Church Vision: Planning 20 Years in Advance

Church Vision: Planning 20 Years in Advance

August 31, 2015 by

Last summer, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church began implementing a fresh 20-year vision. The new vision was the product of a year of conversation, study and discernment. As a staff person, I am both excited by the opportunities our new vision opens up and overwhelmed (and sometimes frustrated) by the changes the new vision demands of me. I recently sat down with lead pastor Jeff Marian to discuss the vision, what inspired him and how he brought people along in this multi-decade vision process.

A Context of Change

Forward thinking is the essence of Prince of Peace. When the church was built just over 50 years ago, it was surrounded by cornfields. But Burnsville, a suburb of Minneapolis, was growing quickly, and the church knew it would soon be well placed to serve the newly relocated families. By the time families moved in and were looking for family ministry, Prince of Peace had a robust program ready for them.

Burnsville has changed. White, middle-class, two-parent families are still in the majority but are increasingly being joined by working class families, people in poverty, people of color, senior citizens and recent immigrants.

The culture has changed. Like many large suburban churches, Prince of Peace has been offering a quality “Christian experience”: we have exciting worship, a strong music program and an active family ministry. But, in Pastor Jeff’s words, “There is declining interest in the consumer model of church, and it was becoming apparent we could keep pouring money and effort into improving something people don’t want, or we could do something radically new.”

There are many reasons for planning 20 years ahead. Lasting change takes time to plan for and create.

A New Metric

When we started the visioning process, things were—by all the usual metrics—“fine.” We were marrying and burying people and had close to 2,000 in the service most weekends. We had exciting worship and a fun family ministry.

But we were in debt, and that debt was limiting our ministry. Attendance was down—our peak used to be 5,000 attendants per week. Plus, the congregation was aging. We were looking less and less like the community we served. Because of this, we weren’t making disciples or growing spiritually.

We needed a new metric for success. The old metric was, “How many?”—like how many people in worship, kids in choir, volunteers at the sale, and more. We’ve now started measuring by, “Are we a part of the wider community? As a church, are we so in love with God that we have no choice but to go out in the community and share the gospel?”

Leading by Staying out of the Way

When planning for 20 years ahead, leadership needs to be visionary. However, too often “leadership” means “lead pastor.” Pastor Jeff saw himself as having two conflicting leadership roles—either, “stay the hell out of the way” or “you need to set the vision yourself.” But a new church vision needed a new way. Concerned the vision would become his and not the church’s, Pastor Jeff wanted the congregation to discern God’s call for themselves. Otherwise the new vision would leave as soon as he did.

Pastor Jeff picked circle of church leaders, both paid staff and volunteers, and asked them to dedicate a year to creating a new vision for the church. The vision team met, prayed and discussed together. They also talked and listened to members of the congregation both in organized forums and in informal hallway conversations.

Leading by Provoking

Though he was staying out of the way, Pastor Jeff could still lead by nudging his congregation into accepting the need for a new vision. “I was beginning to feel like the captain of the Titanic,” he said. “I was up in the wheelhouse, I could see the iceberg looming, but the wheel was too big for me to turn alone. It was my job to run down to the ballroom where people were dancing and drinking and laughing and get help. But first I had to convince them we were headed for a crisis.”

Over the next 12 months, he took his message to ever widening circles. He shared one clear message: “Your ship is sinking, and you don’t know it.” He used sermon series, Bible studies and blog posts to get Jesus out of the “warm and fuzzy zone” where mainline Christians tend to put him. Pastor Jeff reminded us Jesus was the one who put the last first. He then gently reminded us that we are the privileged “first,” and we’d better start lifting up the disadvantaged “last.”

Called to Connect

In our 20-year vision, we have identified three areas we are called to serve: children and teens, seniors and people living in poverty. Subcommittees formed around each area and are currently identifying potential community partners and learning about the unmet needs of these groups. Additional subcommittees are working on communication, culture and land/building use.

We can’t move into this new future alone. We need other minds to help us use our gifts to the fullest. We need to stop “owning” our missions and to open them up to the wider community. We need to give people the ability to serve with us as well as be served by us. This vision pushes us to be truly engaged with the community. There are enough duplicate services as it is. We seek to connect people in need with the people and organizations in place already who can serve them.

This summer, the communication subcommittee is rolling out a new church tagline, “Called to Connect,” reflecting our commitment to our community, each other and God.

20 Years? Seriously?

Everyone I tell about this visioning process reacts the same way: “Really? 20 years? How can you plan that far ahead? How do you even know what you’ll want to do 20 years from now?”

There are many reasons for planning 20 years ahead. Lasting change takes time to plan for and create. It takes even longer to weave change into the church culture, particularly in bigger organizations.

Most importantly, this vision reflects a call to lead the community and maybe even other churches in the area. This is not the vision of a church who is waiting to see what the “customer” wants or where the trends take us. It is the vision of a church willing to risk forging a trail into the future.

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Beth Beaty


Beth Beaty is a communication specialist for Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, Minn. She worked in cooperate communications for nearly 20 years while being active in church leadership as a volunteer before merging her passions five years ago.
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