Monday, February 25, 2013

Launching the Process

Hey all! My apologies for not getting part 2 of "A process for your vision" out sooner, I've been rather busy this week and had very little time to sit and type up this blog. Here it is for your enjoyment! please make sure to send me your comments, suggestions or thoughts It's always nice to hear if this is helping someone's ministry. Many blessings!

A process for your vision part 2: Launching your process

 In the previous post we took a look at 2 key foundational thoughts for developing a good process for your vision.( If you haven't read it, going back and reading it would be advisable as what is written in this post will make more sense.) Once we've got a handle on them, its time for the more practical side of the equation: the actual construction of the process for your vision.

Vision Statement

  If you've read any Bill Hybels books, then you've encountered the idea of a vision statement. One of the most important concepts you need is a clear vision statement, which most churches have now days. This will be the keystone by which will keep your vision tethered and centralized so it does not get confusing and clash with the route the church is headed in. It is important to keep this statement to one sentence maximum! its got to be easy for people to remember and repeat and should be clear enough that you don't need a 3 volume set of explanations to understand it. This Vision statement displays the core beliefs of your group, basically, what you're all about or what people are "buying" from you to use a marketing analogy.

 One of the best ways to get a vision statement, should your church not have one, is to gather your key lead volunteers, youth, adult leaders, fellow pastors, prayer partners, etc and get in put from them as to their ideas regarding the direction of your group. Inclusion of your key stakeholders will be useful when the time to unveil the process comes and it begins to plant the seeds of ownership in their hearts. Talk about where the Lord is leading you to take your group, show them any ideas you may have gotten during your prayer/fasting times and have them give you constructive criticism. Once you've gathered enough information, take some time to pray and then boil it down to its most simplest form, and thus you get a vision statement.

   At this time, it is imperative that you listen closely what your major stakeholders are saying to you. Its ok if they disagree with you, but you must listen to the "why" find out what is making them uncomfortable and try to understand them. There could be historical wounds that this vision statement opens up and they must be addressed before anything moves forward or resistance will be too difficult to overcome. Have you leaders tear the vision statement to pieces, don't feel like a failure, this will actually help you to trim the unnecessary "fat" and once its torn down, then the pieces that are still standing will be your "core" use those to finalize your statement. Remember, cream rises to the top after a good beating. 

   Using the concepts that are left or your "core" beliefs, build a grammatically correct and appealing sentence. You want to end up with is a clear and simple answer to the question: "What is your group all about?" you and your team should be able to answer with a simple "at <fill in your groups name> we believe in <fill in your vision here>, and we accomplish this through <3 step process>." This will help to pique the interest of any seeker and it shows that you know what you're doing and where you're going. There are far too many "Christian Social clubs" out there, which do things for the sake of doing them or because of tradition but they really have no point or have forgotten why they started doing those things in the first place. They are like boats without a rudder who drift in the unpredictable current of  every new organizational fad or popular model rather than plan out a route and sticking with it. A youth group should have a point, a direction and a process by which you are going help grow the lives of the students closer to God.

Getting a good, simple and powerful vision statement does not have to be difficult. If you hear of another church that has one and you believe that it fits with your vision, it is totally ok to use that statement, just make sure you give credit when credit is due. It is preferable that you work out something uniquely for your group as it helps to create and identity and in the end all that work helps to spread the vision amongst your lead team. This statement is like the groups DNA, and will include steps that will map out the process by which you will be taking your students through. This will also help you to gauge how effective your ministry is, since you'll not be concerned with attendance numbers but rather with the number of people that have moved through the process. The groups growth will be horizontal rather than vertical.

The Steps

  Once a vision statement has been agreed upon and finalized, we get to the fun part! creating your action steps. These steps will help to explain and guide how your group will accomplish what your vision statement says. For example, at my last church the Vision statement and process of the youth group was: 
"At Merge Youth we want to grow fully devoted followers of Jesus, in Christ-like community (Church's vision statement) and we do this by modelling how to Love God, Love Others and Love the World" or "at Merge we do L3" 
First of all, our statement let everyone know what our over all goal was (what we were all about) which was "growing fully devoted followers of Jesus", secondly you can see that we had 3 steps by which anyone who was part of our group would eventually be taken through, students were going to see how to "Love God, Love others, and Love the world" with the end result being that they would be fully devoted to Jesus once they graduated from youth. Not only that, but those 3 "L's" became the filter by which every event, small group, mission trip, sermon, outreach event, parent meeting, leader meeting or leader training were taken through. If it didn't "fit" our vision or enhance any of the 3 L's than we simply didn't do it. There was no point in doing things that would not help us and thus we started to spend all of our energy into things we knew would further the vision. We had laser guided focus!

  How can you end up with a steps like these? You have to begin with the end in mind. Ask your self and your team, questions like: what do you want a student to be like after 6 years in the group? what do you wish to impart into them? what tools are they going to need to be self-feeding believers? what do we do with new believers? The whole point of these questions is to get to a point by which you are helping students integrate into the older community of believers as mature, self-feeding christ followers that will be of great benefit for the church as a whole. You want your students' faith to stick, and not be eroded by the seductive nature of the world.

   What we found about the steps in our vision was that they overlapped so well that there was no fracturing of the overall group structure. Each person was free to move unto the next step as they felt with out any forced pressure from the leadership. The neat thing was that a person didn't necessarily have to start with step 1, their starting point could be in the form of a mission's trip or a social justice project. There was a nice spread of people in different stages of of our 3 steps, which helped to disciple a wider range of people and reduced those falling through the cracks. Those who were more mature were challenged, those who were new to the faith felt connected and those in the middle of the pack were free to explore their faith at their own pace.

Now that you've seen how the steps work, here is a few pointers in building steps for your process.

1) Don't have more than 4 steps to your process, more than that becomes difficult to memorize and people will get confused. If it is possible, come up with a pithy acronym that's catchy and relevant to your groups style. Using an acronym based on a country motif for a group of inner city youth who've never been near a live chicken or vice versa, may not work too well. Oh, and avoid cheesiness at all cost!!!
2) Each step should have a practical component. This can be anything from youth regular events, to sermon series, games, small groups, mission's trips, etc. what you deem helpful to get the students through that step. for example, if your first step deals with wanting students to know the Bible well, then maybe a Memorization contests would be your practical component. There should be something active and tangible that students can witness and want to follow or experience themselves.
3) Each step should encourage advancement into the next step. It should create movement that you can track. If there is no movement occurring, then that step needs to be revised, repaired or replaced. A step is useless if students are not moving on, we want them to grow into spiritual maturity.
4) Constant evaluation. A good portion of your lead team meetings should be spent reviewing the steps and keeping a look out for stagnation.

 Once you have a complete vision statement that includes the steps by which your group will bring about the completion of the vision, you have a process. You have in your possession a framework that will help to support the load of your ministry and help you from straying away from your initial intent. Both the vision statement and steps you saw above can be used for any kind of vision you may have received from God, be it for a church, youth group or secular work.

Trimming

Perhaps the most difficult thing you'll do in implementing your vision is knowing what things need to be removed from your yearly schedule or plans. This means that you'll have to shut down some programs that may not be producing any results, are draining the energy of your volunteers. You're gonna need to have built in some deep trust and have a surgeon-like precision to removing things without causing much problems.

Because you are going be removing certain things that may have become "sacred cows" to your group, be prepared to face opposition. People who equate their connection to the church by the ministry they help in or the program they have been involved with the longest, will not like it. You must do your best to use their skills and experience and and move them to an even more effective program. Explain the reason for the change and why you need them in as part of the future. Take their feelings into consideration and help them transition, remind them of the vision and this should minimize the hurt. Some people may leave, and there is really not much you can do about that, there are people that will not want things to change and may not want any part of the vision going forward. If they choose to leave quietly, then let them, but be ready to welcome them back should they choose to return.

Three things you can do to evaluate any part of your program are:
1)revise: maybe that program needs some updating in their methodology or maybe a simple refit will help it to adhere to the vision better.
2)repair: check to see why this program is not working and try to fix the problem. If you have honestly tried to repair it and it still draining away energy and time, then it is time to take a look at the last step.
3)replace: This is the last step. after you've exhausted all other options to bring this portion of you program back to life, it may be an indicator that this is a program you should consider removing altogether, but before you do, make sure you have a replacement ready to go. You do not want people who are part of that program to feel left out in the cold with no place to go.

Go Viral

One of the most interesting things about the information age is the ability of totally random and pointless things get spread through out the world. Whether its cats doing funny things or the latest dance craze, information can spread like a virus. Now, once you have your vision statement, and your process steps it is time to let it go viral in your group. This is where you need to get students, parents, grand parents, staff team members or even youth leaders that were not a part of building the process to buy into it. This is why you and your team must be well versed in your vision statement and process, so they can believe in it and spread it around.

  Try to be creative in ways of getting your vision out there! If you have a cool slogan, then make t-shirts, posters, a website, or even use the free social media available on the web. We know that your vision will bring change to the lives of students, which means you have a solid product and it needs to be advertised, you need people to talk about what you're doing ask questions and check your stuff out.

Warnings

  Your process may not yield immediate results, so its important to remain patient and trust the work you've done. If the Lord gave you the vision, then it will produce something in due time. The point is that you are now prepared to accommodate growth. The biggest reason visions fizzle out is because there is no preparation made by the people that receive them, as if they expect God to take care of the details when the vision starts to grow. God will only provide success for your vision as far as you're willing to work for it. He will not bless anything that is a half hearted attempt or mediocrity. God is in the business of bringing glory to himself, and He will not reward laziness or anything that will bring any embarrassment. Does that mean that it has to be super perfect? no! it just has to be the best that you can do with what you have. No cutting corners, no compromising, do what He says how He wants it done, do everything humanly possible and leave the impossible to him.

  There is a further need to guard against adding more things to what you al ready have. Stick to keeping things simple and do those things well. Once you see success in the programs attached to your steps then you are free to look around for things that will enhance your vision. Don't just add things because you heard they worked at another church, or because they are the popular. Be willing to limit the things you add for the sake of the process. What is dangerous is ending up with so many add ons that your process now looks like a quilt made up of a whole bunch of ideas that will unfortunately cloud your vision and limit its effectiveness.

I hope this helps you in developing a successful ministry!