You Don’t Need A Vision Statement – Episode 267 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

why churches dont need a vision statement

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4 things churches don’t need, and what they really need instead (Part 3)

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In episode one of this series, Amy and I outlined how it’s possible to have clarity and alignment around your mission statement and still be doing the wrong things to get the results you want. In episode two, we talked about our experience with core values statements—and what we’ve learned is a much more critical foundation for creating healthy, thriving churches.

Overall, after years of serving churches, we’ve come to realize that just clarifying mission, vision, and value statements and running an improved version of the same old playbook for reach and spiritual formation strategies does not necessarily help churches get unstuck. 

WHY YOU DON’T NEED A VISION STATEMENT
(AND WHAT YOU NEED INSTEAD)

While clarifying direction for the future is absolutely critical to the health of your church, traditional vision statements are not always helpful—especially in this particular season.

In this episode, Amy and I will explain something more important than a vision statement if your goal is to get unstuck and move your mission forward. Join the conversation as we discuss:

  • The 4 reasons most church vision statements fall short
  • Re-shifting your focus to the next 12 months
  • The importance of identifying your primary problem
  • Your next step for moving your mission forward in this season

Finding Momentum: Unlock the Keys to Healthy Growth

 

In this season, many pastors feel like they’re just surviving Sunday to Sunday with no real plan for the future. Join us for a free one-hour webinar where Tony Morgan and Amy Anderson will teach you the three keys to kickstarting momentum and healthy growth in 2023.

You can be a healthy church without a great vision statement for the future, but you can’t be a healthy church without having an action plan around what’s important right now. [episode 267] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet It doesn’t do any good to have a well-crafted vision statement for what you want your church to look like 10 years from now if your team has no idea what you’re trying to accomplish in the next 12 months. [episode 267] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet If your church is stuck, come to agreement on the primary problem you are trying to solve before you invest any time in shaping a vision for the future. [episode 267] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet If we don’t have clarity around the problem we are trying to solve, it’s possible to stay busy doing church things and not be doing anything to accomplish the Great Commission. [episode 267] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet
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This Episode is Sponsored by Planning Center:

Planning Center is all-in-one church management software where you can organize your ministries and give your congregants a place to connect and get involved. With a unified platform of products, you can keep people from falling through the cracks by creating workflows to follow up with first-time guests, accept online donations, and empower your staff and volunteers to run individual ministries smoothly.

Learn what else you can do at planningcenter.com and get a 30-day free trial to start exploring for yourself! 


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Transcript

Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. In Proverbs, we learn that without a clear sense of vision, people can perish. But what if your vision statement doesn’t lead your church to health? On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy share a conversation on what we’ve learned is more important than a traditional vision statement. Before we get to today’s podcast, though, if you’re new to this podcast, head over to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe to get the show notes in your email. When you do, each week you’ll get resources to go along with that week’s episode, our Leader Conversation Guide and bonus resources, as well as access to our podcast resource archive. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now, before we get into today’s content, here’s a word from Tony.

Tony (00:56):

This episode is sponsored by Planning Center, an all-in-one church management software where you can organize your ministries and give your congregants some place to connect and get involved. With a unified platform of products, you can keep people from falling through the cracks by creating workflows to follow up with first-time guests, accept online donations, and empower your staff and volunteers to run individual ministries smoothly. Learn what else you can do at planningcenter.com and get a 30 day free trial to start exploring for yourself.

Amy (01:36):

Well, welcome back to our listeners. Tony, it’ll be interesting to see where this conversation goes this week. In the first couple of episodes of the series, you’ve explained why churches don’t necessarily need a mission statement or core value statements. I suppose this week you’re gonna tell us we don’t need a vision for the future.

Tony (01:53):

Well, Amy, as a matter of fact, we will be talking about vision this week, but just in case you don’t listen until the very end of today’s conversation, let me offer this. I do agree that clarifying direction for the future is absolutely critical to the health of your church, but I’m just not convinced that the traditional vision statements are very helpful, and especially in this particular season for churches. And if you’ve listened the last couple of weeks, you know that’s been the continuing theme of this series. There’s something much more important than a vision statement if your goal is to get unstuck and to move your mission forward. In fact, the key thought throughout the series has been that it’s possible to have clarity and full alignment and still be doing the wrong things to get the results that you want. And in week one, we talked about it being possible to have a great mission statement, to even etch that in stone and ensure that everyone in the congregation knows the mission statement, and still be stuck as a church. In fact, most of the churches that reached out to us had mission statements, but they were still stuck. Last week, we talked about the culture and whether it’s healthy or toxic or any place in between will do more to impact the fulfillment of your mission than whether or not you have clearly articulated core values in statements. It’s not necessarily a bad thing for an organization to have a mission statement or to have core values statements, and as we’ll discuss today, to even have a vision statement. But what I’ve learned is that there are several other much more important priorities if you want your church to experience health and to fulfill its mission.

Amy (03:48):

And you said a phrase last week, Tony. Cause I know you’re saying it’s not bad to have these things, but what did you call it in clutter? What was that phrase?

Tony (03:55):

I called it organizational statement clutter. And we see this in a lot of churches. There are a lot of statements, in fact, they actually want their staff to memorize a lot of these statements. But it’s not actually producing the results that these churches want.

Amy (04:12):

No. No. Okay. Well, as you hinted, it sounds like you’d like to address the priority of having a vision statement. Can you explain why you don’t think clarifying a vision statement is the highest priority for churches and maybe even especially in this season?

Tony (04:26):

Yeah. So again, I do think every organization needs a clear sense of direction for the future, but I’m not necessarily a fan of the typical results I see when churches try to articulate vision and put it in a formal statement. In fact, the vision statements I see tend to fall short in these four ways. One of the ways it fall short is it’s actually just another mission statement. So the vision statement is a mission statement. And what they’re trying to do is capture, again, the purpose of the church, and it really is answering more of the question, why do we exist as a church rather than where are we going as a church? So if you Google church vision statements, it’s interesting. I did this last week, and I found it was actually a list, a sample list of church mission statements, not vision statements. All again, kind of just were falling short because we’re creating another mission statement rather than trying to clarify direction for where we’re going as a church.

Amy (05:27):

We’re just answering with a different phrase why we exist versus where we’re going.

Tony (05:31):

That’s right, Amy. Secondly, these statements tend to fall short because they’re not concrete enough. In other words, they’re very nebulous. They use a lot of flowery statements about what the church wants to be at some point in the future, but they end up being so vague that no one knows exactly how the vision will be accomplished. A third way that they tend to fall short is they’re not future focused. In other words, it reflects more of what the church is about today rather than driving the future focus and direction of the ministry. And again, that’s primarily because these vision statements tend to focus more on who they are as a church rather than where they’re going as a church. And then the fourth way that they fall short is that they tend to be too broad. They become all encompassing. They’re trying to be fair to all the ministries of the church. And so they wanna make sure that every voice of every ministry is somehow represented in these vision statements. And the statements end up having way too many components. And then as a result of that, they’re not really providing direction and focus. So the reality is, vision should rally the leadership. It should rally the staff. It should rally the congregation. And if your vision statement doesn’t do that, you’ve probably misfired in one or more of those four ways that I just mentioned. So when churches land on a clear, bold vision, it does. It rallies people to invest their prayers, their time, their money. And if you’re not seeing that, you probably need to refresh that vision.

Amy (07:10):

Tony, I think lead pastors could just stop listening here if they’re having trouble with vision and just answer those four questions. Is our vision another mission statement? Is it not concrete enough? Is it future focused? Is it too broad? I see visions all the time that encompass the world. Thinking that might be too broad.

Tony (07:32):

It might be. It might be.

Amy (07:33):

Well, Tony, here’s the other concern I have related to vision for churches, especially in this season. The vision statements I see seem to be too visionary, if you will. I mean, they’re looking out too far into the future, and because of that, there doesn’t seem to be much of an urgency about the priorities that need focus on right now. Have you seen that too? Do you agree?

Tony (07:54):

Yeah, I absolutely agree. A hundred percent agree with you, Amy. I mean, you’re just, you’re spot on. In fact, my perspective on the need for long term vision, it’s actually changed through the years, and especially on this side of the pandemic. When I first got started helping churches get unstuck a number of years ago, I started to help churches think about what does our vision look like five years out, 10 years out? And that long term view was intended really to help churches dream bigger dreams and to really capture that big picture thinking so that we could get a clear sense of where the church, the ministry’s going in the future. And then right before the pandemic, I had narrowed that down from 10 years because I felt that was too long, down to three to five years. And the reason why I had narrowed it down from 10 years is I just found churches that were losing momentum with a vision that was that far out into the future. And the fact is, the needs of people in the communities that the churches were trying to reach were changing faster than the church was changing in their strategy and the direction that they were pursuing to accomplish their mission. Now here we are post-pandemic, and honestly, I’m just encouraging churches, let’s just look out a few years at the most. And honestly, I sometimes wonder if that’s even too long in this current season. And I say that because right now, I’m much more interested in helping churches figure out their priorities for the next 12 months. Amy, one of the reasons for that is because of the urgency factor that you mentioned. When the vision for the future is too long term, I think there’s a tendency for church leaders to think, Well, that’s our vision for the future, but I have higher priorities to focus on today. So we’ll get to the future vision at some point in the future when things slow down. And because of that, this future direction doesn’t ever have the urgency that it needs. So I, again, this is just how my approach to helping churches has evolved over these last number of years. Right now, I just, I really do want churches to hyper-focus on what their key priorities are for this next 12 months.

Amy (10:19):

And I think that’s the season we’re in. Right? There’s been a lot of change. The pandemic. Churches are in different places they’ve never been before. And so I think you’re spot on with that urgency factor. It’s not that we don’t want churches to dream and dream big. But it may be just a little bit further out in the season. Tony, do you think that this is a bigger problem for churches compared to organizations like corporate organizations?

Tony (10:47):

Yeah, there’s probably something to that, Amy. Because here’s the problem for churches when it comes to thinking about the future. Sundays are always coming, and ministry never stops. And because of that, I mean, just the urgency of what we need to do as churches to help people, not only help people take their next steps towards Jesus, but just help people that are dealing with the complexity and challenges of life, I mean, that just doesn’t stop. And doing ministry will always compete with moving the mission forward. It’s just part of the reality of who we are as churches. And because ministry involves people, that’s gonna get our focus all the time. And then you start to layer on this 10 year vision, or maybe it’s a five or a three year vision for that matter, that’s never going to feel as urgent as what’s in front of us today. And that’s why, at least in this season, I’d rather churches focus on current priorities rather than spending much time focusing on clarifying a very long term vision. However, we do need to know our priorities. We need to engage those priorities, and we need to create accountability for follow through around those priorities. Otherwise, we will continue to drift back to doing what we’ve always done, and doing what we’ve always done doesn’t help us get unstuck as ministries. Or, let me say it this way. You can be a healthy church without a great vision statement for the future, but you can’t be a healthy church without having an action plan around what’s most important right now. What will help us move our mission forward right now? What do we need to be focused on right now? What do we need to be investing our leadership, our time, our money into right now? What do we need to rally the troops around, right now? That’s where our focus needs to be. In other words, it doesn’t do any good to have a well crafted vision statement for what you want the church to look like 10 years from now if your team has no idea what you’re trying to accomplish in the next 12 months.

Amy (13:02):

So how do we help pastors and church leaders get that focus around current priorities?

Tony (13:08):

Well, now we’re getting to the crux of the issue, Amy. And that’s to clarify priorities and build action plans around what’s most important for us right now as a ministry. We need to agree first on the primary problem that we’re trying to solve and what’s the big challenge we’re trying to overcome. And Amy, that’s one of the current concerns I have with mission statements or core value statements and vision statements. If churches don’t approach that work with the right framework, it’s entirely possible to clarify all those statements and get everyone fully aligned around them and still not have determined what the problem is that we’re trying to solve. So if we’re not careful, those statements can become diversions from the primary reason why our ministry exists. So, what’s the one big problem that your ministry is trying to address? And let me give you some examples of some big problems that I’ve seen churches wrestle with. One example: people are deconstructing their faith, and they’re walking away from the church. That’s a problem. Maybe we should focus on solving that problem. Or here’s another one. A majority of children in our community are being raised in single parent households. That’s a problem. Maybe our ministries should be focused on solving that problem. Another one, a generation of young adults has grown up outside the church, and they’re longing for meaning and searching for identity. That’s, a huge problem in our culture and in many communities. Maybe that’s a problem that our church should try to address. Let me give you one more. There are a growing number of “nones” in our region, and I’m not talking about the Catholic nuns.

Amy (15:00):

Right.

Tony (15:00):

These are the people that don’t have any claim to faith or any connection to religion. With that growing number of “nones” in our region, that’s a problem. And maybe our church should be doing something to solve that problem.

Amy (15:16):

And those big problems would probably become clear if we really looked at our mission field. Right?

Tony (15:22):

That’s right.

Amy (15:23):

And did that work? Yep. Well, I think what I hear you saying is that we need to know the problem we’re trying to solve before we can clarify the strategy to solve the problem. Correct?

Tony (15:33):

Amy, you are on fire today. I feel like I just, I need to give you a raise. Yeah, if we don’t know the problem, it’s impossible to know what strategy that we should be engaging. If we don’t know the challenge that we’re trying to overcome, we don’t know what the win looks like. If we don’t know the big problem we’re trying to address, then we don’t know what we need to prioritize today, what needs to change, what needs to be improved, what needs to be added. If we don’t have clarity around the problem that we’re trying to solve, it’s possible to stay busy doing church things and not be doing anything to accomplish the great commission. And Amy, do I have permission to maybe push a little bit harder today?

Amy (16:15):

Do I have a choice?

Tony (16:16):

No, you don’t.

Amy (16:18):

Okay. Go ahead.

Tony (16:19):

Yeah, but if it’s been months or years since an adult has crossed the line of faith and surrendered their life to Jesus, then that’s a problem. And what would you have to prioritize today in order to overcome that problem? If it’s been months or years since an adult has gone public with their faith through baptism, then that’s a problem. And what would have to change, and where would you need to put your ministry focus in order to address that problem? Again, Amy, I’m not saying churches shouldn’t have a vision for the future. I’m just trying to make the case that healthy, thriving churches are crystal clear about the primary problem that their ministry is trying to tackle. Everyone knows the problem in these healthy churches. Everyone is focused on tackling that problem. If you were to look at these churches and where they’re investing their leadership, their time, their money, their prayers, you would see that it’s almost entirely focused on overcoming whatever that big problem is that that church has identified. And if you looked at their ministry priorities for the next 12 months, they would all clearly address the problem that they’re trying to solve. So here’s the bottom line. If your church is stuck, I strongly encourage you to first come to an agreement on the primary problem that you’re trying to solve before you invest any time in shaping a vision for the future.

Amy (17:57):

Well, with that, Tony, let’s talk about a specific example of a church that’s gotten this right. Let’s brag on another church this week. Who’d you like to brag on?

Tony (18:05):

Yeah. This week I want to brag on The Hills Church in Fort Worth, Texas. Their team, they’ve become good friends to Amy, to myself, and, I mean, it is a great ministry. Right now they’re in three locations. They’re preparing to go to a fourth. Several thousand people gathering every weekend for worship at The Hills Church. But here’s the big problem that they clearly articulated a couple years ago. They looked at the people in their community and around the world, and they just recognize people are divided based on cultures. They’re divided based on ethnicities. And they’re divided based on generations now too. And so everything that they’re doing right now is focused on overcoming that problem. Everything that they’re doing right now is designed to help them bring nations and bring generations together. That’s their sole focus. And they’re making and growing disciples of Jesus now who are representing all ethnicities, all cultures, all ages. And they’re trying to do this in Texas of all places, which is, in some respects, it’s one of the most divided, culturally divided areas of our country right now. But that focus on the problem that they’re trying to solve has created all kinds of momentum at The Hills Church right now in this season. The church is growing. Giving is increasing. The church is fully invested in overcoming that big challenge. And here’s the key thing. Rather than starting with a vision, they started with a primary problem that they wanted to tackle, and then they shaped their vision for the future around that priority. And Amy, it’s working. So I love these segments where we highlight the churches that we’re working with and some of the great things that they’re doing, but this is another good example of they’re getting the first things first. They’re recognizing what’s the big problem that we want to solve. And then yeah, we’ll clarify some vision. We’ll clarify our direction around that, but we’re gonna focus on overcoming that problem in our community.

Amy (20:23):

That’s a great example, Tony. Well, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (20:27):

If you’re listening to today’s episode when it goes live, it’s still not too late to join us tomorrow, which is Thursday, October 20th for a free webinar on “Finding Momentum: Unlocking the Keys to Healthy Church Growth Again.” And Amy and I, we’ve helped a number of churches clarify direction and lead change. And we know leading change is difficult. But you can do it. We know you can do it, and you really have to if you want to build a growth mindset and begin seeing healthy growth in your church again. So register now at the link in the show notes, and we’ll see you tomorrow.

Sean (21:04):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. Like Tony said, if you’d like to explore some practical ideas of how your church can get back to health and growth again in the new year, join us on October 20th at 1:00 PM Eastern for our free webinar on Finding Momentum Again. You can register by using the link in your show notes. And if you don’t yet have the show notes, just go over to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast. Next week on the podcast, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, we hope you have a great week.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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