Write the vision; make it plain… so that a runner may read it.
This is the second of two blog posts on Minimum Viable Belief (click here for previous post), the term I have used to describe the driving vision of a faith-based community or organization. Minimum Viable Belief – or MVB – is the seminal belief or value that is so deep, so shared, so core to the community that it is the source of all other beliefs, values, and actions of the organization. It is the core source of meaning and purpose to the community and its members. Simply put, it is the “Why of Whys.” MVB is a vision that is so clear and plain that it creates and sustains an enduring organizational culture that can guide a faith community throughout its life, even when the community encounters turbulent times.
So far so good! But how does a faith-based community or organization discover, articulate, and communicate its MVB?
There are seven steps involved in discerning your community’s MVB:
Allow me walk you through each of the seven steps, while providing real-life examples from my own former congregation, a mature startup in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.
Step 1. Naming (our shared concerns)
Identify a critical and shared issue, problem, or challenge.
We began by gathering together our startup team: a core group of people who felt called to help start a new community where the previous one had died. Many of them had been members of the closed congregation. Some of them were familiar with what had happened with the closed congregation and felt called to join us. We began to reflect on the actions and positions that had led to the closure: naming, owning, and telling the truth of what transpired. It was painful both to speak and to hear the story, almost as painful as it was for the original members to experience the reality of it. In fact, it was so painful that we all named as our common interest the desire to find a different way of being church, with a sense of unity so strong that no issue could divide us ever again.
Step 2 – Calling (widening the circle)
Calling together a community of people
who share a common interest
in the issue, problem, or challenge identified in step 1.
Example: Our startup team began by thinking about others who might share our common interest in developing a schism-resistant faith community, then reaching out to them. Some were friends, others were neighbors, and still others were people from surrounding congregations. Together, these formed our startup community.
Step 3 – Clarifying (our shared values)
Identify the community’s shared values as they relate to the issue, problem, or challenge discussed in steps 1 and 2.
Example: Our startup team designed what we called our “Vision Quest”: a daylong visioning workshop for the startup community called together in step 2. We invited participants to express the personal values that drove their longing to be part of a place where people with different beliefs and practices could coexist openly and respectfully. They identified a common thread that connects them all: their sense of being loved by Christ.
Step 4 – Seeing (our reality as it is)
Describe the current context in which the community exists.
Example: At the same “Vision Quest” we asked participants to share what they knew about the community in which they lived. They described the larger community as having two salient qualities, which almost seemed contradictory. On the one hand, they realized that, at least on the surface, our society’s thinking about unity ran counter to their own: holding that unity required uniformity. On the other hand, they sensed in the people they knew an underlying yearning for a different way, in which conformity was not the price of admission to a faith community.
Step 5 – Dreaming
(our reality as it could be)
Consider what possible futures might be in store for the community.
Example: In the next segment of our Vision Quest, we invited participants to brainstorm what they imagined our future congregation would look like fully realized in our community.
We recorded all of these ideas and circulated them to all we knew who were interested in our prospective faith community, even those who could not attend.
Step 6 – Visioning (write the vision)
Envision the WHY that transcends the success of the organization: a WHY to which faithfulness is more important than success…
or even survival.
Example: Next we invited participants in the Vision Quest to look for common themes among the futures they have imagined.
From these common themes we fashioned a five-sentence vision statement, which describes our vision as though it were achieved:
In grateful response
to the grace and love
of God in Christ:
We are a spiritual home, a safe haven,
grounded in Scripture and centered in life,
where we are nurtured and challenged in our journey of faith.
We welcome all people to join us in worship and prayer,
and in joyful service to the community around us.
We believe that the only sufficient basis for Christian community
is Christ’s love for us.
We experience that the power of Christ’s love
can hold us together in the midst of great diversity.
Step 7 – Proclaiming (make it clear)
Refine the transcendent WHY into a short, simple, and pithy phrase that people will remember, understand, and repeat.
Example: Finally, we invited participants boil down the longer vision statement into a short, memorable, repeatable, inspiring phrase. In response, they came up with this eight-word credo:
A Place to Belong!
A Place to Become!
My former congregation’s Minimum Viable Belief – that the only thing powerful enough to hold our faith community together is Christ’s love for us – has proved very durable, requiring few changes over the last 20 years. It enabled us to weather storms that would have sunk many congregations… and that should have sunk us. Indeed, over that same period, we watched as thousands of congregations across America – congregations that based their unity on uniformity – split or left their denominations in disagreements over doctrines and practices. Recently, my former congregation passed yet another important test, it is no longer “my” congregation (which of course it never was), as I have departed to pursue bivocational ministry.
Failed plans should not be interpreted as a failed vision.
Visions don’t change, they are only refined.
Plans rarely stay the same,
and are scrapped or adjusted as needed.
Be stubborn about the vision,
but flexible with your plan.
John C. Maxwell (American Clergyperson, b. 1947)
“Business Plans: The Roadmap To Procrastination,” Forbes (9/22/15)