My Love-Hate Relationship With Church Vision

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I have seen many churches with wonderful vision statements and no forward momentum.

For more than 20 years, I have been a big advocate of the need for churches and ministries to get clear about the vision to which God is leading them.

I still think a clear, shared, compelling vision is important and powerful, and yet …

I have seen many churches with wonderful vision statements and no forward momentum. I have talked to pastors and laypeople who are jaded about visions and visioning processes.

What’s the problem?

Isn’t a vision supposed to supply the direction and energy that lead to positive results?

Here are four common vision-related diseases that afflict many churches and ministries:

1. It’s not their vision.

Vision statements may not seem unique, but the meaning behind them should be specific to the church and its context.

If a congregation decides to copy someone else’s vision, they are unlikely to see much impact. Likewise, if the core leadership team doesn’t have a high level of ownership in the vision, it will lack traction.

There are a variety of ways to achieve this, but there are no shortcuts to creating a meaningful vision with high commitment.

2. It’s not God’s vision.

The church belongs to God, not us, so we should be seeking the owner’s guidance as we make decisions. 

Asking where God is leading is essential.

This is much more than a perfunctory prayer at the start of each meeting. It’s a process that is done by spiritually mature leaders who will commit substantial time to listen for God’s voice with the outcome being, “It seemed right to the Holy Spirit and us …” (Acts 15:28).

Mike Bonem Mike Bonem is the author or co-author of three books, including In Pursuit of Great AND Godly Leadership and Leading from the Second Chair. An experienced consultant, he loves to work alongside the leaders of churches and other ministries to help them turn their visions into results. Mike’s previous experience includes over 10 years as an executive pastor, business strategy consulting with McKinsey and Company, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

More from Mike Bonem or visit Mike at

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  • Robert Sickler

    Well said and very true.

  • Russell


  • Steve

    No. 1 is a direct result of not doing no 2. which would probably really take care of 3 and 4. hmmm

  • ServantHeart2012

    A vision that changes with every new pastor, chair of elders, etc. is not going to be one that accomplishes anything either. Coming from a “mainline” church that practices intenerancy in ministry, (it’s initials are UMC) it seems that when a pastor goes, so goes the mission/vision, etc. The wimps in the pews won’t take a stand and say “Welcome (new pastor)! This is the mission statement and the vision of OUR CHURCH! Learn it!” Rather they sit silently awaiting the “new” mission and vision to come from the newbie and simply kow-tow no matter how vague it is or how opposing it is to the previous one. Pretty soon NO ONE knows or even cares what the mission or vision is anymore and it’s purpose is lost. A church is not it’s pastor or it’s staff. It is everyone working together as the body of Christ. Don’t place the burden of identifying your church’s mission or vision solely on your pastor . . . and don’t allow your pastor to shove something down your throat either! Work toward a common vision. Identify it and put it into a concise statement. Then cast and defend that vision continuously. You’ll be glad you did!

    • LogosAletheia

      Question: is it possible that the same “vision” should be more the same rather than different for each congregation and pastor, so that when a pastor moves from one church to another, the transitions are more smooth? Yes, each auto company promotes its own brand and business method – we’re used to that in business; how much carryover is really that legitimate in the church? Just askin’.

      • ServantHeart2012

        If I understand your question correctly, “Yes” is absolutely the answer. If there were a uniform “vision” across all of the United Methodist Church and its itinerant pastors were subject to adopt that vision and cast it at every stop along their way without fail and without personal bias, transitions would not only be smooth, they would be largely unnecessary except for retirement, illness, etc. However, each pastor is left to his or her own interpretation of the need for a “mission and vision” for each church they serve. I think this is one of many areas where the denomination as a whole fails its local churches.

  • Rich

    Good word Mike. #4 is particularly poignant because pastors are expected to be executives also. Most churches in the world can only afford one full-time pastor, so the progress (execution of the vision) can significantly be hindered when it falls on the shoulders of the visionary pastor.

    I wonder if you might offer some solutions to this dilema?

  • Duane

    I definitely agree # 3 is particularly difficult. Pastors by nature care for their people–all of God’s people under their. Choosing a vision that might initially alienate some people is down right painful. However, if they do not have a vision of their own that is clear and articulate it has a tendency of alienating everyone. I think it is important that the pastors and leaders spend a lot of self reflection understanding their personal values because our real values not our aspirational values drive us. Once the leaders know their values and their values turn into a vision and their vision–driven by their values becomes a passion– I believe a lot of people who are not 100% on board will support the vision, because they support the leaders who are doing God’s work.

  • Scott Dossett

    How did the church survive 2000 years without vision statements? That’s right… because it had one at the beginning. “Go ye therefore…” and all that jazz. ;)

    • LogosAletheia

      It seems to me many churches and pastors today think Jesus’ defined mission statement lacks the level of “specificity” that seems to be “warranted” in today’s world. Jesus’ method stayed simple and clear: “Go” and “preach,” “teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you,” “baptize,” – “make disciples” – pretty simple, simply profound. Everything we are/do ought to fit in those parameters. If it doesn’t, it’s probably time to re-evaluate.

      Matthew 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching
      them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I
      am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

      • Scott Dossett

        Perhaps you failed to catch the note of sarcasm in my comment.

        • ServantHeart2012

          That’s what makes your comment come to life! Thanks!

  • Ryan

    “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”

    “But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.”
    Vision is a gift of God that allows us to see Him so we can believe and be healed or saved. I don’t think a church needs a vision statement… maybe a mission statement but our mission statement is already in the bible.

  • Mike Bonem

    I appreciate everyone’s comments (positive and negative) on this article. To Rich’s question, if the church only has 1 pastor and that pastor is a visionary, I think 2 things are important. First, look for a gifted layperson who can help with execution. He or she doesn’t have to do it all, but can help greatly in developing the specific plans. Second, the pastor should keep asking himself if the vision has gotten ahead of the church’s capabilities. If so, then scale back on the size of the vision, at least in the short-term.

  • LogosAletheia

    This is a really timely article as our small church is searching for a new pastor after 4-1/2 years of our former pastor. Vision lost momentum this past summer when our former pastor resigned. Vision should be communicated to the membership by the pastor; however, when the pastor changes, the new pastor should have new vision and the ability to take the flock to the next level. Ideally, the vision both pastor and flock embrace should be GOD’s vision for the church and the community, and should transcend both the pastor and the flock.

  • Robert Geluk

    Just been reading Samuel Chand’s book on church culture “Cracking your church’s culture code”, in it he talks about the difference between culture and vision. Dr Sam Chand uses the metaphor of a race car to illustrate the
    difference between Vision and Culture. He says, “Think of a high-performance
    Formula One car, finely tuned and built for speed. The car represents the
    organisation’s vision and strategy. The car though, can go only as fast as the
    road allows, and the culture is the road.” If we have a culture that is full of holes, then we will not be able to drive our vision fast on it. I tend to agree, I have taken over a church that had a culture that was closed to outsiders, unfriendly and power hungry, it has taken me 3 years to change that culture and now I can start implementing the vision I have for this church and this town. There was no way we could achieve our vision without first changing our culture.

    • christoph

      Great insight about “the culture of the church”


    I agree, excellent.

  • Rev.Elisha Mahene

    Helpful insight, Be blessed .Pastor Elisha Mahene -Elshaddai Christian Centre, Maili sita , Moshi- Tanzania

  • christoph

    the vision statement of our church is too general, not specific enough I think it is “making and enabling disciples.” I’m a member of that church for almost 20 years. The lead-pastor is here for 15 years. He is one who pushes that vision, but it is not “owned” by the church. Did I mentioned that our church, in spite of all programs, goes nowhere?l

    • thunder250

      sounds like a mission statement rather than a vision. a vision describes what one would see and hear should it be fulfilled.

  • Roger Miskimmin

    Now that I think about it, I cannot think of one local church that doesn’t fall foul of all 4 of these.

  • Bud Brown

    Most “vision statements” are merely expressions of aspiration, not intent.

  • cajennison

    I am Interim Pastor at a church where, for the first time in my experience, the congregation has understood the vision of God for their church. It includes the vision that is laid out in the Bible, but it is very specific and unique to our particular context, time, and situation. Once I was able to see it (after about a year) and articulate it/reflect it back to them, everyone was immediately on board, because it made complete sense–it was actually where God was leading them! They just didn’t know that they knew it! Well, there were about 4 people who decided they couldn’t tolerate our unique vision, so they quietly left for the megachurch in the rich suburb. And our church has been growing ever since. More visitors, more new members, more children, more baptized persons… I was not the one who “cast” the vision, I simply helped the people discover what God was already doing in their midst!


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