July 2019
Strategic Visioning

Eight Visioning Mistakes to Avoid

For more than eight years, I’ve had the privilege of facilitating visioning processes for churches and other non-profit organizations. It’s fun, life-giving work and one of my favorite things to do. I’ve worked with churches that have never had a clearly articulated vision, churches that are re-evaluating and re-casting their vision, and churches that were regrouping after a process that didn’t set them up to succeed. Through it all, I’ve gleaned what does and doesn’t work. Below (in no particular order) are some common mistakes congregations make while trying to facilitate a clearly articulated vision.

1. Not using outside facilitation – Often, rectors feel they need to facilitate their parish’s visioning process. This mistake is too common. Some want to guide the process because they think it’s their job to cast the vision. Others choose to do it to save the parish money, since an outside facilitator typically isn’t free. Here are a few reasons why the rector shouldn’t be the facilitator:

  • A good facilitator is unbiased and protects the process…not the outcome. Rectors are a vital part of the community and should fully participate in dreaming with the community, especially as they bring the theological lens.
  • Rectors can be blamed for being heavy-handed. If they serve as the facilitator and are not neutral, they run the risk of setting themselves up for unnecessary criticism and resentment from the congregation. A biased facilitator can easily steam-roll the process. Rectors need to remember that the vision of the church isn’t solely theirs. It is the church’s. Once established, the rector simply helps steward the congregation’s vision.
  • Rectors aren’t experts. Perhaps he or she has read a few books on visioning (too few read more than one before taking a stab at facilitating). Knowing what clear vision consists of (mission/vision statement(s), defined values, goals, org chart) is one thing. Knowing how to facilitate the process is another thing entirely. A well-facilitated process is often fun, engaging and energizing. A process facilitated poorly, however, can be too long, exhausting, and tedious.

Naturally, the same can be said for congregation members serving as facilitators. Perhaps they do this for a living in the secular world. Still, they are a part of the community and should be a participant rather than the facilitator. If you can’t afford to bring in a consultant, try calling your diocese to see if there is a diocesan staff person who can facilitate. If push comes to shove, get together with a neighboring congregation. Whether it’s the pastor or another lay leader, you can facilitate each other’s visioning process.

2. Not inviting the entire congregation to participate – Do you want people to have ownership rather than mere buy-in? Let them dream with you. There’s no need to cut them out of the equation. Just because you have an annual vestry retreat and consider visioning a vestry concern, doesn’t mean the rest of the congregation should be left out of the process. The more the merrier (don’t forget to include youth!).

3. Stopping at mission, vision, and values – Simply put, mission is who you are now; vision is the end result(s) you’re working to achieve; and values are the things that inform your behavior and decisions, the spirit through which you achieve your goals. Goals, however, are what give your mission legs. Without them, it’ll be difficult to find traction in achieving your vision. Goals are the framework by which your strategy emerges.

4. Not creating an organizational chart – What good is vision if it’s not clear? Organizational charts are helpful tools that help identify who is responsible for what. Ambiguity often leads to conflict. Clarity around the flow of responsibility is helpful. It keeps people on the same page, so they don’t overstep or drop the ball when things get wonky.

5. Confusing goals with necessary next steps – Often, congregations name goals that are actually strategies. For instance, many shy away from participation goals. They definitely want a more engaged congregation, but instead of saying that, they claim their goal is recruiting a team to welcome guests, get them connected, and track attendance for all members. Flip that – name your quantifiable goal (remember SMARTER goals): XXX people engaged weekly. And then name the strategies (next steps) through which you’ll grow – recruit a welcome committee, train ushers, develop an attendance tracking procedure, develop a follow-up plan so missing members are contacted and cared for, etc.

6. Forgetting God – You’d be shocked at how many times people limit themselves because they forget to develop God-sized goals, discern with the Spirit and cover the entire process in prayer.

7. Not reviewing progress and next steps at least once a month – What’s the point in creating a vision statement if you haven’t developed assigned next steps to achieve the goals that will help you achieve your vision? There isn’t one. Yet, this is exactly what too many churches do. They go through the visioning process and then forget to work the plan. And they are shocked when a year passes and nothing has changed. Vestries need to review their plan’s progress each month and to make sure that next steps are assigned and working to achieve the congregation’s goals.

8. Not re-casting every year – What goes up must come down. If you don’t re-cast your vision every year, you will naturally lose momentum. Annual re-casting isn’t hard to accomplish since you should be reviewing your progress monthly anyway. If you forget to re-cast, you’ll become stuck. And it’s harder to get going again once you’ve stopped. You need to be able to continue articulating a clear and compelling vision that is relevant for your community.

Melissa Rau is the Senior Program Director of Leadership at ECF. She joined the ECF staff in April 2018 and is responsible for overseeing the Leadership Resources area, which includes Vital Practices, webinars and training, publications and the ECF Fellowship Partners program. In addition to overseeing ECF’s existing leadership initiatives, Melissa is helping ECF discern its unique contribution to entrepreneurial and transformational leadership in the wider church.


This article is part of the July 2019 Vestry Papers issue on Strategic Visioning