Earlier this year we had an independent team of pastoral leaders visit our parish and give us a frank assessment of what they experienced. Largely we got good grades. But we were shocked, I mean really shocked to read their assessment that beyond the pastor and his associate, there was no ability to articulate vision…even among the staff.
As Pastor Bill Hybels puts it, “vision leaks.” We could deliver an awesome, God-honoring vision on Sunday that would convince everyone we were going to change the world, and many people will largely forget it by Tuesday or Wednesday. People are busy and the daily routine is going to get all the attention. It is difficult to remain focused on what’s not there, which is what vision is trying to do. Even when we successfully pour vision into our members and ministers, it will drain out of them sooner than we think.
One of our projects this summer is about re crafting some of the statements we use to talk about ourselves and describe what we do, with the view of more consistently using these statements in the coming year.
Of course, our faith is given expression in the Creed, which we recite each week at Mass and does not change. Neither does our mission, which is given by the Lord and hopefully everyone knows it, even if they can’t express it in precisely the same way. Basically it comes down to: Love God, love others, make disciples (Matthew 22.37, 39 & Matthew 28.19-20).
When it comes to our vision we want to be all about reaching out to our community with the life changing message of Jesus Christ, and we want to do it creatively and faithfully in our Roman Catholic tradition. We want to focus this effort on our own part of the world here in the greater Timonium-Lutherville community, with an emphasis particularly on that mythic figure “Timonium Tim” who is culturally Catholic but actually far from God. At the same time, once Tim is inside the door we don’t want him to just be a consumer of religion, we want him to become a real disciple of the Lord Jesus, by walking the path of discipleship and undertaking some form of ministry and service in the church. Eventually we want Tim to be part of that “reaching out to the community” process, which is called evangelization. Finally, we would like to be of assistance to other churches elsewhere, to help them understand the things we’ve learned and what works for us when it comes to doing church…not with any sense of paternalism or pride, but rather a sincere hope to help others who are struggling (as so many are these days). To try and sum that up in a vision statement we can actually use, we’re currently working with this formulation:
Growing disciples, growing future disciples among former Catholics in north Baltimore, and influencing churches to do the same elsewhere.
A creative reduction of this phrase even further came up with the the memorable mantra
Make church matter.
At a staff planning day we tried to come up with words that describe who we are and what we do: welcoming, relevant, excellent, dynamic, orthodox, life-changing, engaging, creative (and many more). We then tried to apply these to a kind of strategy statement. It goes like this:
Currently one in three Catholics have left the Catholic Church. Our strategy is to creatively reach out to former Catholics in our North Baltimore community with a fresh and relevant presentation of the life-changing message of the Gospel to make fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.
Our weekend experience is central to our strategy and the weekend message is central to the weekend experience. Music, message and ministers work together to create an irresistible environment of energy and excellence in which newcomers feel welcome and want to come back. Equally important strategically are excellent weekend programs for kids and students where the messages usually parallel the adult message.
Newcomers are encouraged to come back. Regular weekend attendees are encouraged to take the next step and become a member. Members are encouraged to take their next steps: serve in a ministry, join a Small Group, support the Church through their worship offering/tithe, support our service and outreach, spend daily quiet time with God, and increasingly honor God in all areas of their daily lives. Finally, members are encouraged to invest in and invite de-churched friends to our weekend experience.
Our strategy is to try and meet each person exactly where they are in order to challenge them to take their next step.