July 2019
Strategic Visioning

Planning Your Work, Working Your Plan

Because of my business background, I realize how important strategic visioning is for any organization – churches included. Plan your work and work your plan. However, in my first year as rector of St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, there could be no heavy lifting with strategic visioning until we learned about each other and our parish – who we are and where we are. We knew whose we were! Any process to discern vision and mission first and foremost requires all engaged parties to trust one another completely. And trust is not built overnight in any organization, especially religious institutions!

Using Invite Welcome Connect to build attendance and trust

In that first year, however, we were all in agreement that Sunday attendance was one of the first things we needed to focus on. To address that charge, I introduced the vestry to Invite Welcome Connect, a ministry created by Mary Parmer. She describes her approach as “a transformational ministry that allows churches to move from a maintenance culture to gospel-driven ministry culture.”

With my spouse, Kim, I had been on a team that implemented the program at a previous church, so I had real experiences and results to share with St. Augustine’s vestry. I outlined how the program would be introduced and who would oversee its implementation. We discussed it as a way to change the culture. Realizing that names are very important, we initiated a nametag effort that encouraged everyone – existing parishioners and newcomers – to wear a name badge. (Members of the congregation had them already, but not everyone wore one.) Kim volunteered to serve as the team leader for this ministry.

We deepened this work in the Church Development Institute (CDI). A requirement in the Diocese of Georgia, CDI’s leadership development training is also strategic. As we got the ministry up and running, we have continuously monitored its progress and reflected on each step, making changes in what is not working and continuing what is working (Do/Reflect/Do).

What Invite Welcome Connect taught us

We have learned from this that everyone – from existing parishioners (who really did not know everyone’s name) to returning visitors – liked to be called by their name. Names are so important. Jesus calls all his disciples by name, each one of us. Dale Carnegie, a developer of interpersonal skills, said, “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.” It’s quite simple: knowing a person’s name is how relationships are built.

As we worked to enhance the “Invite” leg, my view was simple – everyone we don’t invite to come to church, doesn’t show up. It’s like in basketball, every shot you don’t take, you miss. Applying my years of sales experience, I required vestry members to invite at least two people to church each month during the first year. I also participated in this task. At each vestry meeting they were required to tell the story of their invitation — who, when, how and the result. I managed to get a neighbor of ours to attend for a month or so, but it didn’t last. While this requirement sounded like a good idea at first, I realized that the invitation must come naturally and cannot be forced on anyone. Once the invitation is made, the rest is up to the Holy Spirit, working in the person’s life.

We discovered that connecting people to ministries for which they have a passion helps build a spiritual connection to the ministry and their faith community. We learned that our people are pretty good at knowing what is needed in our community. We empowered people for ministry, and they created ministries that were new to us.

We also learned that we are best at Welcoming, fair at Connecting and horrible at Inviting. In this way, we discovered where we needed to improve, so we could focus on developing each aspect of Invite Welcome Connect to its highest potential.

Our Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) has grown from 84 in 2016 to 110 in 2018. More importantly, our parishioners are participating in ministries that feed them spiritually and bring excitement to being part of our church.

With a growing and engaged congregation, strategic visioning can begin

In the second year, we began a strategic visioning process, and the vestry spent some time away together to build relationships. Because three vestry members leave each year and three new members join, this needs to be done each year.

Our most recent vestry retreat focused on strategic visioning and was led by the Rev. Walter Hobgood from the Diocese of Georgia. Our goal was to develop new vision and mission statements that come from the vestry and the congregation together. We have taken our vestry drafts to the parish and requested their recommendations, so that everyone has an opportunity to participate and contribute to the final statements. Our goal this summer is to produce a vision statement and a mission statement that everyone has had a chance to get behind. Good relationship building is critical to strategic visioning.

Our next task will be to pick four to five strategic areas to focus our energies around, breaking down the programs and setting goals and timelines. In this way, we will set a pathway to make our vision and mission a reality. In addition, we will be evaluating everything that we are currently doing and setting a three-year strategic plan. We’ll outline where we want to be in three years and map out just how we plan to get there, planning our work and working our plan.

We know, however, that sometimes our tour guide, the Holy Spirit, leads our strategic vision to places we did not dream possible. Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).


The Rev. James T. Said is the Rector of St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Augusta, Georgia. Jim’s secular vocation was in Sales and Sales Management. Jim and his wife Kim enjoy hiking in nature and spending time with their two daughters, their husbands and their four grandkids.


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