July 4, 2015

The Nine Forms of Generic Church Vision that Stifle Practically Every Church

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Most pastors are visionaries. But to fully realize the vision of a church, a pastor needs more than a generic sense of the future.

When it comes to vision, the biggest challenge to success is not your obstacles. The biggest challenge to overcome is settling for a lesser vision and not knowing it. If you grab on to a faulty tool—in this case the tool of vision—everything you to try to build with that tool will be limited.

Once you move past a generic sense to a vivid vision, you will still have many obstacles to overcome, but those are the natural challenges of implementation. You still have the hard work to do. But every action and every point of communication is more powerful with the vivid and compelling picture of the future in view.

If you are living with generic vision, and I believe most pastors are, more of your implementation challenges have to do with clarity than you realize. In the last week alone, I have seen issues like staff hiring decisions, children’s programming decisions, and campus launch decisions all present major dilemmas only because of unclear vision. Yet the lead pastor didn’t recognize it as such.

How then, can we apprehend the generic church vision that plagues our churches? In my forthcoming book, God Dreams, I have identified nine forms generic vision to help you name it in your church. The nine stem from three healthy biases. That is to say, we empower generic vision with good motives most of the time. We do the wrong thing for the right reason. It’s a good motive taken a little too far in application.

The three healthy biases are: accuracy, growth and efficiency. I will briefly describe each bias with the three forms of generic vision they create. Also, I will invite you to receive free God Dreams resources when they are available at the link below. The next resource is a worksheet to help your team identify its specific form of generic vision.

#1 – ACCURACY BIAS

A healthy bias toward accuracy can lead us to confuse Biblical statements with Biblically informed vision.

 The story of church vision in the last two decades could be described as the great misuse of the Great Commandment (Mt. 22:34-40) and the Great Commission (Mt. 28:19-20). Most people have heard some variation of the following as a vision statement for a local church:

  •  “Our vision is to love God and love others.” (Love God vision)
  •  “Our vision is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.” (Make disciples vision)
  • “Our vision is to glorify God.” (Glorify God vision) 

These are biblical imperatives that should apply to all churches, but not as a vision statement. Why? When Jesus summarized the law, He was not giving churches a vision statement. This is a meaningful summary of the law, but it’s not an answer to the question: if we’re a church, what should our vision be for the next three to twenty years?

To summarize the problem, in our efforts to be biblical we fail to be imaginative, by cut-n-pasting verses as vision.

#2 – GROWTH BIAS

A healthy bias toward growth can lead us to substitute a grow-only vision for a growth-minded vision. 

Some church leaders equate growth with vision. “If we experience momentum, we must have vision,” they reason. Here are three examples of how growth becomes an end in itself as generic kinds of vision statements for a local church:

  •  “Our vision is to reach more people for Christ.” (Reach more vision)
  • “Our vision is to build a bigger facility or launch more campuses in order to take the gospel to more places.” (Build more vision)
  • “Our vision is to change world.” (More change vision)

Every church should be reaching more people and multiplying disciples. And an increased response can certainly lead to more facilities and more campuses.

A healthy bias for growth might undergird a vision, but statements like these are weak by themselves. “Reaching more” and “changing the world” are too vague. And buildings and campuses might be important tools, but they are means to something greater, not an end in themselves.

#3 – EFFICIENCY BIAS

A healthy bias toward efficiency can lead to a done-for-you vision that neglects adequate do-it-yourself vision ownership. 

Church leaders across the centuries have been drawn to learn from other churches where good things seem to be happening. Often this happens with the best of motives: they suspect God is at work and they want to be part of it. They appreciate the encouragement, the ideas, the tools, and the training from the other churches’ leadership. They follow the spirit of 1 Corinthians 11:1 where the Apostle Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” A noble intent for sure.

But the passion that says, “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” while wisely seeking to improve efficiency, can lead to a debilitating blockage of the imagination. Who wants to leverage the learning of others to the point of sacrificing the thrill of having a God-given, handcrafted vision?

This bias shows up in several approaches to vision. But unlike the accuracy bias and the growth bias, the efficiency bias doesn’t usually express itself in a written vision statement, but in the mindset of the leaders. I would label three expressions of this intent as follows:

  •  Serve as a franchise vision
  • Offer the most vision (i.e., more programs)
  • Be the best vision (model church, top 10, etc.) 

Of course I have much more to say about these nine forms of generic vision in God Dreams. But I bet this is enough to begin a meaningful conversation with your team.

The post will be unpacked in greater detail in God Dreams, my fourth book. The subtitle is 12 Templates for Finding and Focusing Your Church’s Future.  I invite you to sign up for pre-release specials before the book is published in 2016 (link below). The biggest one will be a free visual summary that you won’t want to miss! The next tool I am providing is a generic vision worksheet.

Get on the list for pre-release specials for God Dreams here.

May 28, 2015

12 Startling Reasons to Practice Long Term Thinking in Ministry

I have never been more excited to put a tool in the hand of church leaders. God Dreams is my fourth book and I’m currently in the writing home stretch with Warren Bird, who’s been an amazing collaborator. The subtitle is 12 Templates for Finding and Focusing Your Church’s Future.

Here is the first of many peeks into the book. I invite you to sign up for pre-release specials before the book is published in 2016 (link below). The biggest one will be a free visual summary that you won’t want to miss!

One of the chapters in God Dreams is focused on recovering the long view of visionary planning. I unpack the benefits of “thinking long” in a world obsessed with now. The long term vision tool that I debut in the book is called the Horizon Storyline. It’s a visionary planning method that snaps right into the Vision Frame.

For more than a few reasons, the practice of long term thinking is hard to come by these days. Steward Brand, who is working on an interesting project called the 10,000-year clock project writes:

Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span.The trend might be coming from the acceleration of technology, the short horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next election perspective of democracies or the distractions of personal multitasking. All are on the increase. Some sort of balancing corrective is needed.

What are the 12 startling reasons to practice long term thinking in ministry?

  1. Think long because, most likely, you will lead for a long time.
  2. Think long to love people beyond your lifetime.
  3. Think long because that’s how God reveals himself.
  4.  Think long because God thinks generationally.
  5.  Think long because you will live forever.
  6.  Think long because how big you think guides how much you accomplish.
  7.  Think long to build a ministry that will endure.
  8.  Think long because it costs you nothing.
  9.  Think long to master plan your disciple-making impact.
  10.  Think long to connect people to God’s big story of redemptive history.
  11.  Think long to focus a broader resource base.
  12.  Think long so that God can do more than you think.

Get on the list for pre-release specials for God Dreams here.

April 3, 2015

5 Biblical Principles for Personal Visioning

Younique
Two new initiatives have marked my ministry in 2015 and have me spending more time on personal visioning.

The first is leading my first personal vision cohort. Fourteen people have joined with me for a 12-month journey of finding and aligning their personal vision. It continues to be a great joy, and you will see a lot of new content on my blog toward the end of 2015 under the banner of “younique.”   Younique will be a brand for training and tools for personal visioning like nothing else currently available.

Another initiative is writing the official trade book follow-up to Church Unique— the book is called God Dreams: 12 Vision Templates for Finding and Focusing Your Church’s Future. Both of these books have me digesting content about visioning and dreaming.

Today I wanted to pass on five biblical principles for discerning your personal vision from Chip Ingram. These come right out of his chapter from Good to Great In God’s Eyes: 10 Practices Great Christians have in Common.  He calls it “Sanctified Dreaming” which I really appreciate. Chip does a great job of anchoring his insights in Scripture and is sensitive to the problem of chasing dreams for self-fulfillment rather than God’s glory.

Here are his principles for dreaming God-sized dreams, each taken from the life of a biblical character. 

#1  God commands us to step out of our comfort zone (ABRAHAM)

#2  God puts his dream in your heart (JOSEPH) I like his emphasis on God’s dream not ours.

#3  God allows us to fail in our attempts to accomplish his dream in our own power. (MOSES)

#4  God teaches us through adversity to love the dream giver more than the dream. (DAVID)

#5  God clarifies our calling in times of crisis and often uses our worst failures as the platform for his future fulfillment. (PAUL)

I particularly like the last principle. Scarcity breeds clarity. And I am always amazed how God uses our failures to bring his fulfillment, which has reflected my own life story.

February 24, 2015

The Top 10 Ways Pastors Spend Time that Doesn’t Make Disciples

What gets in our way when it comes to the church’s mission to make disciples? Let’s look at the things we do at church and they way we spend our time as pastors:

  1. Preparing a sermon or teaching message in a given week without spending time in disciple-making relationships.
  2. Spending time meeting with staff and church leaders in a given week in lieu of spending time in personal disciple-making relationships.
  3. Designing a worship experience in a given week without a prior design of a clear disciple-making strategy.
  4. Managing a weekly money gathering process from people without having a clear disciple-making vision that will be used to steward the money.
  5. Recruiting people to volunteer in ministry environments without any knowledge of their involvement in disciple-making relationships.
  6. Providing for the care needs of others in the church without a system for care to take place in the context of disciple-making relationships.
  7. Creating any content (worship guides, newsletters, social media, curriculum) without a prior definition of disciple-making outcomes.
  8. Training any small group or Bible study leaders without a prior training in the church’s disciple-making strategy and outcomes.
  9. Developing and launching programs that do not fit into a clear and cohesive disciple-making strategy.
  10. Putting out fires with or for people who could care less whether they have or you have any disciple-making relationships in life. 

What would you add? What do you think pastors do that does not make disciples?  Help me write the next 10!

December 26, 2014

6 Reasons Why Most Church Strategic Planning Is a Waste of Time

Church Strategic Planning

Most church strategic planning is a waste of time no matter what you call it or why the church started the planning to begin with. Have you ever personally experienced a time-waster planning retreat?

The planning may be called lots of things like:

  • long range planning
  • vision planning
  • visioning weekend
  • goal-setting
  • strategic operations

In addition to the variety of names, the planning may be spawned for numerous reasons like facility planning, attendance decline, website design, or capital campaign initiatives to name a few. But whatever you call it and and whatever got the process started, Many pastors confess that the outcome of strategic planning  is left wanting. The usefulness of the deliverable itself—the plan, the report, the vision—is so limited, it will soon be stored in a church closet otherwise known as the strategic planning notebook graveyard.

Sound like a doomsday message? I hope not! Because a well designed vision process is one of the most exciting things to lead and experience. It’s why Auxano has eight full-time consultants (we call ourselves navigators) with dozens of Church Unique Certified and Network Navigators who practice our Vision Framing Process part-time. Literally hundreds of churches go through the process every year with amazing success!

So what are the reasons why most church strategic planning is a waste of time? 

Reason #1: Most planning deliverables have too much information.

Two weeks ago, I looked at a current strategic planning document for a church. In addition to a statement of mission and values, the plan contained 5 overarching objectives and 22 goals. It’s not unusual to see this much information. The problem with “too much: is that the only person who benefits is the executive pastor type or board member with a high need for control. It helps them feel good to have all of the objectives and goals listed in one place. The real problem is that no one else in the organization cares that much about the goals.

Does that sound harsh? It shouldn’t. It’s not a negative commentary on the people and their motives, its a negative commentary on the model of planning. In a nutshell, a plan with too much information misses the human element. It doesn’t connect on an emotional level and doesn’t help the average person, really know what to do.

How much information should your plan have? At the summary level it should have five things: mission, values, strategy, measures and “vision proper.” Vision proper means that everyone knows the one, most important goal at any time. For certain people in the organization, there are tools for more complexity, but not much more.

Reason #2: Most mission and values statements are too generic.

We have been so saturated with generic in church leadership we don’t even realize what it is any more. Here is the key principle to understand: Mission and values should be broad but not generic. They are broad because many types of activities are required to accomplish the mission and many different kinds of tasks can flow out of a deeply held value. Therefore your mission and values should be broad yet specific, rather than broad and generic. Consider these definitions to help you think about this idea:

Broad: to a great extent, ample, vast, extensive, large

Generic: applicable to all members of a group; a name not protected by trademark.

Specific: precise or particular; peculiar to somebody or something.

Applying these definitions we would say that your church’s mission should be extensive and vast, but peculiar to your church. 

 

Perhaps the best way to describe idea of broad yet specific is to think of oceans. There are five oceans in the world, Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic and Southern. These are broad bodies of water with complex ecosystems and each is a world of its own. But they are also specific and unique. To make the bridge to church, the better analogy might be a lake. There are over 112 millions lakes in the world larger than half an acre. Each one is peculiar, despite the fact that to a frog, each of the lakes provides for a “broad” environment.

A broad and generic mission is: love God, love people and serve our community. A broad and specific mission is: inviting people into the unexpected joy of desperate dependence on Jesus. To get to broad and specific read this post on why churches operate at less than 50% effectiveness. It will help you get past generic.

The last four reasons are below and will be unpacked in follow-up posts:

Reason #3: Most strategic plans don’t clarify how the mission is accomplished.

Reason #4: Most strategic plans for churches don’t clarify  when the mission is accomplished. 

Reason #5: Most planning processes involve too many people.

Reason #6: Most planning processes neglect training on vision competencies.  

So how many strategic planning experiences have you had that you considered a waste of time? I would love to hear the total!!!

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