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I'm Scott Ball, a strategy and leadership consultant for churches like yours.
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What to Do When Vision Leaks
“Some leaders believe that if they fill people’s vision buckets all the way to the top one time, those buckets will stay full forever. But the truth is, people’s buckets have holes of varying sizes in their bottoms. As a result, vision leaks out.” – Bill Hybels, Leadership Axioms
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard Bill Hybels speak before, but the man loves buckets. I must have heard three or four different messages from him that included some sort of a bucket analogy. But, I have to admit, this is one example where it truly works.
Those of us who serve on church staffs are fully immersed in church culture every moment of every day. So when our church decides on a vision, staff have smaller “holes” in their “buckets” and so vision leaks much more slowly. It still leaks. Have you ever spoken with a burnt-out pastor or staffer who has lost touch with his passion? Vision has totally leaked out of his bucket.
But for those who are outside of the day-to-day ministry grind, vision leaks even faster. Hybels continues from the quote above: “You or I could deliver a mind-blowing, God-honoring, pulse-quickening vision talk on Sunday that leaves everyone revved up to go change the world, but by Tuesday, many people have forgotten they were even in church the previous weekend. Unbelievable, huh?”
The truth is that your church is no different from Willow Creek or another church down the road when it comes to the leadership reality that vision leaks. All of us are in the same, leaky boat together. So rather than saying, “Not my church!” Let’s all accept the validity of Bill Hybel’s leadership axiom: vision leaks.
So, what now? Do we just throw our hands up and say, “Oh, well. Vision leaks.”
Here are five strategies to help keep the vision buckets of your congregation full from week to week:
Ensure your vision is worth their bucket.
Vision leaks a lot faster when it’s not very inspiring. Think of a weak vision being like water and a great vision being like syrup. In the end, they’ll both leak out of the bucket, but one will take a lot longer because it has more substance. Too often people confuse vision with a mission statement. A mission statement answers the question: what do we do? A vision, on the other hand, tells the story of what your church will look like if you do your mission well. Great vision is visceral. It doesn’t connect with the mind, it touches the spirit. Pull out your vision statement right now. Go ahead. I can wait… Okay, when you read it, does it stir your heart? Does it make you want to close out of this article and get to work? If not, it’s time to revisit your vision. Why waste time filling people’s buckets with a vision that doesn’t stir their hearts affections and spur them on to love and good works? Spend time working on the vision itself–which may take months–before paying attention to the rest of the tips in this article.
Make vision risky.
In 2013, the tightrope walker Nik Wallenda traversed the Grand Canyon on a high wire. Battling 55 mph winds, Wallenda risked his life just to walk across a wire. But 13 million Americans tuned in on television and another 2 million streamed the event online, because people are intrinsically drawn to risk. People want a chance of failure, a chance of disaster. But no one wanted really Wallenda to fall. Most people are not sadistic. But everyone likes the risk of the fall. Is your vision safe? If your vision failed tomorrow, would anyone even care? Enhance your vision by laying everything on the line. Vision leaks more slowly when people are more invested in its success. If vision failure is going to cost them something, they’ll stay more engaged in its success. I’m not speak of money, necessarily. Ownership can be achieved through a lot of non-financial ways from mobilization to community outreach.
Share vision wins.
Whenever a fragment of the vision comes into reality, throw a party. Don’t just say a few words on a Sunday morning or (worse) mention a success in a church-wide email. Talk about it on Sunday, in emails, in a video online, in person throughout the week, and every other avenue where you can share the success. People are attracted to risk, but they’re motivated by wins. Whenever you experience a vision win, use it as fuel to keep the vision buckets full.
Activate known leaders without titles.
People expect to hear about the “exciting” vision from the pastor and staff. And they should hear it from the pastor and staff. But people don’t expect to hear about it from the person sitting in the pew next to them. Identify known influencers in your church, ideally people without a title–or not a high-level leadership title. Fill their vision bucket to overflowing and empower them to fill the buckets of those in their sphere of influence. This grassroots-level movement of vision not only helps plug holes, but helps to refill the bucket along the way when vision leaks. If, as pastor, you’re the only one filling vision buckets, you’re going to burn out fast. Activate others to help.
Use vision backdrops.
You have to talk about things other than vision. Ideally, everything you’re doing at your church connects in someway to the vision you’ve casted. But explicit vision-casting cannot be the only thing that comes out of your mouth. So one great way to keep vision buckets full is to invest in visual representations of the vision which can be displayed throughout your church. From banners to publications, refill people’s vision buckets by surrounding them with the vision whenever they engage with your church. Newcomers will ask questions when they encounter these “vision backdrops,” and those conversations–initiated by guests–are incredible opportunities to fill their vision bucket for the first time.
But when it does, utilize one or more of these five strategies to keep the bucket full. A compelling, visceral vision is the fuel for breakthrough churches. Vision keeps people in your church on-mission. Vision encourages people to remain evangelistically-motivated. Vision inspires people to remain on the path towards deeper levels of discipleship. Vision motivates people to dream of higher levels of leadership and community impact. Vision fuels community transformation in Christ.
Yes, vision leaks. But let’s keep those buckets full. It matters.
Have an inspiring vision and want more people to join in the cause?
Vision leaks most with guests, and leaks the least with committed regular attenders. How do you get more people into the “committed” category? Download my free guide to access 10 Simple Secrets to Transform Guests into Regular Attenders. This brief guide gives ten detailed tips you can implement right away to further close that back door of your church.