February 2, 2015

A Vision for Your Vestry Retreat

Celebrate. Listen. Be inspired. Plan.

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. never listed the laws that were needed to make discrimination illegal. He did not define federal code or detail what enforcement agencies were needed. 

Dr. King described a vision. Within two years after Dr. King's speech, several federal acts created sweeping civil rights reform. Dr. King’s ability to describe a vision for the IMPACT of the mission of the Civil Rights movement was a critical turning point that finally got hearts and minds to work together for change. 

Articulating a vision is a vital exercise for anyone in leadership, including vestries. A vision statement is a powerful strategic tool. Because it describes desired outcomes, it has the power to harness activities, ministries and resources to pull in the same direction. It turns everyday thinking into strategic thinking. 

This has been a serious and lofty post so far, but here’s where it gets fun. For your Vestry retreat, try this:

  1. In advance of the retreat, ask Vestry members to prayerfully review your congregation’s mission statement and list the ministries or gifts for ministry that bless the congregation’s ability to carry out the mission. If you don’t have a mission statement don’t worry, the Book of Common Prayer has you covered: “The mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” Book of Common Prayer, pg. 855. Instruct people to bring their lists to the retreat.
  2. At the retreat, take turns sharing your lists. Have someone write the essence of what is mentioned on large Post-It© style flip chart pages. Hang these on the walls. 
  3. Next, distribute large Post-It© pads (3” x 5”) and marker pens to participants.
  4. Ask participants to consider this question: If our church utilizes our ministry strengths to fulfill our mission, what are some tangible results you hope will be achieved? In other words, describe some desired IMPACTS of a wonderfully-fulfilled mission. 
  5. Ask participants to write ONE impact per large Post-It note (use 1 to 8 words to describe each impact; write large and neatly enough to allow notes to be read). Give the group about 10 minutes to brainstorm as many desired impacts as possible. 
  6. As people complete their “impact notes,” direct them to place the notes on a designated wall or window. Ask one or two people to group the notes by subject. 
  7. When all the notes are in place, ask someone to lead a prayer for the Holy Spirit’s guidance in analyzing and summarizing the results of this exercise. 
  8. Ask the group: What are the main IMPACTS we want our mission/ministries to have? Have someone serve as a facilitator to lead this discussion and summarize thoughts on a flip chart.
  9. Assign a small task force to take the summarized comments and draft a vision statement for the congregation. (Never try to word-smith a vision statement in a large group!)

At this point, you can continue with the retreat agenda, or you can ask participants to list some “big issues” that the church is facing in the months ahead. Ask people to keep the vision mind so that for every issue discussed, actions are identified that would move the congregation toward achieving the desired vision.

Share the final vision statement with the congregation. Invite reaction and input. Ask each ministry to identify actions it can take in the coming year that will support the mission and vision of the church. Ask them to track their work and report outcomes.

This engages many people in a shared vision to make a positive difference in the world in Jesus’ name. Reporting on progress provides opportunities to celebrate success. This is inspiring and can attract others to get involved. Envision that!

This photo shows the visioning steering committee at St. James Episcopal Church, Hendersonville, North Carolina, upon completion of their Post-It© visioning exercise. The resulting vision statement was later adopted by vestry:

St. James Mission Statement
Every member is vital as we follow the example of Jesus’ servant ministry to
welcome all, love all, serve all, through Christ.

St. James Vision Statement
St. James will be a community of passionate servants
who live out God's ever-present love through inspiring worship, faith-forming discipleship,
and active ministries that make an impact in the church, the community, and the world.

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