Shortly after the last presidential election in 2012, I asked some friends if they could remember the campaign slogans for the two presidential candidates. None of them could really remember Mitt Romney’s campaign slogan (“Believe in America”). But then again, none of them accurately remembered Barack Obama’s campaign slogan (“Forward”).
Everyone agreed Obama’s slogan had something to do with “hope” and “change,” which was actually his 2008 campaign slogan—one that had been extremely effective and was so indelibly embedded in their memories that they quickly and easily identified it with him.
There’s a lesson there for the church.
I know. Not a very skillful segue.
The thing is, when you’re a pastor there are so many things that you encounter in the world that quickly become “lessons for the church.” I annoy the beans out of my family doing this kind of thing all of the time. This happens to be a fairly important lesson, though, and one that deserves some unpacking.
As part of a project to complete my Doctor of Ministry degree, I recently surveyed nearly fifty churches from my home presbytery in central Florida. I discovered something very interesting as I processed the data: Having a clear, memorable, vision—as it turns out—is of the utmost importance if you want your church to grow.
And communicating your clear, memorable vision is even more important.
My research revealed that an overwhelming majority of “growing” churches in my presbytery has a clear vision statement that has been refined or established within the past five years. Additionally, a majority of growing churches indicated that their vision was “tweet” sized (140 characters or less). These same growing churches indicated that their vision was publicized, printed, posted and communicated in at least five different types of media—startlingly more than churches who were “not growing.”
In addition, more pastors of growing churches in my presbytery (over 40%) indicated that they had preached on the vision of their church in the past year as opposed to pastors of churches that are not growing.
My research identified that only 16% of the churches in my presbytery could be considered “growing” congregations. This isn’t very encouraging to say the least. The percentage of growing congregations at the national level of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is even less encouraging.
I know that national funding for revitalization efforts in local churches is shrinking rapidly within the PC(USA)—especially with stiff competition from the millions being allocated for national meetings, church-wide studies, position papers and other assorted important things (ahem).
But it seems to me that it would behoove the PC(USA) to find a way to resource churches in the PC(USA) who aren’t growing to provide – among other things – the assistance they need to develop clear visions for mission and ministry. And then the PC(USA) might want to follow up with those churches by equipping them to communicate and live into the hope of their visions.
I realize that it’s just one small idea, but if the PC(USA) doesn’t consider funding these kinds of revitalizing efforts of its member churches, it may discover all-too quickly that there soon won’t be enough member churches to support all those national meetings, church-wide studies, position papers and other assorted important things.
Which would be a shame (ahem).
Leon Bloder is a preacher, a poet, a would-be writer, a husband, a father, a son, a dreamer, a sinner, a pastor, a fellow-traveler and a failed artist. He is talentless, but well-connected. He stumbles after Jesus, but hopes beyond hope that he is stumbling in the right direction. Leon has been married to Merideth for 22 years, is the father of three awesome boys, and serves in ministry at the First Presbyterian Church of Eustis in Eustis, Florida.