This week’s post is written by the Rev. Dr. Patrick G. Duggan, Executive Director of the United Church of Christ Church Building & Loan Fund. Since 1995, Rev. Dr. Duggan has also served as senior pastor of the Congregational Church of South Hempstead in South Hempstead, New York.
After presenting to a group of about 30 clergy on the necessity of a clear mission and a strategic vision before engaging in a church building project, one pastor approached me to say how much he agreed with me. He was just a few months into his call to the church, and he had just completed revising the church mission statement and developing a strategic plan. As a part of this mission and planning work, the pastor and lay leaders had articulated their vision of the church in 2025. Armed with these essential tools, he felt that the church was ready to talk with CB&LF about their plans to renovate the church building. I was excited to hear more about a church that had seemingly done everything that we tell congregations to do before planning a building project. We exchanged business cards, and promised to communicate by email.
The next day, the pastor emailed the summary page of the congregation’s 2025 vision. The half page document was a list of five items – worship attendance, membership, budget, endowment, church school attendance, bible study attendance, with very ambitious seven-year number or dollar targets for each item. I commended my fellow clergy-person and his congregation for taking the time and effort to put together a vision plan. Few churches see the necessity of the whole community working together to discern and cast a shared vision for the future. This church had done that work. That’s a good thing.
And yet as valuable an exercise that this process had been for the church, I shared with the pastor my hope that the congregation had spent as much time on what they intended to accomplish in the world outside of the church as they had on internally-focused projected outcomes. It is important to have numerical objectives, I said. But these objectives must come as an outcome of the congregation’s compelling vision for how it intends to transform the world in seven years through advancing the Gospel of Jesus; a vision that excites not only church leaders and members but visitors, strangers, and even people who may never enter your space. In other words, what is going to compel strangers to join your church so you can reach your ambitious membership goal?
This congregation’s experience with vision casting illuminates the need for a balance of mission and measurement in the process of projecting an organizational future. The way toward this balance is NOT to have an equal focus on mission and metrics. On the contrary, when casting a vision for a church or any mission-driven organization, the way toward impactful outcomes is to prioritize mission over metrics in your strategic vision plan. It is counterintuitive, but if you want to reach ambitious measurable objectives, go hard on mission. Jesus put it this way: But strive first for the kin_dom of God and its righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.