted or something else or none of them?
- Should we keep doing both Sunday School and Children’s church?
- Should we add a staff member?
- Should we use name tags?
- Should we…?
The decision for these and every question that arises should be filtered through the specific vision your church has committed to. That vision must of course come from God’s vision for the church found in the Scripture. When a question comes up, the next question should be, “Does doing that help us fulfill the vision or not?” If not, then don’t do it. Even if it is a perfectly good thing to do, which it probably will be, if it doesn’t fit the agreed upon vision, then don’t do it.
Part of the beauty of having a clear vision is that it gives the leadership a standard to base the decision on. Rather than the whims of the rector or vestry or an influential member or the big giver, the vision is what drives the decision. Then, if the decision is based on the vision, the agreed upon vision is the “bad guy,” not the leadership. If the answer is yes, based on the vision, then the time talent and treasure of the church can be given to it because the agreed upon vision demands it.
At my recent church our vision was to have a Great Commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission (we stole that). That’s Biblical and memorable but still not specific enough to our local context. So, based on that vision we then narrowed it down to how do we do that in our specific community. We determined that our vision was to focus on the many lower income people around us, many of whom were stuck in a cycle of hopelessness that often-included addictions of various kinds. We also identified that many of them wouldn’t come to church if invited because although they believed in God, they assumed He wanted to punish them. Now there were other people who didn’t know Jesus around our church that didn’t fit that description however we wanted to be specific, so we zeroed in on going and making disciples of this particular “peoples” in our part of world – the Great Commission.
This clear, specific vision then became the filter for the decisions.
Should we do a contemporary worship service? …Will that better help us reach, love, and make disciples of this people group we’re committed to reaching? Yes. Then let’s do it.
Should we do Alpha because, since we’re Anglican, that’s how we do evangelism? …Will doing Alpha better help us reach, love, and make disciples of this people group? No. They’re more worried about not having a job and their addiction than the bigger questions of life. And they are already convinced there is a God, they just need to know he loves them and wants to help them. So, what then? We landed on Celebrate Recovery which connected to that particular people group. It worked.
Should we make all these new people who are smoking in front of the entry stop smoking? Long time faithful non-smoking members are having to walk through smoke to come into church and are unhappy about it. …Hmmm, our vision is to reach and bring in this group, many of whom are smokers. And they are making good progress getting clean from heroin and becoming committed to celibacy outside of marriage. Should we tell them they can’t smoke? The vision driven decision: create a designated smoking area off to the side and hang a sign in it saying, “Tis better to smoke in this life than the next!” All were happy and the vision kept going.
What is your churches’ clear, Biblical, memorable, and specific vision? It’s not just a good idea to have for the bulletin cover or by-laws. Dust it off, narrow it down, know it, and start using that vision to drive every decision.
The Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge is Director of Church Revitalization & Coaching at the American Anglican Council.