Visioning process leads to a truly unique church

By Ronald E. Keener

Will Mancini in his new book, Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement (JosseyBass/Leadership Network, 2008) says visioning sometimes can be scary. “If it is scary because we are treading on holy ground as we seek the mind of God, then great!  That’s the wonder and stretch that godly vision should bring. If it is scary because we think vision is inaccessible or we don’t like tough conversations in the discovery process, then the leadership is truly stuck.” Mancini, a former pastor, heads the consulting firm of Auxano []. Other resources are at and

Your first chapter is titled “unoriginal sin.” What is that?

Unoriginal sin is the common habit of neglecting what makes your congregation unique in favor of adopting programs and mindsets that worked somewhere else.

What “new kind of visioning process” is your book about?

The process is new on at least three counts. First, we are revolting against vision that is stuck on paper only. Too many church leaders have endured a process that left a void in the heart of the individual and the church at large. Second, it is new because it is focusing on features of clarity that most visioning processes don’t touch. Third, Church Unique paints a picture of visionary leadership from a missional reorientation rather than the assumptions of the church growth movement.

What’s the unique model of ministry you’re advocating?

We are not advocating a model of ministry but a process that enables each church to develop its own unique model. Personally, I am heartbroken that so many leaders traffic in “photocopied vision.” I firmly believe that churches would be stronger if they stopped duplicating ministry models and started incarnating their own.

Are many churches doing visioning? It seems like a scary thing for pastors and boards.

I never met a church or a pastor that didn’t want to have vision, but that does not translate to many churches taking vision seriously. Vision itself is a slippery idea and leaves a lot open to interpretation as to when you have it.  I would boil the playing field down to two types of churches. First are those that have a nifty statement or two but have never experienced a healthy visioning process (even though they think they have.) The second are those that have intuitive visionary leaders who don’t think they need a process.

What barriers and inertia do churches have in accomplishing visioning?

The ones I see the most today are (1) church conferences that sell you another church’s vision, (2) the competency trap which keeps leaders emotionally connected to what worked yesterday, and (3) poor visioning and strategic planning models that have left a bad taste in a leader’s mouth

You say some forms of strategic planning are outdated?

There are some assumptions of corporate strategic planning dating back to the 60s that don’t hold true for the church today. Strategic planning works well in large, top-down structures where accountability and control mechanisms are important. That doesn’t necessarily work well in the church.

There was a time when having more information was important and a strategic plan brought value through details and analysis.  Most church folks need more clarity, not more information. They need a synthesis or big picture that provides meaning and inspiration, that strategic plans don’t inherently provide. Also, strategic planning assumes that the near future is predictable. That is true now like it was 30 years ago. It is more important now to think and adapt strategically than to do a 10-year plan.

What “better way” is there to making a church unique?

I would suggest that we don’t make the church unique because God already has.  So our role is to “lean into” our strengths and do more of what we do best; that is, to do more of what God has equipped us and motivated us to do in our little corner of the world. In the end the principle of focus comes into play because we are freed from trying.

How do you distinguish between visioning and strategic planning?

The best way to distinguish the two is the product you have when you are done. Typically a strategic planning leaves you with a hierarchy of objectives and goals in the form of a notebook.  Visioning, however, leaves with a cascading sense of clarity and enthusiasm about what God is doing in the congregation and community. The validation of visioning is seen by the conversations down the hall, not the mission on the wall.


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