When people think of church vision statements, there are usually two related but different things they picture. One is a vision statement, and one is a mission statement. These documents are related and most churches end up combining them, but for the purpose of discussion, we’ll treat them separately (You can read the mission statement tips here). The difference is that a vision statement describes how you and God see your church. It focuses on the personality of the church. A mission statement describes what actions will result from your vision. As you work on your vision statement, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Remember, this is your vision, it’s the way God sees you. If your vision is small, your church will be small. If you think God’s view of your purpose is small, you’ve been deceived. That’s why you need to dream big. Your vision statement needs to be bold enough that you never finish fulfilling it, while also being realistic enough to let you see progress and not become discouraged.
A good example of this principle is my home church’s vision statement: “We see the Life Church as a dynamic, spirit-filled, multi-cultural church, numbering in the thousands, impacting our city, our nation and our world through leadership development and church planting.” These are bold statements. In fact, their boldness is often a point of humor because these words were written when there were only 7 people in service, all of which were white. But, it gave the church something to shoot for. It told new members what to expect, and when the first non-white family showed up, everyone in the church welcomed them with open arms. They had been praying for diversity and the bold vision prepared them to succeed. Now, the church has grown into the thousands and the racial make up in the church almost exactly matches the racial make up in the city around it. But, the vision is still large enough that no one can sit back and say, “We’re done, nothing left to do.” When you dream big, you will always have room to grow.
A good vision statement focuses your members on fulfilling it. That means your members have to be able to memorize it. Ideally, you want to shoot for one sentence. It doesn’t have to be a short sentence, but it should be one sentence, because a sentence—no matter how long it is—must contain one thought and that thought must follow a logical progression. Even if your statement is a hundred words long, if you make it follow a logical progression, your members can internalize the message.
I’ll also let you in on a little secret among writers: Brevity begins with long drafts. If you can make your first draft concise and to the point, great. But, don’t feel guilty if your first attempt is three pages long. It’s just a draft. If you try to do a perfect statement the first time around, you’ll be paralyzed by fear and never finish. But, if you give yourself permission to make the first draft long and horrible, you won’t have trouble doing it. Then, you can cut and mold at your leisure. Just keep drafting until your vision statement is where it needs to be.
Since your vision statement exists to inspire your members, you need to make it reward meditation. Chose your words carefully, so the more attention someone pays the more they get out of it. The way you do this is by pondering the meaning of the words you pick so every word carries its weight. Does God want you to equip missionaries, or to prepare them? Are you to be a light to the nations, or a beacon? There are differences in each of those options, and every one of them needs to be done by someone. The question is “which does God want you doing?” By making your words precise, you convey volumes of information in the smallest space possible, making your vision memorable.
A good example of this would be Mark 10:45, where Jesus says, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” You could think of this as Jesus’ vision statement, and you can see the way it rewards meditation. The ideas it conveys are revealing in and of themselves. The wording is precise and directive. After all, no synonym of “serve” conveys that same level of self-sacrifice. It’s the only word that alludes to the deprivation of slavery while still allowing the servant the capacity to leave if they feel like it. The use of “ransom” is similarly precise. As a result, the reader feels the paradoxes at work and their attention is directed to what’s important. After all, with words that are this exact, there’s only one way that the meaning can unfold itself.
Christians need to be unified in their vision and united in their goals. But, they shouldn’t have the same vision statement. Your vision statement is about what God has called you to be and how he sees you. If there is nothing in your vision statement that couldn’t apply to the church down the road, you need to ask why your churches are separated. There should be some point of difference that makes you special. We should be united in our purpose, but we should be no more united in our functions than a heart and a lung are. They have the same purpose (giving oxygen to your cells), but that purpose won’t be fulfilled unless they do different functions.
Take your Time
Keep in mind that the purpose of your vision statement is to direct the course of your church. This is a big deal, so don’t feel you have to rush. Take your time, let the committee meet five or six times. Talk to pastor friends. Take time to revise and rewrite until you have what you want. And, don’t feel guilty about spending a lot of time. It’s not easy, but it is worth the effort.