How to build a vision, set goals, or reimagine your church

Many of our churches are effectively going to be New Church Starts and a new vision will be necessary.  In the following steps I hope to offer some of the things I have learned in my own ministry as a Senior Pastor, what I have learned in the years I have been an Executive Director with the CTC of a Center aimed at church growth, what we are all learning together in this COVID-19 season, and even how I might navigate this and the next season if I were still a Senior Pastor.
  1. I would begin with personal and spiritual work.  Find time, get away, take a Bible, and pray fervently as James admonishes.  I even think John Wesley’s promotion of fasting would be helpful here.  Before we can envision for a church, community, or even denomination, we must be in the right place spiritually.  Skipping this step can easily leave God out of this process, something not good for us and not fair to the church we lead. I have long thought that working out a biblical theology of church growth is important, moving beyond just bodies, budgets and buildings to “why might God be invested in growing the church I lead and what does that mean?"  In this season when much of what we have learned and practiced does not work as it did, this is even more essential.
  2. I would bring my key leaders and influencers together and invite them to join me in a season of prayer and spiritual work. This step I believe is essential.  Congregational leaders are seldom at the same place we are.  If we do not get them as close to that place as we can most of our efforts to refocus vision and mission (considering the learnings and trauma of the last year) will probably fail and be more damaging than productive.  Most of us have probably already learned this by past attempts at envisioning and change.  This may take some time; I would think several months of spiritual leadership and encouragement. We will probably be encouraging our leaders and influencers to do spiritual work and pray in a way they never had done before. 
  3. Do a reality check, an inventory, a detailed view of the state of your Church.  It is very difficult to take a next step if we are unclear on where we are standing.  Reality is neither good news nor bad news when it comes to a vision.  It is simply what is and where we are standing at the time, and offers a good place to plan where to take the next step.  I think doing a staff audit, leadership audit, giving audit, budget audit, membership audit, and a clear audit of present programs and worship services we are operating now, and the ones we were operating pre-COVID-19 that may or may not begin again.  Audit the old vision, goals, and mission.  Do they still apply? The truth is our friend.
  4. Begin gathering and clarifying resources. 
    • Who is still on the team? Who has been added?  Who needs to be added?  Who needs to be removed?  (This is leaders, official and unofficial, influencers, major givers, and paid and unpaid staff.)
    • Where are our financial resources, savings, endowments, operating accounts that are available to undergird any new or renewed vision.  Can any of it be refocused?  Who are the givers?  What kind of weekly, monthly giving can we depend on as a starting place for what is next?
    • Who has continued to worship in person, online and through the COVID-19 season?  Who has dropped out?  Who are the guests that have begun to connect?  Who will we be trying to reach in this next season that we are uniquely positioned to reach?
  5. How has the world changed the last few years, the last year, the last few months?  How has our community changed? What are the needs and hurts of the people in our community?  This season should have helped us see this more clearly, but also created some new needs and hurts that might not have existed before.  Auditing our communities and understanding them are extremely important when it comes to creating a vision, mission, and goals we are asking our church to move into.  The community we live in should be the driving force in messages we preach, ministries we begin, programs we underwrite, and the vision we create. 
  6. Work on a comprehensive marketing plan.  How will you communicate to the community, the unchurched, the dropouts, the ongoing guests, the new guests, etc?  I would have a plan that covered the year aimed at uniting the church around the vison, mission, goals, and directly at the people the church is not already reaching. The future of the church will not be those that have dropped out but those you will reach the next year after COVID-19 ceases to be a factor in church attendance and connections.  Worship, traditions, and programs might have been the past. But evangelism will be your future. 
Key Ideas
  • Prayer that incorporates your leadership and influencers.
  • Auditing the who and what your church is about now and embracing that reality is extremely important.
  • The future of your church will not be attempting to get the people who dropped out this last year back, but the people you have not yet reached. The vision you must integrate the people into; your church and making disciples of them.
  • Developing a vision and mission that includes concrete steps and dates is critical.  The vision must be compelling, comprehensive, and create consensus as much as possible. Bringing people on board will be necessary as much as possible.
  • I believe one way to make hybrid worship more effective is to shape what we do in person and online uniquely for its purpose. One model is online primarily for reaching new people, and evangelism/in person for discipleship, worship, and building relationships. 

Just some thoughts.  Prayers for next steps for all our churches. 
Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director
Center for Evangelism, Mission & Church Growth