Want your vision to stick? This paradigm shift can yield drastically different results.

I recently spent time with a team of church leaders in the process of crafting a new vision for their young adults ministry.

As they shared potential ideas, a member of our team (who happened to be a young adult) asked a simple question: What did the young adults in your church say when you ran the ideas by them?

That question was met with a few uncomfortable moments of silence before the leaders admitted no young adults had been involved in the process. What’s more – until that moment no one on the leadership team had even realized that young adults had been left out.

Consider your approach to casting vision

While vision has become a buzzword in so many church leadership circles, this example highlights how we often approach the process in an unhelpful manner. We, as church leaders, assume the work of crafting and casting a vision is on our shoulders alone. With this mindset, our new vision may fail to capture vital insights from others; and many may not want to buy into a vision they perceive as ours, not theirs.

As a result, our well-polished new vision and associated goals can fail to take root. Energy and resources are wasted. We end up frustrated. Perhaps worst of all, our ministries are not nearly as compelling, effective, and life transforming as they could be.

As you consider your church’s vision for the new year, I invite you to consider a paradigm shift. What if it’s not your job to create a compelling vision out of thin air? What if your job is to assemble a group of people to collectively discern the activity and leading of God in your midst?

Leaders, what if it’s not our job to create a compelling vision out of thin air? What if our job is to assemble a group of people to collectively discern the activity and leading of God in our midst? (tweet that)

The deeper question: What is the church?

At its core, our approach to vision-casting reflects how we understand the church. Many of our contemporary approaches to church leadership are derived less from Scripture and more from the corporate world.

We may understand the church as a small handful of experts who do the ministry of leading, while the rest of the congregation are meant to show up and do what they’re told. In the end we have ministries or services that people attend…but they don’t seem to engage in deeper forms of discipleship.

While there are several helpful metaphors for the church in the New Testament (such as 1 Cor. 12:1-31), we at FYI strongly affirm the concept of the priesthood of all believers. In this sense, all Christians are “priests” and are called to serve God meaningfully (see 1 Pet. 2:9).

One critical difference between the church as corporation and church as priesthood of believers is whether or not people have agency. Agency relates to someone’s ability to exert power or have a meaningful voice. When it comes to forming a vision and the future of the church, many people (especially young people) simply do not have agency.

Research on forming a vision that lasts

During our Growing Young study of 250 churches that are excelling in their ministry with younger generations, we uncovered numerous insights for churches that want to unlock the passion and potential of young people. Two of those principles are especially relevant when it comes to vision.

First, we discovered these churches practice keychain leadership, meaning they are intentional about entrusting and empowering young people with leadership responsibilities.

Second, we found these churches also know how to empathize with young people by stepping into their shoes and feeling with them.

These findings indicate that when young people in the church are both understood and invited to contribute, they step up to the challenge and make the future of their churches better.

The difficult reality, however, is that the practice of keychain leadership and empathy is all too rare in our churches. Based on our online church assessment that tests for the presence of Growing Young principles we’ve found two aspects that are consistently rated poorly by church participants:

“Our church asks young people to participate in making important decisions,” and

“Our church makes efforts to put itself in the shoes of young people.” Having tested several hundred churches, we know this challenge is common.

Which we believe creates a significant opportunity this new year. Consider involving a few young people in your ministry’s vision casting process as one small way to take steps in the right direction and leverage keychain leadership and empathy.

Inviting others into the visioning process:

As you seek a new vision for your church or ministry, consider shifting the work from your shoulders alone and instead viewing the process as a collective reflection of what God is up to in the lives of those in your community.

Here are four steps to get you started:

  1. Gather a diverse group of people from your church or ministry who are interested in the ministry’s future.
  2. Have each person make a list of 3-5 other people in the ministry who they can interview.
  3. Create a list of open-ended, hopeful questions that relate to their personal lives and the ministry. (For example: What’s one thing you love about our ministry that you would like to see more of? Can you tell me about a time where you really felt God’s presence, or that you felt like you grew in your faith?) Everyone should use the same list of questions to start.
  4. Have each person take notes on the key themes from their conversations, then bring the group back together to debrief what they heard. Ask each person to share the highlights from their conversations, and note where you find similarities or ideas that especially stand out. Together, prayerfully reflect on the vision God may be leading you to through this exercise.

When the team from the opening example later utilized this approach, they were surprised by what they found. The young adults in their church were not hoping for an entertainment-based, highly consumerist version of church. They wanted to be challenged by the message of Jesus. They wanted to be mentored by older adults who had navigated the challenges of career and relationship. They wanted more of a voice in what the future of the ministry looked like.

We invite you to consider crafting a vision by assembling a group of people to collectively discern the activity and leading of God in your midst. We think you may be pleasantly surprised by what you find too.