Defining each one can help your church make a greater impact
By Matt VanGent
I learned to drive before smartphones with GPS were commonplace. If I wanted to go somewhere new, I needed to do a little homework first. Do you remember the routine? Find the address, look it up on a map (or later, MapQuest), and then either plan your route or print out the directions. It was laborious, but it was a necessary process if you wanted to arrive at your destination.
Imagine hopping into your car, planning to visit a friend who had just moved 8 hours away. You’ve never been to his new house, and you didn’t get directions from him ahead of time. You decide, I’m just going to start driving and see how close I can get.
That’s a pretty ridiculous way to approach driving, right?
As crazy as that sounds in a car, too many pastors unintentionally approach church in the same way.
Leading your staff and congregation without a clearly defined mission, vision and strategy means you’ll end up driving your church aimlessly, likely failing to reach your destination. Taking the time to articulate each of these, however, creates energy and momentum around the direction in which your church is moving.
A fair amount of ambiguity exists around these buzzwords, so it’s helpful to clarify each one before seeking to define them for your church. Your mission is a short statement or idea about why you exist; it’s your purpose. A vision is an exciting picture of a future reality for your church. Finally, the strategy is the means by which you plan to achieve the vision. With that understanding in hand, let’s explore each in more depth.
As you think about your mission, consider what author and consultant Joey Reiman says about it: “Purpose is where your company’s distinctive gifts intersect with the needs of the world” (quoted in Know What You’re For, Jeff Henderson, p. 51). What is unique about your congregation’s gifts, passions or location? And then, where does that intersect with the needs in your community? Your mission will be more powerful as you can more clearly define this intersection.
Churches are some of the most mission-rich organizations in the world. Your ecclesiology is likely filled with purpose language. The more specific you can make it to your context and congregation, however, the more compelling it will actually be. A vague mission statement might have some catchy words in it, but it won’t serve as a guiding priority for your church. Make it clear and unique to your community.
Once you know your unique mission, which isn’t going to change from year to year, you can start clarifying your vision. This is a picture of the destination you’ll be pursuing for the next 6 months, 1 year, or even 3-5 years. Scott Cormode at Fuller Seminary defines vision as “a shared story of future hope.” Defining your vision entails crafting a story about the future. In this imagined future, what will be true of your church? Your staff? Your community? As you fill in the details of this story, you get to invite people to live into it and pursue it. This should be an inspiring, hopeful picture of your destination, a vivid picture of a reality that isn’t real yet. Spend time in prayer asking God to give you a picture of this future hope.
Crafting your vision story is the fun part. Telling it, and then re-telling it, and then telling it again is the hard part. Too many pastors share the vision once a year at the staff retreat or on Vision Sunday and then fail to keep it at the forefront of people’s minds. The excitement surrounding that vision fizzles quickly.
Pastor Jeff Henderson likes to ask his team on a regular basis, “What did we do today to cast vision for our church?” (Henderson, Know What You’re For, 165). If you can make vision conversations a regular part of your weekly meetings, you will see greater progress toward your vision than ever before. Most visions fail not because of the vision itself but because it gets too quickly forgotten. To modify Henderson’s question, I propose asking your team at the beginning of each week, “What will you do this week to move our church closer to achieving our vision?”
Asking that question of yourself and of your staff moves you from vision into the last category. Strategy is all about the practical steps you plan to take to achieve your vision. Author Daniel Coyle, in his book The Culture Code, lays out a process called mental contrasting that helps think through strategy. The first step is to think about a realistic goal you’d like to achieve, specifically related to your vision. Which component of your vision are you currently pursuing? Reflect on that goal and imagine it has come true. Now, imagine the obstacles standing in your way that you’ve had to overcome in order to achieve that goal. Overcoming these obstacles creates the fundamental framework of your strategy. They’re the things that are most likely to prevent you from achieving your vision, so they’re the most important things about which to formulate a strategy.
For many leaders, the problem with strategy is not coming up with solid ideas. The problem is actually thinking about strategy too early in the process. Many leaders, and pastors are certainly no exception, are great at coming up with ideas. Unfortunately, if these ideas aren’t closely linked to a specific vision, they can send the church moving in different directions, failing to be effective in any of them. Strategy should always serve the vision, not the other way around.
Clearly defining your mission (why you exist), your vision (where you are going), and your strategy (how you’ll get there) will better equip your staff to make an eternal Kingdom impact in the lives of your congregation and your community.
Matt VanGent is an Executive Pastor and Leadership Coach, helping pastors bridge the gap between the theology they learned in seminary and the leadership skills they need now to grow healthy churches. You can find out more at beyondseminary.net.