Here are some predictions about new and enduring trends we can expect in North American ministry in 2011 and beyond...
1: Increasing diversity of opinion about what good vision and strategy look like
In 2010, Craig Groeschel posted on the Death of the 5 Year Plan, yet vision mavens like Jim Collins still talk about 20-year BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). To add to the confusion, the list of “how-to-do-church” books grows exponentially. We’ve gone from simple, deep, organic and total to sticky, viral, dangerous and hybrid. Are we getting clear yet?
2: Articulating the biggest picture will be the leader’s greatest asset
Every church leader is saturated with countless best practices, bombarded with more communication, and ministering to people struggling with increasingly complex lives. This gives us a hyper-need for clarity. Communicating Jesus-centered meaning in life has never had more competition. The best leaders won’t take the most basic assumptions for granted.
3: Social media will open new possibilities for more churches
Unfortunately most churches lag behind the “real world” by 10 years or so when it comes to technology and communication. But online giants like LifeChurch.tv not only lead the way with technology, but do so generously by offering sites and apps like VideoTeaching.com and YouVersion.com. There is a new world of possibilities for vision and strategy not just for large churches but for every spiritual leader with an innovative spirit. Church online, Facebook, and Twitter are just the tip of the iceberg. For example, check out Gordon Marcy, John Saddington, Charles Lee, and Terry Storch.
4: Visioning and spiritual formation will emerge more visibly as disciplines
True visioning in the local church should always be a Spirit-led, Word-anchored exercise of daily spiritual formation. But it is easy to separate the strategic and the spiritual in daily practice. In the future there will be little tolerance for strategic conversations and visioning exercises that aren’t first God-worshipping and God-listening initiatives. Church leaders are tired of anything in the name of vision that smacks of corporate ideology.
5: Small will continue to be the new big
Thinking, acting, and leading small will continue to mark the church landscape. One factor is the new normal of multi-site churches. Leadership Network played a key role in accelerating this innovation which helps larger churches expand through smaller beachheads. Second, as church planting and missional thinking continue to expand, smaller expressions—from house churches to missional communities—become more legit against the traditional, monolithic measurement of big-church-butts-in-seats. We have recently witnessed the birth of a new network to small town, small church America called The Sticks. Last year brought counter-intuitive book titles and blog posts like The Strategically Small Church and The Micro Manifesto.
6: Networks will become the new denominations
As new learning, new strategies, and new relationships cluster in frontline church planting networks—Acts 29, Redeemer City to City, New Thing, ARC, ChurchPlanters.com, PLNTD, Vision360 and the ICF Movement—the knowledge, encouragement, and accountability of traditional denominations become less valuable. Please note that these networks are not trying to be new denominations. Some effective networks, like Stadia and the Church Multiplication Network, are denominationally based. But the momentum of these networks is changing the game.
7: Leaders will pay more attention to shorter time horizons
The emphasis on leadership in the future will be preparing for the uncertainties of the future, rather than trying to predict them. As a result, answering the question, “Where is God taking us?” requires a 90-day focus and a 1-year horizon of shared storytelling like never before. Will other time horizons be important? Yes they will, but not like the way we used to think about it.
8: The intersection of personal and organizational vision will be magnified
Peter Drucker recognized early on that the movement from an industrial to an information paradigm would push the envelope on personal clarity and self-management for business and non-profit leaders. Yet I find very little evidence in the ministry world that a hunger for personal clarity is making an organizational difference. Even so, I suspect this is coming.
9: Visioning will involve making meaning rather than predicting the future
Life brings a daily tidal wave of monotony. We all fight to keep our daily routine vital and life-giving in view of greater purposes. A key attribute of vision is and always will be how it keeps people focused on the future. But one aspect of vision that will bring increasing value is how it refocuses our work today. This is why I like the word “clarity” as a practical substitute for “vision,” especially in church. Expect that people will not care about where your church is going until you can make meaning for them right now. Why am I in worship? Why should I participate in a small group? Why should I give to your church? Clarity today before you envision tomorrow.
10: External focus and biblical justice will stay prominent
Now that biblical justice has returned to mainstream evangelicalism, it will remain a prominent feature in our vision and strategy work. Strengthening this trend will be a generation of Millennials who will rise in organizational leadership. They mark an era of altruism where volunteerism and social entrepreneurship are the standard not the exception. Generationally speaking, they care more about people “outside of the organization” than the boomers did. The mantra we will continue to see, sparked by Eric Swanson, is “Don’t be the best church in the community; be the best church for the community.
11: Churches will consult for vision clarity rather than for capital campaigns
For almost four decades, capital campaign consulting has been the dominant category for “strategic outsiders” in local churches. The role of consulting is moving away from packaged campaigns and programs towards the ability to navigate organic and culture-savvy solutions. Help in clarifying vision has become the most common reason for a pastor to pursue a consultant, according to the Society of Church Consulting.