Many years ago, I was asked to lead a seminar on developing vision. In response to that invitation, I developed a six stage cycle that I thought would help small congregations and their pastors develop a sense of vision when it was necessary. During the discussion part of the seminar, a friend of mine who was attending made a suggestion that lead to me adding a seventh stage to the process. I am presenting a brief summary of that process here. The process focuses on the work of the pastor in the process because I am a pastor and developed the plan out of my experience. However, anyone in the congregation could follow the process.
STAGE 1: In the course of regular ministry, the pastor not only develops relationships with the congregation but also develops a picture of the congregation, getting an understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, potential and dangers facing the congregation. He/she might also begin to develop a sense of the longings and dreams of the congregation.
STAGE 2: The pastor has accumulated a lot of information, impressions and ideas. After a year or two of this, this pile of accumulated ideas needs to be pulled together to develop an overall picture of the congregation. Some do this intuitively as they are accumulating. Others may need to keep good notes and spend some focused time developing the picture. As much as possible, the pastor is trying to develop a clear overall sense of the congregation: where it has been. where it is now and where it might be able to go.
Some pastors are tempted to use the gathered information and jump to a vision immediately. This is a mistake in the small church because any vision developed at this point is the pastor’s vision, not the church’s vision. Some pastors may have the ability to transform that vision into the church’s vision but unfortunately, many pastors don’t have that ability.
STAGE 3: The pastor’s sense of the state of the congregation is the pastor’s sense of the congregation. The third stage involves the pastor sharing that sense of the church with the understanding that it needs to be examined, tested and modified. Pastors, being human, approach anything they do with their own biases and preconceptions, which work their way into the picture of the congregation. The congregation needs the opportunity to give their input so that a fuller picture can be developed.
This stage requires a great deal of trust between the pastor and congregation which is why is shouldn’t be attempted until after the pastor has been in place for a couple of years. It also requires that the pastor be willing to listen carefully to the congregation and change his/her thinking based in congregational input. It may also be wise to use a congregational examination process in this stage to help develop the picture
STAGE 4: Now that the congregation has been included in the process, they become vital in the rest of the stages. As a result of STAGE 3, both pastor and congregation have the same agreed upon understanding of the congregation. They can work together to develop a vision for the congregation based on what they see. While the pastor may have ideas and suggestions for the vision, the ultimate vision needs to develop as the congregation and pastor discuss and pray together. If the pastor insists that congregation adopt his/her plan as is, there will be serious problems.
STAGE 5: This is the implementation phase. If STAGE 4 has been done well, it will be the easiest stage since the congregation takes responsibility for most of the work of implementation. The pastor may find that he/she is doing a lot of cheer leading and maintenance ministry while the congregation does the work. Since it is a shared vision, this makes sense.
STAGE 6: This is the stage I added to the original cycle. After the hard work of thinking, planning and implementing, the congregation and pastor need to celebrate and rest. This will be a plateau stage but it is an important stage that should not be skipped or shortened.
STAGE 7: The process begins again. If the vision is implemented, the congregation is different. If it isn’t implemented, the congregation is different. Either way, the cycle needs to begin again because the old picture has changed.
One final note. This is not a fast process. In small churches, ministry runs in cycles of 5-7 years. This vision cycle is based on that time frame. Many pastors need to learn to adjust their personal time frame with the real time frame of the small congregation.
May the peace of God be with you.