Gary McIntosh, president of Church Growth Network and professor of Christian ministry and leadership at Talbot School of Theology, answers the question, “How can churches remain agile in the midst of an ever-changing culture?”
Most pastors and church leaders get the concepts of mission and vision confused. Most feel they are articulating a vision when they preach the Great Commission. However, from my perspective, the Great Commission is our mission but not our vision. Vision expresses how a local church is actually going to carry out the Great Commission specifically in its community. Thus, making disciples is our mission, while connecting with the 25,000 families in our community by distributing a copy of the Jesus film to each home over the next five years, is a vision. Mission tells pastors why they are doing something, but vision tells the congregation what the church is actually going to do. It’s a big difference. Pastors are great at exegeting the text and preaching the mission, but very poor at exegeting the culture and communicating vision.
Church leaders need to seriously rethink and recalibrate their mission, vision, values and goals every five years at minimum. I tell church leaders to plan a major retreat every five years to rethink all of their foundational statements. A church board should be divided into two teams: Present Team and Future Team. For about three months, the Present Team does research on how to make the church’s current ministry better. Then, during the same three months, the Future Team does research in the church’s ministry area to see how the ministry can get ready to expand into the future. At the major board retreat, both teams present their ideas for improvement and advancement, after which the board reviews its overall direction for the coming five years. If a church board does this seriously every five years, it will keep the church focused on the future and able to make adjustments in ministry to engage the future. At the same time, the church keeps improving the current ministry along the way.
I tell pastors that they need to do a wholesale reinvention of their personal lives and ministries every decade. Most pastors have enough of a vision when they first come to a ministry to carry them for about 10 years. But, after that, pastors tend to coast on the past successes or agonize over the past failures that occurred in the previous decade. Thus, for a healthy and fruitful ministry, pastors must seriously reinvent themselves every decade.