Warning: This post will challenge some of your assumptions about vision in the church.
Across the North American church landscape this year, many pastors will articulate a vision and compel people toward a preferred future that is weak. It's very nature will be lacking in biblically rugged, God-saturated, deeply compelling content. Note that I said the vision will be weak; not bad and not wrong. What do I mean by this comment? The three kinds of weak vision I want to clarify are lacking potency because they are more of a means to an end that we often realize. Therefore they are missing the end-game, the bigger deal, the ultimate move. "Means" is not the meat of vision casting. For example, if General Electric wants to "Bring Good Things to Life," they don't show you the blueprint of the dishwasher.
Now a pastor may quickly assent to the fact that that the three kinds of vision are indeed means to a greater end. But afterwards he will practically and experientially guide his people with a lower aim.I have seen it hundreds of times. So what are the three kinds of weak vision?
- A building is a weak vision. We intuitively get this. We know the building is a "tool" to accomplish the "bigger mission." Yet, in the daily grind of raising money in our capital campaigns, its easy to appeal only to the consumeristic impulse of the congregation. A building is a means to something.
- Going multisite is a weak vision. The move to multisite is the most relevant kind of weak vision today. The number of multisite churches is accelerating, and the average size of a multisite church is decreasing. It is safe to say that multisite is the new normal. And for good reasons. But ask a pastor about the vision driving the multisite, and you might be surprised how little they have to say. Multisite is a means to something.
- More people in worship is a weak vision. The third one is connected to the first two. Indeed you may think it is the substance of the first two. We are building a building to what end? More people of course! We are going multi-site to what end? More people of course. Now don't get me wrong. I think every church should be reaching more people and multiplying disciples. And more people, more building and more campuses are all important features of the vision. But by themselves they are weak. More people is a means to something.
Allow me to illustrate a strong vision with my home church, Clear Creek Community Church in Houston. Our vision is what I call a "gospel saturation" vision. We have adopted a 500,000 population area that we refer to as the "4B" area. (From the beltway to the beach; from Brazoria county to the bay.) One of two people in this area are "nones;" that is they have no faith affiliation whatsoever. In the next 15 years, our vision is for each of the these 500,000 people to be one degree away, relationally speaking, from an invitation into a gospel-centered, missional community. With this summarized substance of the vision, we can now see how buildings, multisite campuses and more people are means to a full picture, high-definition vision. We see the need for ten campuses and know that three campuses will anchor the ten with more significant buildings. But those pieces aren’t the purpose themselves. Why is it critical important to show buildings, multi-site and more people as means and not ends?
- First, focusing on means unintentionally amplifies the self-promoting motives of church leadership. An ends-based vision, in contrast, connects the idea of “bigger” to the broader redemptive motives of God.
- Second, highlighting the means only incurs emotional connection indirectly through the personal contact to and relationship with a church leader. In other words, I don’t get excited about a mean-based vision unless I am friends with he pastor who is casting it. Ends-based vision, on the other hand, accelerates emotional connection directly with the picture of the future, not the person talking about it.
- Third, means-based vision is ultimately a church-centric idea. Therefore people let the “pastor and staff” be the owners of it. Ends-based vision, however, distributes the accomplishment of the vision to each one, every day in the congregation. The real vision must be a life-centric idea, not a church-centric one.
I know all this talk of "means" and "ends" sounds a little nerdy. (The engineer in me!) But I hope it connects you back to the simple leadership model of Jesus.
Want to read more about strong vision: Check out "The Church List for the Rest of Us." It's called the Unique 19 and it is 19 amazing stories of vision that are not based on church size.