Vision for Impact, Not Just Change

By Linda Buskirk, part of the Vestry Papers issue on Leading Change (July 2014)

Note: This article is also available in Spanish here / Este artículo es disponible en español aquí  

If your parish could be personified, which would it be: A missionary or a visionary?

Missionaries are wonderful as they carry out good works and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, when the discussion turns from “mission” to “vision,” sometimes people push back. Missionaries are practical, down-to-earth workers, after all. Visionaries are up in the clouds.

If that’s what you think about vision, I am on a mission to change your mind!

Think of vision as the desired IMPACT of your mission. Understanding what God is calling your ministry to accomplish is inspirational and generates ideas and energy for change. Invite your congregation into a discussion about your ministry strengths, and then prayerful discernment about what God has gifted you to do in your part of the Kingdom.

In 2011, Christ Church in Pensacola, Florida, did this, guided by a strategic solutions initiative of the Episcopal Church Foundation. Church leadership facilitated lively discussions in which parishioners identified ministry strengths. From this, a vision emerged for a diverse and faithful community in which “the openness of Christ Church to welcome and engage all people in a faith journey will continue to grow.”

Such work results in a heightened sense of identity, purpose, and direction for a congregation, or any entity. It requires the commitment of a small leadership group to lead the way. In a church, a steering committee is often comprised of lay, clergy, and staff leaders who engage the entire congregation for input and feedback. If not readily identified, an analysis of the needs of the community beyond the church’s door may also be conducted.

With mission and identity affirmed, the next step is looking to the future. Prayerful discernment produces a vision statement describing the desired impact of using ministry strengths to fulfill the mission.

A path to the future begins to emerge, but who knows what opportunities or threats lie around the corner in this fast-paced world? In order to enable church leadership to make strategic decisions anytime, a set of values, called “strategic criteria” is also created. Criterion include the mission and vision statements and ministry strengths, but may also preserve other important aspects of identity such as valuing present location, or an important ministry such as a school or food bank.

The criteria help the congregation understand that while the future may include change, the things that they value the most will come along with them.

To live into its vision, Christ Church identified some priorities for strategic action. These goals included developing more robust marketing, determining the best use of some recent property acquisitions, and providing vital programs to reach youth and families.

With the economy still reeling from the 2008 downturn, Christ Church did not immediately jump into new expenditures to achieve the goals. However, the goals became a guiding force for the vestry, which reviewed them annually and worked to strengthen Christ Church’s ability to achieve them.

“The goals were a gift of hope for us. They helped us hold on to what we were called to do. They helped us focus in the midst of keeping above water, so we could say, ‘when the economy turns around, this is where we will go,’” according the Neal Goldsborough, rector of Christ Church Pensacola, who adds that today the church is making progress on each of the strategic priorities.

The everyday work of ministry can be overwhelming… so much to do, so little resources. One of the most valuable aspects of time spent in strategic thinking is that it calls leadership to step away from everyday “missionary” tasks to reflect on God’s abundance and to invite the Holy Spirit to reveal a vision for what can be. In other words, become visionaries!

If you would like more information on ECF’s Strategic Solutions initiative, please contact Kate Adams, ECF Special Projects Director at 800-697-2858, ext. 6008 or kate@episcopalfoundation.org.

Try This: Identifying the ministry strengths of your congregation is an important part of the strategic thinking process and one that should involve broad participation. Schedule some small group discussions and invite members of the congregation to share a church related experience that is special to them. Question that invite stories include:

  • Tell me about a time when you experienced a sense of community at St. John’s.
  • Tell me about a time when St. Anne’s was at its best in representing Christ. What made that possible?
  • An apostle means someone who is sent forth. What about your experience at Trinity Church has prepared you to be an apostle in the world today?

Questions can be done in a variety of settings, including a facilitated discussion where people are invited to share their answers at their own tables, and then report their stories to the entire gathering. Or you can post questions on flip chart paper and invite people to write their answers over a period of a few weeks. It is important to record answers so Vestry can then review them and identify trends in the answers that reveal your congregation’s ministry strengths.

Linda Buskirk is a capital campaign and Strategic Solutions consultant for the Episcopal Church Foundation. She brings to ECF diverse experience as a consultant to social-profit agencies, specializing in board governance and strategic development. Linda has a masters degree in public affairs from Indiana University. She lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she and husband Ron are members of Trinity Episcopal Church. She is a graduate of the Congregational Development Institute of the Diocese of Northern Indiana. Linda serves her parish and diocese in many capacities, including roles in stewardship and communications ministries.

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