The word ‘vision’ gets shrouded in confusion very easily. That’s because we get confused between Mission & Vision. And it’s no wonder that we get confused between the two because everyone has a different definition for it.
I remember being in a meeting once and was debating what was ‘Mission’ and what was ‘Vision’. Thankfully, a wise head spoke up (he also happens to be my father-in-law), “Everyone’s got their definition for mission and vision so why don’t we just define it for ourselves and move on?” Genius. Find a definition, stick to that definition, and if someone uses it differently, just translate it into your context.
So here’s our definition. We use the metaphor of orienteering. If you’re stuck on an island and don’t know how to find the beach, you need a compass. That’s mission. It’s the un-changing direction of travel. Just head north.
Vision is therefore all about horizons. What can you see? If you need to head north, what’s the big landmark? Just saying, “Everybody head north!” won’t help many people. We need reference points. It’s better to say, “Everybody, head north towards that coconut tree!” However, once you’ve reached the coconut tree, the journey isn’t over, there’s a new horizon to explore. “Now let's head north towards the Mango Tree!” - this is a delicious island.
The big thing is that Vision changes depending on where you are. If you move forward, the horizon doesn’t stay static. That’s why vision should always be changing, but mission is constant.
A great example of an organisation that had a clear vision, but no mission, was UKIP. The U.K. Independence Party had one goal: get Britain out of the European Union, and the decisive Referendum in 2016 meant that the vision was seemingly achieved - Britain would start the journey of leaving the EU.
What was the problem? No mission. What happened? UKIP crumbled immediately after the vote. The party is now a shadow of its former self because it’s lost its purpose. There was no ‘why’ behind leaving the EU. Something bigger, longer lasting was needed. A vision is great, but without a mission, achieving the vision could spell the end of the organisation.
Does this mean that we shouldn’t set vision? No at all. We just need to put it in its proper context. At thinking.church we talk about vision as goals rather than vision. That makes it so much clearer. It can be a really big, scary goal too, and it should be. It should rally finance and volunteers too, it should be visionary. But we keep it in the context of the overall mission.
Having a goal to buy a new church building is great, but it’s not the most important thing, it’s not the mission. Starting a homeless shelter is a great goal, but it's not the mission. Your vision should serve your mission, not the other way around.
So now we’ve put mission and vision in its right place, we can start to craft a great vision for the church. Here are three things to think about:
I’ve heard of organisations going for 100 year visions! But think about it. Think how the world was in 1920. Before the Great Depression, before World War II, before the internet, before smartphones, before 9/11, before Facebook and Instagram. Setting a long vision sounds great, but in reality, you have no idea how the world is going to look beyond about 5 years. Think about COVID-19, things can come in at any point and change the entire landscape, so you need to remain flexible.
Goodhart's law states that "A metric that becomes a target ceases to be a good measure." That can sound absurd, as we’re often used to hearing things like, “Plant 10 locations in 5 years” and “1,000 by 2020” types of vision statements.
However, whilst these great statements present really well, after the launch comes the fight, and soon enough the rubber hits the road and you’re realising that these weren’t all that achievable. Let’s say you reached 9 locations in 5 years. By your own scoreboard, that’s failure. But in the context of the church’s mission, it’s still a huge success.
The other problem is that human nature is to cut corners in search of reaching the goal. If you’re looking to plant 10 locations in 5 years, you may start relaxing your definitions of ‘planting a church’ in order to hit the number. “We’ve got 3 people in a living room, hey that counts as a church!”
That’s not to say that statistics don't have their place, but they should be an internal gauge, not an external declaration. It’s much better to launch your vision as “To become a multisite church over the next 5 years.” It’s not as hard-and-fast, but you can still have very clear internal metrics around that.
The vision can easily become the most important phrase in your church, but that would be like talking all about the coconut tree rather than people getting to the beach. Your vision is just a goal, so don’t make it bigger than your mission statement. That will mean you have to be really clear with how you communicate it. For visionary communication, we love Nancy Duarte & Patti Smith’s book, Illuminate, which gives a clear flow of how to communicate your vision, and how the communication should change over time.
We’d love to hear what your church’s current vision is. If you need help formulating it, we provide on-site facilitation services so your church can have health and clarity.