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Church Vision: 5 Benchmarks and Evaluation Guide

by | May 16, 2016 | Encouragement, Leadership, Strategic Leadership, Team, Train Up, Vision | 0 comments

“Where there is no vision the people perish.” – Proverbs 29:18

How many times have you seen that verse thrown around in church without any context? Did you know that this oft-quoted sentence is really only half of the verse? Did you know that the King James Version (translated in the 17th century when there was little to no concept of the word “vision” as we understand it in contemporary language) is one of the very few translations which uses the word vision in this verse?

Take a look at the more modern English Standard Version of the entire Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.”

“Prophetic vision” is certainly different than what we normally mean when we say “vision.” As a consultant, no one wants this verse to be about strategic planning more than me. But it’s not. The point of this verse is to say that without Divine direction, Godly wisdom, and insight from the Lord people tend to run wild. Only when they have been given boundaries through instruction do they experience truer joy. A more accurate paraphrase would be this: where this is no Biblical, convicting preaching, sin will abound.

This article isn’t about preaching or that Proverbs 29:18 is yet another example of commonly misunderstood and misinterpreted Bible verses. The point is this:

Few words get thrown around with as little context as the word vision. We are in desperate need of a clearer understanding of church vision and tools to evaluate our own church vision.

We misquote Scripture to talk about vision. We can rarely define what we mean by “vision.” Churches that have a vision are frequently filled with people who are unaware of that vision. Pastors confuse vision with mission on a regular basis. And yet, we all have read a book somewhere that says if we want our church to be successful, we need to have a church vision.

So we cobble together something that sounds good (or not), throw it on our website (or not), and breathe a sigh of relief knowing that when asked if we have a vision, we can confidently say, “Yes!” even if we couldn’t confidently repeat it back without a reference.

So here’s what you’ll find in this article:

1) Five simple benchmarks for a great church vision.

2) Two real examples of bad church vision statements, and how they could be fixed.

3) Two real examples of great church vision statements, and why they’re great.

4)Your next steps in developing your church vision.

The Five Benchmarks for a Great Church Vision:

1) Church vision should be future focused.
A great church vision is focused on the future. It’s a picture of what your church can be if it keys-in on the mission, lives out actual and aspirational values, enacts current strategies, and aims for clear performance goals. If your church does all of these things, what will your church and community look like in the future? That’s the church vision.

2) Church vision should not be a mission statement.
A mission statement is a short one- or two-sentence statement that defines what your church does. In essence, all churches have a variation of the same mission that Jesus gave to the Big “C” Church: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Man, that Jesus guy was really good at writing mission statements! Your church’s mission will be a unique expression of the universal mission given to the Church in the Great Commission.

3) Church vision should be compelling.
A church vision should be compelling, not boring. Performance goals are boring, but necessary. They’re focused on numbers and results. You need these in order to make a church vision happen. However, don’t focus primarily on numbers in the church vision. This isn’t to say that a church vision statement can’t include numbers, but it should not be the centerpiece. Instead, vision should be visceral, connecting with the emotions of people. This motivates far more than numbers.

4) Church vision should be memorable.
Your church vision statement should not be abandoned to the “About Us” page on your website once its written. Church vision should be communicated on a regular basis within the church in explicit and implicit ways. The church vision should be so obvious that guests who have attended consistently for a month should be familiar with it in principle if not verbatim. Long-term members, staff, and leadership (especially) should know the church vision by heart. If it isn’t memorable, people won’t remember it! So be sure effort is put into the rememberability of the church vision.

5) Church vision should cause a positive feedback loop.
A positive feedback loop works like this: “A produces more of B which in turn produces more of A.” Your church vision and its relationship with performance goals and strategies should work this way. Living out your strategies and hitting performance goals should get your church closer to your vision, and getting closer to your vision should cause you to refine and expand your strategies and performance goals, which should get you even closer to your vision, and so on. In this sense, your church never fully “arrives” at your vision. Instead, your church becomes more and more like the place God intends for it to be as your pursue the right things in the right way. Your vision will grow and expand, and become more memorable and compelling the more ardently you chase after it. Great church vision always creates this kind of positive feedback loop.

Two Bad Examples & How to Fix Them:

Note that I’ve hidden the identity of the bad church vision statements. It’s not my intention to be negative or demeaning about these churches. The focus is on your church vision statements, and how to avoid some of the same pitfalls and how you can improve your church vision.

EXAMPLE 1 – A small church:


Let’s simply run through our checklist of five benchmarks.

1) Is it future focused?
No. Nothing about this church vision statement references the future or what will happen in the future. Instead, it gives a rationale for why it exists currently.

2) Is it clearly a vision statement and not a mission statement?
No. This church vision statement reads more like a mission statement because it says what they do, not who they are becoming. Their church vision is (literally, based on how it appears in outline form on the website) a subset or explanation of their mission rather than the end result of their mission, values, strategies, and goals working together.

3) Is it compelling?
No. It’s filled with nice things, but there is nothing visceral about it. Nothing about this church vision makes me want to sell my house and move across the country to be a part of what they’re doing.

4) Is it memorable?
No. It’s short, which is good for rememberability. Longer vision statements (which can actually be better church vision statements) can be hard to remember because of their length, but they are remembered (in their components, at least) because they are comprised of something worth remembering.

5) Will it cause a positive feedback loop?
No. This focuses on what they’re already doing—or at least what they claim to be doing. It isn’t aspirational. It doesn’t paint a picture of what could be. Instead, it reinforces what they feel they should already be doing. I do not know the current situation of this church, but their vision makes me wonder if they’d describe their current state as “stuck.”

What do they need to do to fix it?

I’d be here all day if we were to go piece-by-piece on how to fix this vision statement, so I’ll make a couple of brief comments.

The mission statement is actually good.
The core values listed below the church mission are actually more like a belief statement than a values statement (another common mistake). Values are motivations, not just beliefs.
The vision statement lacks all five benchmarks, which would call into question if they have a clear picture of their strategies, and would make me wonder when was the last time they set measurable performance goals.

This church needs to go back to basics. I would highly recommend working with an outside group to help bring definition around mission, values, strategies, performance goals, and vision. The Malphurs Group takes churches through a six-month process called Strategic Envisioning which journeys alongside churches from the beginning of change readiness to implementing a plan for revitalization. This might sound drastic or like a sales ploy, but it is neither. The truth is that when churches are so far away from being on-track, outside direction is often the fastest route to gaining momentum and a healthy vision.

If working with an outside group is a non-starter, then this church still needs to go back to basics. The senior leader should invest in his or her own leadership development, seeking training or coaching to become more knowledgable about strategic planning in the church. A really affordable place to start is with grabbing a copy of Advanced Strategic Planning 3.0 or Re:vision.

EXAMPLE 2 – A large church:


Let’s simply run through our checklist of five benchmarks.

1) Is it future focused?
Kind-of. All of the statements are reflective of being more of something. Deeper, not just deep. Warmer not just warm. This implies a sense of becoming. It is not explicitly future focused, but it is subtly future oriented. Ideally, a church vision is both explicitly and implicitly future focused.

2) Is it clearly a vision statement and not a mission statement?
Kind-of. This church vision statement still centers on core functions or strategies of the church rather than painting a compelling picture of the future. It does hint at results: “deeper, larger, stronger, etc.” but places a higher emphasis (literally through bolding text) on the actions: “worship, evangelism, discipleship, etc.”

3) Is it compelling?
No. A good vision statement should paint an instant and clear picture of what the future could be. Their adjectives are more like good vibes than compellingly visceral.

4) Is it memorable?
Yes. Its short, bulleted format works here. I’d say that this part of their church vision statement is actually a highlight. It is not compelling but it is easy enough to remember because it’s clear.

5) Will it cause a positive feedback loop?
Probably not. The only way that this vision statement might create a positive feedback loop is if they frequently pause and say, “In the last year have we become deeper, larger, stronger, warmer, and broader?” If the leadership is not intentional about asking that specific question then there is absolutely nothing about this church vision that is going to jumpstart the positive feedback loop.

What do they need to do to fix it?

Interestingly, this vision statement is from a fairly large church. In fact, they might scoff at the criticism and say, “If our church vision statement isn’t very good, why are we growing?” I’ve worked at churches with no church vision statement that were still growing. That growth is occurring isn’t the barometer for whether or not a church vision statement is good. The question is: “What are you growing towards?” If you can’t answer that question, it’s time to revisit your vision statement. And it’s not just you who should be able to answer that question, but everyone involved in your church.

Church growth can be exciting. But if growth isn’t aimed in a particular direction for a particular impact, it will eventually wain or be wasted. This church vision statement is a few tweaks away from truly working. Here’s what needs to happen:

Give some color to “deeper, larger, stronger, warmer, and broader.” These are a really great place to start, but what does that look like more specifically?
Give some emotion by adding action words. The great words “deeper, larger, stronger, warmer, and broader” are all adjectives. A great way to add emotion is to add high-impact verbs. For example, they could change “Deeper through worship” to “X Church will experience deeper faith through worship that inspires devotion and catalyzes transformation.” Do you see the difference? I added three key verbs: experience, inspires, and catalyzes. All three of these verbs creates more motion and evokes more emotion.
– To keep it memorable, they can maintain their structure of five bullet points, but make the sentences longer so that color and motion and clarity can be added.
– By adding more detail and by painting a clearer picture, they’ll be more likely to jumpstart that positive feedback loop. This church vision statement is this-close. One session or coaching call with an outside observer could go a long way in gaining distinction and generating momentum.

Two Good Examples & Why They’re Great:

Note, I’m sharing these churches’ identity with you. Because if your church is doing something great and it makes it into a blog post somewhere, you should get some credit!

EXAMPLE 1 – Resurrection Church (Tacoma, WA):


Let’s simply run through our checklist of five benchmarks.

1) Is it future focused?
Yes! From where they are right now, not every city and neighborhood in the South Puget Sound is reached. So their vision is most definitely future focused.

2) Is it clearly a vision statement and not a mission statement?
Yes! Their mission is stated as, “Go make disciples.” What will happen in their unique context if they live out that vision? Answer: Resurrection Church will “impact every city and neighborhood in the South Puget Sound with the gospel.”

3) Is it compelling?
Yes! What a bold goal they have. The South Puget Sound area is one of the least-churched parts of the United States. To have their vision to be so laser-focused is incredibly compelling. Note how it starts with the verb “Impact.” Immediately, the vision connects with your gut. I love it.

4) Is it memorable?
Yes! It’s shorter than we would ever recommend when we’re working with churches. Generally, the longer a vision statement can be, the better. Largely for the reasons I listed above with the negative examples. A lack of detail generally results in a lack of clarity and a lack of excitement. Resurrection Church accomplished a rare feat: to paint a bold, clear, and exciting vision in one simple sentence.

5) Will it cause a positive feedback loop?
Yes! There is only one way that Resurrection Church will accomplish their church vision. They’ll have to leverage all of their resources, strategy, and leadership towards the vision of impacting the South Puget Sound. The closer they get to accomplishing the church vision, the more they’ll have to refine what they’re doing. The more they refine what they’re doing, the closer they’ll get to their church vision. Positive feedback loop achievement unlocked.

EXAMPLE 2 – Saddleback Church (Southern California)


Let’s simply run through our checklist of five benchmarks.

1) Is it future focused?
Yes! One thing Saddleback has done is literally call their church vision “our future.” It’s as clear as day. The leadership at Saddleback knows exactly what they want to do and where they are going.

2) Is it clearly a vision statement and not a mission statement?
Yes! They’ve actually split up what we might think of as a church vision statement into two parts: “our plan” and “our future,” but both are still very distinctive from what they list as “our mission.” The “our plan” section, alone, would not be a true church vision statement. However, when it’s combined with “our future,” you can see how it is a church vision.

3) Is it compelling?
Yes! Look at the colorful language that Saddleback uses: “train an army,” “relentless pursuit,” “to the ends of the earth.” All of these phrases evoke emotion, but they are also tied to a clear and compelling destination: “opening PEACE centers,” and planting “eight more international campuses.” This is a great example of how a number can be included in a church vision without it being numbers-focused.

4) Is it memorable?
Yes! It manages a good balance between length and language. There is enough in it to be colorful and evoke emotion, but not so long that no one can remember it.

5) Will it cause a positive feedback loop?
Yes! Saddleback Church has identified a clear pathway towards what they want to do. They know where they’re going as a church—as a movement. In fact, Saddleback Church is a great example of proof that the positive feedback loop happens. Let me be abundantly clear: the aim of this article is not to show how every church can become a megachurch. Not every church should be, or should even aspire to be. What I want to point out in Saddleback’s case is that they have become exactly what they aimed to be from the beginning. Watch this short video with our TMG founder, Aubrey Malphurs talking about Saddleback’s original church vision:

Do you see? The closer they got to their vision, the more they had to refine and tweak their strategies and goals, which in turn got them closer to their vision. And now their vision has shifted entirely in its language, but the heart behind that original, lengthy church vision is still ever-present in what Saddleback is doing today and aiming for today. The positive feedback loop works.

What about you?

This may be the longest article I’ve ever written. It’s long. So, congratulations if you’ve made it this far without skimming (don’t lie, I know you do it. I do it, too). But if you’ve read this novel, it tells me something: you’re eager for your church vision to be future focused, clear, compelling, memorable, and the catalyst for a positive feedback loop. So, what are your next steps?

Consider leadership coaching. If you’ve run through the five benchmarks and your vision is this-close, coaching might be a great route.
Consider a vision workshop. If you’ve run through the five benchmarks and you’re not super close, but feel like your church has gained some traction in other areas like mission, values, and strategies, a one-weekend workshop might be a great route.
Consider strategic envisioning. If you’ve run through the five benchmarks and it was gut-check about how far your church is from having a clear church vision, working with us to walk through a more comprehensive strategic planning process may be the best option.
Consider gaining extra knowledge. If you’ve run through the five benchmarks, and you realize the biggest thing you need is some additional knowledge, consider purchasing one of these books: Advanced Strategic Planning 3.0 or Re:vision. These are both a really great place to start in boosting your knowledge base if working with an outside group isn’t a viable option.
Loop in your team. If all of this is overwhelming, or if you’re unsure if your church vision is on track, ask your team. Run through the five benchmarks with your staff and/or leadership team. See how they answer the questions. They will likely be very honest with you and give you a better understanding of what your next steps need to be.

Few words get thrown around the church without any context like the word vision. My hope is that through this (extremely long) article, you’ve been able to get a clearer picture of what church vision is, how to evaluate yours, and what to do if your church vision needs a little work.


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