January 1st, 2011

Vision and Strategy Church Trends for 2011 and Beyond

This time of year, I enjoy reflecting and sharing the observations I gain from working with a diverse group of church leaders in North America. Here is my take on what to expect not only this year, but for years to come.

TREND #1: Expect Increasing Diversity of Opinion on What Good Vision and Strategy Look Like.

A year ago at New Year, you could digest Tony Morgan’s Stop Making Goals for the Future and scan Michael Hyatt’s leadership reflections on wanting to do more strategic planning. Both are excellent posts, but on the surface they contradict. This year Craig Groeschel posted on the Death of the 5 Year Plan, yet vision mavens like Jim Collins still talk about 20-year BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). What’s the right perspective? To add to the confusion, the list of “how-to-do-church” books grows exponentially. We’ve gone from simple, deep, organic and total to sticky, viral, dangerous and hybrid. Are we getting clear yet? Well, I almost hate starting a trend list with this bummer observation, but it’s very important to acknowledge. If you want a good place to start, read Clarity 101.

TREND #2: Articulating the Biggest Picture will be the Leader’s Greatest Asset Like Never Before

If trend #1 isn’t bad enough, every church leader  is saturated with countless best practices, bombarded with more communication (and more conduits of it) and ministering to people struggling with increased life complexity. It all boils down to a hyper-need for clarity. Communicating Jesus-centered meaning in life has never had more competition. The best leaders won’t  fool around for one second without showing and telling what their church is ultimately supposed to be doing. They won’t take the most basic assumptions for granted.

Over Christmas break, I met with senior pastor Doug Sager of First Baptist Concord, a large Southern Baptist church in Knoxville. I love a comment he made: “When you know the why, you can live with any how. That’s the spirit that effective leaders must continue in order to keep people connected to the big picture. The phrase echoes the central theme of a popular business book on clarity this year, Start with Why, by Simon Sinek. His bold assertion is that leaders traffic in what they do and how they do it, but most can’t articulate why. His blog is a good resource.

TREND #3: The Digital World and Social Media will Open New Possibilities for More Churches

Unfortunately most churches lag behind the “real world” by 10 years or so when it comes to technology and communication. But online giants like LifeChurch.tv not only lead the way with technology, but do so generously by bringing sites and apps to the world like VideoTeaching.com and YouVersion.com. The bottom line is a new world of possibilities for vision and strategy not just for large churches but for every spiritual leader with an innovative spirit. Church online, facebook and twitter are just the beginning and just the tip of the iceburg! A few folks to follow to learn more about this world are Gordon Marcy, a long-time media maven in the Christian space, John Saddington who recently left North Point Church as their tech guru to blog full time, Charles Lee who champions ideation, networking and social entrepreneurship using technology, and Terry Storch, the technology pastor at LifeChurch.tv.

TREND #4: Visioning and Spiritual Formation as Disciplines will Merge More Visibly

True visioning in the local church should always be a Spirit-led, Word-anchored exercise of daily spiritual formation. One consultant, George Bullard, years ago coined the phrase, “The Spiritual Strategic Journey” which I have always loved. But it is easy to separate the strategic and the spiritual in daily practice. Every year, more  Auxano clients express direct appreciation for the fact that our consultants (we call ourselves navigators) are pastors first, with a theological training and a Godward impulse. In the future there will be little tolerance for strategic conversations and visioning exercises that aren’t first God-worshipping and God-listening initiatives. Church leaders are tired of anything in the name of vision that smacks of corporate ideology.

TREND #5: Small Will Continue to Be the New Big

Beyond Seth Godin’s book title from 2006, thinking, acting and leading small will continue to mark the church landscape. What are a few mile markers along the way? First is the new normal of multi-site churches. Leadership Network played a key role in accelerating this innovation which helps larger churches expand through smaller beachheads. Read their 2010 LN_multi-site_report.

Second, as church planting and missional thinking continue to expand, smaller expressions, from house churches, to missional communities become more legit against the traditional, monolithic measurement of big-church-butts-in-seats. This year the Exponential Conference, a gathering dedicated to church planting, will be larger than ever. We have recently witnessed the birth of a new network to small-town, small church America called The Sticks. Last year even brought counter-intuitive book titles and blog posts like The Strategically Small Church and The Micro Manifesto.

TREND #6: Networks are Becoming the New Denominations

The rise of church planting networks not only validate the entrepreneurial spirit but enable new groupings of ” the small” from the prior trend to exert more influence. As the new learning, new strategies and new relationship cluster in these front line networks, the knowledge, encouragement and accountability of traditional denominations bring less value. It’s no surprise to most readers that the time and resources from most denominations are woefully tied up with ineffective congregations.

What are some of these growing networks? Here are few: Acts 29, Redeemer City to City, New Thing, ARC, ChurchPlanters.com, PLNTD, Vision360 and the  ICF Movement. Of course there are countless more and new ones popping up all the time. Two that just started are the Houston Church Planters Network and the Launch Network in Atlanta. Please note that these networks are not trying to be new denominations, but their momentum is changing the game. Also note that some effective networks like Stadia and the Church Multiplication Network are denominationally based.

TREND #7: Leaders will Pay More Attention to Shorter Time Horizons

Everything in the vision and clarity space pushes to shorter horizons as the pace of change accelerates. A mantra that Reggie McNeal coined is “Preparation over planning.” The emphasis on leadership is preparing for the uncertainties of the future, rather than trying to predict them. As a result, answering the question, “Where is God taking us?” requires a 90-day focus and a 1-year horizon of shared storytelling like never before. Will other time horizons be important? Yes they will, but not like the way we used to think about it. Read this post on the Five Horizons of Leadership to glean more.

Take note that this year, 2020 is exactly 10 years away. For better or worse (and I suspect mainly for worse) we will see a new glut of 2020 vision reports. While the use of 20/20 for its opportunistic pun has been used widely for 10 years, it will legitimately fuel some new dreams for many leaders.

TREND #8: The Intersection of Personal and Organizational Vision will be Magnified. This trend is the earliest in its emergence and perhaps it’s too early to note. It has been on my radar for ten years, as each year I work in the arena of organizational clarity, I get more and more requests from individuals. I have noticed that the greatest barrier to organizational clarity can be the clarity of individuals who lead them.

Peter Drucker was an early thought leader in recognizing that the movement from an industrial to an information paradigm would push the envelope on personal clarity and self-management for business and non-profit leaders. Strengths Finder is one of four books that has been on Amazon’s top 100 for over a thousand days.  Yet I find very little evidence in the ministry world that a hunger for personal clarity is making an organizational difference. I have had ongoing conversations about how to address this and envision playing a role in this field in the next decade. For now I keep looking for the overlap and  I would love to know your thoughts. If you are interested in learning more on the personal side,  two of my favorite vision initiatives in the individual space are Craig Groeschel’s book and companion website Chazown and Ben Arment’s Dream Year.

TREND #9: Visioning will be Interpreted More as Making Meaning than Predicting Future

Life brings a daily tidal wave of monotony. We all fight to keep our daily routine vital and life-giving in view of greater purposes. A key attribute of vision is and always will be, how it keeps people focused on the future. But one aspect of vision that will bring increasing value is how it refocuses our work today. This is why I like the word “clarity” as a practical substitute for “vision,” especially in church. Expect that people will not care about where you church is going until you can make meaning for them right now. Why am I in worship? Why should I participate in a small group? Why should I give to your church? Clarity today before you envision tomorrow.

TREND #10: External Focus and Biblical Justice will Stay Prominent

The most notable pastors in the American megachurch have all championed causes of justice in the last 5 years, from Rick Warren’s P.E.A.C.E. plan to Bill Hybel’s global adventures. In Evangelicalism we have seen the pendulum swing back toward biblical justice since the 1920’s when movements with social values rejected a high view of God’s Word. Now that biblical justice is mainstream it will stay a prominent feature in our vision and strategy work.

Strengthening this trend will be a generation of Millennials who will rise in organizational leadership. They mark an era of altruism where volunteerism and social entrepreneurship are the standard not the exception. Generationally speaking, they care more about people “outside of the organization” than the boomers did. The mantra we will continue to see, sparked by Eric Swanson, is “Don’t be the best church in the community, be the best church for the community. Or as Tim Keller has articulated, “We aren’t trying to have a great church, but a great city.

TREND #11: Consulting for Vision Clarity will Surpass that for Capital Campaigns

This trend may sound small, but consider for a moment that for almost four decades, capital campaign consulting has been the dominant category for “strategic outsiders” in local churches. But all of the traditional companies have been in decline including, RSI and Injoy, both of which have changed ownership in recent years. How is the role of the consultant shifting? It’s moving away  from packaged campaigns and programs towards the ability to navigate organic and culture-savvy solutions. In fact, help in clarifying vision has become the most common reason for a pastor to pursue a consultant. This statistic comes from a 2010 Future Trends report completed by Tom Harper with the Society of Church Consulting. It revealed that motivation for seeking consulting was twice as high for discerning a new vision (49%) than any other category, including constructing new space (22%). Download the report: FT_Executive_Summary.


19 Comments on to “Vision and Strategy Church Trends for 2011 and Beyond”

  • I’m speechless. This is the most cogent, candid, real life, no nonsense article I’ve read. Full Armor!

  • Wow! It’s going to take me the first month of this New Year at least to get all the great learnings from this one article! Amazing. Thank you!

  • Ed wilson says:

    I am absolutely intrigued by your ideas. I am needing time to absorb the many new threads you have opened. Thank you.

  • Will,
    Right on and consistent with my 2011 MultiSite Trends posting that is coming out tomorrow.

  • Fritz Barnes says:

    I think the technology thing is huge. Social Media / Social Networking is so ingrained in the lives of so many. Churches, and “the Church,” need to have a strong online presence. The Harvest is plentiful.

  • Shawn Reilly says:

    Top trends goes long and deep for reflection and continued study for every Church to dive into as we begin 2011. I find it interesting how your first trend begins with expecting more diversity and your last with just how big vision clarity has become. Somewhere in between we are looking for how our unique congregations best move forward with strategies where not one fits all.

  • Ken Miller says:

    The best big picture vision statement ever written is Jn. 3:1 6. Big God. Big love. Big giving. Big cost. Big action. Big number of people. Big response. Big outcome. It is all about what God sees for people It is all about what God expects people to see – and the focus of the vision is Jesus. Keep on challenging the church Will.

  • Gordon Marcy says:

    In the world of digital outreach, I see a trend toward more collaboration. A recent example of that was the first-ever “Mobile Ministry Forum” that assembled 16 mission strategists representing 15 organizations to focus exclusively on the mobile platform’s potential role in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

    I believe we will need more cross-organizational cooperation to overcome the 10 year lag deficit referenced in trend #3. It is also a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate a new and productive unity for the gospel.

    Outstanding insights Will. Thanks for the mention.

  • Randy Miller says:

    #1 – there’s no “one way” to practice vision and strategy: it’s an art not a science – pick your approach and run with it. People get lost, confused and frustrated with changing definitions.
    #2 – You are never too young to ask ‘why’. If you find that the answer is: “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it”, you’re doomed.
    #3 – Social media changes leadership too. Check out Open Leadership by Li http://ht.ly/3xWMu
    #4 – It is short-sighted to throw out what works in the secular world because it’s secular.
    #5 – “Large doesn’t equal legitimate”. And, smaller environments and church plants help make life change last longer.
    #6 – Traditional denominations would be wise to partner with and offer the resources from these new networks. It would be the perfect blend of offering a theological connection and a “best practices” network in order to add value to denominational churches.
    #7 – In my context, it is not effective to give a 5 year plan. We lead better when we propose a 6 month plan – people can see it and immediately discover their contribution. Change happens too fast for a 5 year plan.
    #8 – My team and I have grown tremendously in this area: it’s not enough to have a personal vision and expect people to carry it out. We need to help people discover God’s vision for their lives and figure out how it fits, adds, detracts or changes our own vision.
    #9 – this echoes trend #2: we always have to answer the “why”
    #10 – This trend of volunteerism will force churches to free up their volunteers’ time from serving in church to serving outside the walls of the church.
    #11 – I totally agree. I reached out to Auxano because we needed our vision to have more substance. Before Auxano, there would be a new vision every year. Now, through the co::lab experience and your blog, we have a clear and concise vision with helpful tools to shape every area of our culture around that vision.

  • Define “organic.”


    I realize that we are in a new techno savvy world. I have seen it in many of the churches we have visited. There are a lot of young pastors starting churches all around our community and state where we live. I think the thing that has me very concerned and brokenhearted is the lack of purpose in preaching. I have listened to countless ways or innovations of how to move the church forward. It seems to me that every year there is a better and more productive way to increase the membership. But at what cost? While I am not against new ideas and new ways of reaching people, I am very disturbed at the lack of commitment to the Word of God.

    I have listened to these new pastors and most, if not all, of their preaching is silliness. They want to be comedians rather than proclaim the Gospel message. They dress like and talk like Rick Warren but have no real understanding of people nor their surrounding communities. Each of these young people dreams of the large church they are going to build but make no effort to reach the heart of the individuals.

    Paul said, “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Philip. 3:17 NASB). The Apostles set a pattern for all of us to follow. Paul’s whole emphasis was preaching and teaching the Gospel. He didn’t have light shows, video streaming from every end of the church. All he had were his feet and mouth and he allowed God to lead and speak through him. This is what is missing in the church today, passion for the Word of God. The answer to the “why” young people are asking about is not in the techno savvy of the church but in the purpose and power that the Word of God has in their lives. If we do not restore this passion in younger generations, I am afraid that the church will become obsolete.

    Once again let me reiterate that I am not against new ideas or way of doing church. I am concerned that we spend millions of dollars reading books on someone’s idea of doing church and less than one hour studying the book of Life. I’ve discovered in the thirty years of doing ministry and preaching and leading both small and large churches that without the Word of God nothing will really matter. There will be no growth or power in our personal lives and in the life of the church. With all the new ideas of doing church today we are no further in reaching a lost world. The church today is anemic for the simple reason that we spend more time writing and reading about making the church more user friendly and less time preaching and teaching the Gospel message. We impart information and neglect the transformation. God help us if we reject so great a salvation.

  • Alan Wildes says:


    Really well done my friend! There is a LOT of stuff in there. I will certainly be passing this one along.

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  • I wonder what the Head of the church thinks about all of this.

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  • […] 2011, especially those who tap into social media and online technologies. Here’s his list of 11 trends for 2011 and the years to come. Visit his post for more explanation and discussion of each […]

  • kaos murah says:

    kaos murah…

    […]Vision and Strategy Church Trends for 2011 and Beyond – Will Mancini[…]…

  • […] Church Vision and Strategy Trends In 2011, I wrote a post that is just as relevant two years later. This post was subsequently picked up by most leadership magazines and online blog aggregators including ChurchLeaders.com and Pastors.com […]

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