Revitalization/Vision Planning

Revitalization in smaller churches:  What Is A Vision Plan?

In general, we are asked two major questions about the work of revitalization in smaller churches.

The first one is this:  How is what you do different from the work of the best known (and attended) revitalization work developed by PCA Pastor Harry Reeder, known as ”Embers To A Flame”?  Our standard answer is that some smaller churches are not able to participate in that program – because of both the time and financial commitment required.  (The inside joke is that we deal with churches not yet strong enough to go to Embers.)  Even the folks at Embers recognize this difference, and we are thankful that Briarwood PC is one of our supporting churches.

The second one is this:  What does a Vision Plan have to do with revitalization?  Our standard answer to this is that is simply a matter of semantics.  If you prefer to call what we teach a ”Revitalization Plan”, that’s fine. In reality, they are the same thing.

So, let’s move straight to the matter at hand:  What is a Vision Plan?

To begin with, it is our firm belief that all churches need to have a clear, Biblical vision.  If there is no vision in a church, it will ultimately die.  Those of us who serve as pastors of churches have a name for churches without a vision.  We call them ‘maintenance ministry’ churches.  I do a lot of counseling with ministers who are seeking calls, and regularly I say to them something like, ”If you are interested in Church X located in City Y, don’t go there unless you are willing to serve in a maintenance ministry.”  Sadly, there are way too many of these churches around.

Sometimes problems come from multiple visions.  When that is the case, there will be leadership problems and a high probability of a church division.  I work with and constantly see churches with multiple visions.  Sometimes the Session has one vision and the congregation has another.  Sometimes there are competing groups of people in the congregation – witness the ”Worship Wars” of recent years.  With competing visions, growth will be next to impossible.

And there is a third model to consider in this lack of unified vision as well.  I would call it the ”wrong vision.”  Sometimes the church is unified on a vision, but it clearly turns out not to be God’s plan.  Often you see this in churches in transitional sections of larger cities who hang on too long before either modifying their ministry to meet the needs of the neighborhood, or moving to a part of town where most of them live anyway.  And it breaks my heart to tell you that, in the PCA, there is a track record of many of our churches not having unified visions over the years.

Next we need to understand what a Vision Plan is not.  The word “vision” used here is not a theological term.  We are not talking about direct revelation from God.  The word is a leadership term – understanding that it carries a different meaning as it moves from the secular world to the church world.

A Vision Plan is not just a dream.  Dreams are very useful.  In fact, I have found it helpful to have at least one or two people on every Vision Planning Group who have had one or more dreams about their church in the past.  Visions are much more narrow and focused than dreams.

Also, a Vision Plan is not just a set of goals and objectives.  They might be useful later on in the process as a way to check up on specific plans, but not at this point.  Goals and objectives are far too cold and abstract.

And a Vision Plan is not just a purpose or mission statement.  A purpose statement answers the question, “Why do we exist?”  A Vision Plan answers the question, “Now that we know why we exist, what we are going to do about it?”

In the book on which I base much of my material, Aubrey Malphurs offers the following definition of what a Vision Plan really is:  “A clear and challenging picture of the future of the church as its leadership believes it can and must be.”

Let’s break this statement down into its six component parts.

First, a Vision Plan must be clear.  It must be easily understood by everyone in the church.  Where are we going?  What are we going to accomplish in the next 3 to 5 years.  It must be clear enough to be able to put it in a brochure and give to visitors and new members and say, “Here is our Vision Plan.”

Second, it must be challenging.  It needs to provide something exciting, something motivational that will bring unity to the congregation.  If the Vision Plan has something in it for everyone – so they can say, “Yeah, there’s something for me to do in that plan” – you end up with a unified Vision Plan.

Third, it must be a mental picture.  This is not easy to accomplish, but it is worth the effort.  It must describe in words that people in the church and in the community are going to have their very real needs being met. It can’t just list the needs.

Fourth, it must be concerned with the future.  That doesn’t mean you ignore the past or the present.  We can learn a lot from the past, and we need to analyze the present situation very carefully – as Nehemiah did.  But it is the future that we are called to impact, and it is to the future that the Vision Plan must be directed.

Fifth, it must be something that CAN be.  Now, don’t make the plan too small.  If it’s too small it will lose all its challenge.  But don’t make it too big so that it would be impossible to even imagine accomplishing it.  Make it feasible and realistic; yet, at the same time, challenging.

And sixth, make if something that MUST be.  A Vision Plan must have a sense of urgency in it.  There has got to be that understanding – as Nehemiah and the people sensed in Nehemiah, Chapter 2that God is in it.  It must be a Vision Plan about meeting the needs of real people.

When you are able to develop this kind of Vision Plan, you have the structure within which the church can grow and move forward to advance the kingdom.  Not that everything will be perfect, mind you.  I don’t need to remind you about sin.  But the potential will be there.

For more information on how your church can go about setting up this kind of vision plan, here’s what we need:

1.  The pastor must be fully committed to the project.  A reluctant pastor will, perhaps without even consciously realizing it, make the job nearly impossible.

2.  The Session must be fully committed to the project.  Not just a simple majority; not just some strong opinions to which everyone goes along.  It needs a real, unified commitment.  (Unanimous is not required, but it sure helps!)

3.  Have the Pastor visit our Contact Page to find out what is needed to get started.

(An abbreviated version of this material can be found in our Video Clip section.)