Some Thoughts on Church "Visions"

Rick Phillips
Our editor asks us to comment on the question of "crafting church visions."  Is it necessary or even advisable for churches to make 5-year or 10 year plans?  Or is such a practice a corruption of the spiritual calling of the church?  My response consists of the following 7 points, which I will flesh out below:

1.  The mandate for church "visions" comes not from the Scriptures but from the secular leadership industry and corporate consulting groups.
2.  The emphasis on "visions" and "strategies" has the general effect of  placing the church's confidence in methods rather than in our message.
3.  Vision planning helps church leaders to conduct objective analysis so as to support better decision-making.
4.  Strategic timelines (5- and 10 year plans) tend to focus the church on results it is able to produce, whereas the Scriptures focus the church on results that only God can produce.
5.  Church visions emphasize what is distinctive about particular churches (their context, target audience, etc.) rather than what they hold in common with all other churches (God's Word, Christ, the call to personal holiness, etc.)
6.  Church visioning has the positive effect of causing churches to think in fresh ways about their local context and the missional impact they might have.
7.  Since every church has a strategy and methods (explicit or not), visioning causes explicit reflection on them. 

Again, I'm going to work through these in some detail below.  But let me give you my conclusion up front:

Church visioning is a powerful tool that can help make leaders much more effective.  But since it necessarily focuses on things man can achieve, it has a dangerous tendency to secularize the church.  Therefore, in my opinion, church visioning is probably a good idea only for churches that are strongly established with an ordinary means of grace emphasis, but who need to pay more attention to their missional context. Also, I would suggest that a visioning process should be conducted only periodically so as to set some longer term trajectories for ministry aspirations. The document should be kept ready so as to offer its analysis to future decision-making (hiring decisions, budget priorities, etc.), and then the church should continue to focus on its God-given mission of serving the Kingdom of Christ through the God-given strategy of Word, sacrament, and prayer, with biblically-defined elders and pastors serving a biblically-shaped church. (See 2 Cor. 10:3-4, and 1 Cor. 1:21-2:2).