There’s little doubt that the idea of vision has been an organizational buzzword over the past couple of decades. Companies plaster statements on their walls in an effort to communicate the “why” of their work, thus motivating employees to give their best to “the cause.”
Good organizations stay focused on that cause. They know why they exist and they give their best energies and resources to that agenda. That type of focus is what brings success to many.
The concept of vision and vision statements has become popular in effective churches too. A church can easily become consumed with numerous agendas, so a centralizing statement that maintains focus and reveals the best use of resources is usually a great idea.
But while the interest in vision or mission statements is good for the church, I’ve seen several in my travels that miss the point. These missteps are statements that often adorn church signs or walls, but fail to reveal anything or motivate anyone. Here are some common mistakes…
1. Statements that describe what we do rather than why. In this type of statement, church leaders tried to discover vision by looking at everything they do and including it all. So these statements define several of the church’s actions, but don’t get at the heart behind them.
2. Statements that are too general to motivate. Vision statements are supposed to be “big picture” but sometimes they come from such a “bird’s eye” view that only the birds can really see them. Yes, the church’s mission is to win the world for Christ, but that broad statement says nothing of what our contribution will be. In the end, general statements are just well-intended platitudes that don’t move anyone forward.
3. Statements that reveal nothing about us. If someone could take your vision statement down the street to another congregation and no one would know the difference, something’s missing. A good vision statement describes the church we believe we are designed to become. As such, it should reflect specific passions in our hearts, not just copy the words of others. Yes, every church has been given the same mission by our Savior, but our church’s vision should cast our unique contribution and capacity for fulfilling that mission. Vision statements that reveal nothing of who we are will do little to take us forward.
4. Statements that are more “cute” than motivational. Making it rhyme is never as important as making it clear. Sure it can be more memorable if the words are alliterated, but memory is more powerfully triggered when the words really matter. Cute statements are quotable, but clear words are more livable.
5. Statements that use words we don’t use anywhere else. If the vision statements isn’t in the language of the people, it will be much harder to live each day. And be careful of words that may sound good to us, but don’t feel as good to others. Words like “lost” and “sinful” may be accurate in describing our target audience, but they aren’t exactly flattering. Describing the same people as “hurting” or “broken” can make the same point while sounding compassionate and communicating that we want to help.
6. Statements that are too focused on Sundays. If the vision is just about what we do on Sundays, people will compartmentalize their church life and live by a different vision during the rest of the week. The best vision is one that is aimed both at God and the world around me, so I should be able to live my church’s vision on Tuesday as easily as I can on Sunday.
The goal of a vision statement is to move the guy on the 5th row toward Christ’s mission. That statement should help cultivate the “why” in his heart so he will begin to engage the ministry opportunities around him. The vision statement is the ultimate “why” for our Sunday gatherings and for our efforts to live each day by the principles of Christ’s teachings.
I’ve asked a few “5th row guys” why they come to church and the most common answer is “to have church. In fact, that’s why they think others are there as well. So, since he thinks having church is our purpose, why would he invite a co-worker? Wouldn’t he assume that if his friend wants to “have church” that he’s probably having it somewhere?
But when “5th row guy” knows we gather to “love God by loving our community” or “seek life-change for a broken world,” well, he has a reason to connect with that co-worker now. A vision that doesn’t motivate is no vision at all.
So if you don’t have a vision statement, consider pulling your team together to begin to define your purpose. If you have one, can you remember it? If not, can you really be living it?