Michele McGrath describes the process of leading a congregation in defining a vision that captured the church’s true passion and identity around feeding others.
After attending a retreat last fall on “visionary leadership,” I spent six months living and breathing “vision.” I thought about it all the time. I read and reread books. I taught adult classes on the subject. And I prayed about it daily. I desperately wanted to share my passion with my tiny, aging congregation.
Despite six months of meetings, activities, and readings, I felt like our vision discernment process was getting nowhere. A lot of the time, my sweet little congregation just stared at me with looks on their faces that said, “What in the world is she doing now?” No clear vision seemed to be emerging. But we pushed ahead. Totally sure that God had a job for this congregation to do, I proceeded on faith alone. And the congregation followed in faith, as well.
The entire congregation took part in a series of intergenerational classes to consider the questions: “Where We Have Been?”; “Where Are We Now?”; and “Where are We Going?” To discover where we had been, we did a congregational history timeline. This broke the logjam. They loved it! They talked about people and times gone by. Discovering that they had always been a small congregation, they realized the congregation was not in decline.
Next came a strategic planning session. As we focused on the kinds of activities the congregation cared about, I declared that a vision would emerge once we identified what energized the congregation. As we dreamed and planned, I began noticing a clear trend in the conversation. From the teenagers to the oldest, all the ideas group members discussed included food — serving at a soup kitchen; hosting a BBQ for the neighborhood; becoming a distribution site for a food pantry; hosting a holiday party for local shelter residents. Even activities that did not involve food called for a potluck meal. We had to laugh at ourselves! We wanted to feed everyone.
A week later, I proposed a tentative vision statement to the congregation: “Victor Valley Community of Christ: A church that feeds body and soul.” I shared the Scripture, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for men.” (Matt 4:19 NLT) And I couldn’t believe what happened next. They nodded their heads, smiled, and laughed, saying “Yep, that’s us!”
We still have lots of issues and tons of work to do. But we have found the “song of our heart,” and we are ready to take the next faithful step.