Advice to the Church in Wales by John Leach
Writing a Church Vision Statement
To agree a clear statement about what we think were here to do can help churches to focus on what is really important. It can also give a sense of purpose which helps us move forward and escape the endless cycle of doing what weve always done. This is one possible design for a day to help churches arrive at a vision statement. It may be done over three evenings, or as an awayday. If the latter, you will need a significant break (eg for lunch) between the first and second sessions. It is best done with an external facilitator who has no particular axe to grind, but you dont need an expensive expert. Maybe someone from a neighbouring parish, an area dean or a lay person from the business world could be useful to you. It will also help the facilitator if they have a companion (again, from outside your church) to help. The process is in three stages, but there is scope to extend it further and to revisit the statement you arrive at. Who should be a part of it? Ideally the whole church council should be present, because of the authority this will give your statement, but you may also wish to invite other members of the church. The more the merrier.
Session 1 (1 hour)
The facilitator should give a brief introduction as to the importance of vision, and an outline of the process. Then the people should be sorted into groups of no more than five. The first task is to complete, in no more than 50 words and/or five bullet points, the phrase This church exists ... By the end of the hour, each group should have written their statement on a piece of flipchart paper, which should be displayed for all to see. Before the next session the facilitator(s) have the task of combining the different statements into one, also no longer than 50 words. It is important to pick out each of the elements from the different groups work, although there will obviously be much overlap. It goes without saying that the role of the facilitator is not to put any personal spin on it, but to reflect accurately what the groups have said.
Session 2 (1 - 1.5 hours)
At the start of the second session the whole meeting are presented with the combined statement written by the facilitator, alongside the individual groups efforts. They are told that no-one can leave the room until they have arrived at a statement to which everyone could happily sign their name. Negotiations then begin, until the wording is agreed. On occasions this is non-controversial and is all done in five minutes, but sometimes it will open up major discussions and even arguments, which the facilitator is there to manage. I have only once known there to be no agreement after an hour and a half, but the session was useful in that it opened up major areas of conflict within the church, which meant that they were not ready to agree any way forward. Back to the vicar! Usually, however, a statement is agreed and a sense of achievement and unity is reached. If you get there quickly, move straight on to the next session.
Session 3 (1 - 1.5 hours)
This session concerns what we do with the statement now we have written it. There are three main areas, and the meeting may want to subdivide with a small group tackling each, or the whole group may talk about each in turn. The second option will obviously take longer. If you do subdivide you should allow a short time for a final feedback session from the different groups.
- A strap-line. This is a short statement which tries to sum up in a memorable way the essence of the longer statement, and which captures the personality of the church. Examples of strap-lines from the secular world might include 'Because you're worth it', 'Probably the best lager in the world' and 'Pure genius'. In the light of your vision statement, can you write one for your church?
- A logo. One for your artistic types here. Can you design a logo for your church?
- Publicity. Where and how might you publicise your statement, logo and strap-line? Noticeboards? Weekly news sheets? Where else?
Finally, the church council should refer constantly to the statement in its discussions and decision-making. Is any given decision in line with our vision statement, or does it run counter to it? Are there things going on in the church which subvert what we have all agreed is our purpose? What can we do about them? And of course any acceptance of a vision-statement leads on to further questions about how well were doing, and how we can plan to do even better in the future.
With grateful thanks to John Leach.
Parish Development Adviser, Monmouth Diocese, Church in Wales.