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Searching for the Future

Clarifying the Vision of Your Congregation

What is "Searching for the Future?"

Written by Martha Easter-Wells

Searching for the Future is a weekend series of focus groups designed to help a congregation clarify its vision, create a mission statement and create a starter list of goals that can later be incorporated into a long-range plan. It is a highly participative process, designed to incorporate as many members of the congregation as possible into small group sessions. The focus group sessions are lively and designed to make the process of clarifying vision and mission not only painless, but actually fun.

Lay leaders, who are willing to help facilitate a group session, meet on Friday evening with the consultant to go through the process of articulating vision, creating a draft mission statement and brainstorming goals in support of the mission. On Saturday, other church members participate in one of the small group sessions, going through the same process. Some of the Saturday sessions are led by the consultant and others by the facilitators from the congregation. On Sunday, the facilitators meet again with the consultant to blend the draft mission statements into one, which is then ready to go to the congregation for a vote. The brainstormed goals generated throughout the weekend are reviewed. The top suggestions are collated, and then distributed both to relevant committees for their review, and also to the comprehensive plan committee or long range planning committee for consideration in the formulation of a long range plan.

The members of the Facilitator group should be people who are enthusiastic about the process, willing to make the nine fifteen-minute time commitments over the weekend, and who feel up to the challenge of leading a group. There should be several board members included among the group, but the others can be any lay leaders who are suited to the task.

Publicizing the Process within the Congregation

The key to the success of the weekend experience is obtaining the participation of a large number of members of the congregation. Extensive publicity efforts should make every member of the congregation aware of the process and of their invitation to participate. Congregation members need to understand what the process is, and that they are being asked to give only fifteen minutes of their time. The more that people participate, the greater will be the degree of ownership of the mission statement and the goals that are generated by the weekend process.

In addition to newsletter articles and announcements, a mailing to the congregation would help to create an awareness of the process. As there are three different times that members can choose to attend, and because the sessions will be held in groups no larger than twelve, it is important to know in advance which people are choosing to come at which time. Members should be able to call into the church office and register to attend a particular session. In addition, phone calls should be made to all members and friends in the two weeks before the weekend to ask them which session they wish to attend, and to determine whether child-care is needed.

If twenty-five percent of the congregation would attend, it would be considered to be a high degree of participation. The phone calls will make the difference between ten percent  participation and twenty-five percent. The callers should not be discouraged by the reality that three out of four will be unable or unwilling to attend. The mere process of making the call is strengthening for the congregation, even if the person decides not to attend, because it increases the awareness that the congregation is not only exploring its vision and mission, but that the input of each person is most welcome.

Soon before the weekend, the names of those attending can be sorted into groups and assigned to specific facilitators. This process will help to determine how many facilitators will be needed for each time period.

On the Saturday of the Searching for the Future weekend, it will be necessary to have an on-site coordinator to welcome the participants and direct them to their rooms. Inevitably, there will be people expected but not showing up, and others showing up unexpectedly, and so there will need to be someone doing last minute changes to the groups.

Keep track of the numbers of those actually attending, so that you can report the numbers to the congregation afterwards.

For more information contact congstewardship @

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Friday, June 17, 2011.

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