Without vision, the people perish.

Granted, that’s a bad translation of Proverbs 29:18, but the proverb itself is spot on. The problem is that most church visions teeter on a balance between insipid and impotent. Which is one of the reasons why so many congregations are going through the motions of “doing church” instead of experiencing adult baptisms, vibrant discipleship groups, and life transformations.

With a vibrant vision (I call it a Big Mouse Vision1), congregational leaders not only know what direction to steer the church, they have the motivation to pull it off.

Although there are a lot of things can go wrong when developing a Big Mouse Vision, I’ve found that most powerless visions suffer from one or more of these defects:

  1. They’re unmeasurable;
  2. They’re uninspiring; or
  3. They’re unimaginative.

Vibrant Visions are Measurable

A vibrant vision statement has an ultimate outcome that the organization is pursuing. For instance, Moses’ vision was to lead Israel into the Promised Land. Everyone knew “where” they were heading.

[spoiler title=”More About Measurable Visions” icon=”plus-circle”]Too many vision statements sound like pink cotton candy dreams: “To create a church filled with peace and joy” or “To bring a blessing to everyone.” Although both statements carry lovely sentiments, no one will ever really know if they get there. On the other hand, failure to achieve the vision would be pretty much in your face. A church with latent conflict or one with lingering sadness from loss is clearly not a place of peace or joy. And the first time the church leaders have to say “no” to someone, there will be a hue and cry about not being a blessing to everyone.

A measurable vision is one that looks to the more distant future and beckons the congregation to move toward it. But it’s not just out there somewhere. Progress toward the vision is perceptible. Steps are taken. The culture is changing. Lives are transforming bit-by-bit.

When most of us hear “measurable” we immediately think of numbers. Numbers are important, but they’re not inspiring.

Which brings us to the second defect.[/spoiler]

Vibrant Visions are Inspiring

A vibrant vision doesn’t just stir the heart, it enlivens the spirit, and compels a response. An inspiring vision is born when a meaningful greater good intersects with personal self-interest.

[spoiler title=”More About Inspiring Visions” icon=”plus-circle”]When Moses cast the Promised Land vision, he painted a picture of a nation free from the bondage of Egyptian slavery. But to be inspiring, it must be personal. It must touch the emotions and typically the easiest way to reach someone’s emotions is to show how the vision affects and benefits them. However, the benefit doesn’t necessarily need to be corporeal … it can be intrinsic; but the vision must lift my spirit in some way.

There was a time when church visions were laden with numbers. Don’t get me wrong, numbers are critical, but they don’t necessarily belong in your vision statement. Too often, numbers represent less a “greater good” and more a “self-serving” goal. For instance, “To double the number of first-time visitors every year” is measurable, but it is so focused on “us” that it misses the inspiration mark.

An example of an inspiring vision comes from Springfield Community Church in the forthcoming book If You Have to Herd Cats, You’ll Need a Bigger Mouse. Their vision is:

To become the church with such a positive reputation that unbelievers point to it and say, “That’s the church I’d join.”

The greater good is the perceived impact a positive reputation will have on both the church and the community. The personal self-interest is intrinsic in the pride of being part of a church with such a positive reputation.

One last word about inspiring visions. A vibrant vision demands more than just crossing the street to get to the other side. It’s often daunting and feels beyond reach. Jim Collins referenced corporations’ BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) as one of the marks of an inspiring vision. If a church vision isn’t awe-inspiring, it’s probably not inspiring at all. [/spoiler]

Vibrant Visions are Imaginative

My friend and colleague Tom Bandy has suggested that a vibrant vision need not be word-laden. Instead, it could be a song or an image that conveys the message. I’m convinced he’s correct, but most of us are most likely to turn to “word pictures” to cast our Big Mouse Vision. The Promised Land wasn’t just geography and a place on a map. It was a land “flowing with milk and honey.” Vibrant visions are image driven.

[spoiler title=”More About Imaginative Visions” icon=”plus-circle”]A vision statement is only the launching off point of vibrant vision. Again, Jim Collins suggests that a vision needs a description that brings the vision to life. There are many ways to do this, but perhaps the most prevalent is to jump into your Tardis (or your Orwellian Time Machine) and set it twenty years hence. Then take a look around you. Describe what the organization has become, the good its done, and the lives its changed.

Again, the Springfield Church serves as our example:

We’ll be the kind of Jesus-Followers that people will want to be around us. We’ll be the church everyone in town talks about because of the ways our members behave and the choices we make … and because of the way people’s lives are transformed from “It’s all about me” to “It’s not about me – it’s about walking with you in Jesus’ name.” People will relocate to be a part of our church, and the church will be so life-changing that we’ll have to build campuses in towns and cities across North America to accommodate them (and so they don’t have to move so far). We’ll be a church that when an unchurched person visits they feel so loved and so accepted and so filled with hope they know they must return again … and again … and their lives will be changed because they’ve met the Savior through us.

There are those who suggest that the vision should be written in the past tense, but I’ve found that people find it easier to imagine if they’re looking forward to what “could be” than to try and sort out “what is” but doesn’t yet exist. [/spoiler]

Creating a vivid vision isn’t something you do in one sitting. For the church, it’s a God-Thing that not everyone understands. Tapping into what God’s hope is for your church and communicating that in a compelling way is the first step to great church leadership. Find your church’s vibrant vision and you’ve taken the first step into a vibrant future.

Question: How does your church’s vision stack up? Share it in the Comments section below and let’s talk about it.


1. If you’ve got to herd cats, you need a really big mouse. Return to Reading