This past Sunday was an exciting day for us. We’ve spent months dreaming and planning for the planting of Grace Hills Church. We hauled our belongings across the country, then stayed with some friends while waiting for the closing on our home purchase. We booked a storefront meeting room at South Walton Suites, just blocks from the headquarters of the world’s largest retailer. We bought coffee from Starbuck’s and sweet refreshments. We set up our projector, arranged the chairs, and checked the facility over to make sure everything was lined up properly.
Then we waited.
The twenty minutes a church planter waits between getting set up and seeing the first person walk through the door seems like an eternity. Would anyone show up? Would we be packing everything up and heading home early with a lot of donuts to eat? (One must find the positive in such cases.)
We were thrilled to greet the first family, then the second and third, and so on. In all nearly forty people came to hear what Grace Hills will be all about, and most gave us very positive feedback and an indication of a desire to continue on this journey with us.
We will do three more meetings like this one, plus some foundational launch team teaching and the earliest wave of CLASSes. Our hope is to reach a new wave of potential launch team members with each month’s meetings and activities, which requires quite a bit of work and a ton of just loving on people in our community. We welcome the opportunities that lie ahead and we can’t wait to dig deeper and move forward.
All of that preparation could have seemed a waste had no one shown up to hear the vision. But the preparation could also be a waste if I failed to capture the heart of what God wants to do in northwest Arkansas. Implementation may be the bulk of the workload, but casting the initial vision well is crucial to the gathering team. And it will remain important over the long haul as well, since “vision leaks” (according to Andy Stanley) and needs to be repeated at least every six weeks through various mediums.
So how do you cast a vision for a new church? I’ve never taken a class on the subject, and I’ve never read a book focused specifically on the subject, but as I prepared and delivered this first vision message to my new friends, these are some of the principles I tried to implement:
Start with the Biblical Purposes
Vision has to do more with what we see happening than what the ancient Scriptures have to teach, but any vision that God will bless must absolutely be rooted in His Word. For me, this meant starting with the purposes for which God birthed the very first church – evangelism, fellowship, ministry, worship, and discipleship. So I shared from the Great Commandment (Matthew 22) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28).
Tell a Story
I wanted our crowd to know that starting this new church wasn’t merely the fulfillment of any denominational program quota. Rather, it was the culmination of everything God has done in my life thus far. His calling, my eduction, our experiences, and all of the connections we’ve made led us to the conclusion that God was instructing us to plant Grace Hills Church in northwest Arkansas right now.
Portray the Future
I can see Grace Hills five years from now. I don’t know where we will meet or what our campus will look like yet, but I can see people being rescued, redeemed, refreshed, and revived. I can see addicts being freed, marriages restored, parents and kids unified, and leaders developing to maturity. I see Grace Hills demonstrating God’s love in tangible ways and shocking people with the scandalous grace of a forgiving God.
Set the Agenda
Most people know what our church believes doctrinally, at least in a general sense. We believe in Jesus, His atoning death and resurrection, the Bible as God’s perfect Word, the Trinity, etc. It’s in our faith statement. I was more concerned with communicating our core values since it is our core values that communicate the DNA of our church. I want potential launch team members to understand that we’re purpose driven, that we celebrate creativity, and that we will embrace people with habits, hurts, and hang-ups. These are values that require even greater “buy in” than our core doctrines.
Lay Out the Plan
Leading people is more than inspiring people. Anyone can say the right words and offer inspiration. But mobilization is tough. Follow through is the ticket. Casting a big vision is essential to the survival of a new church, but following a plan and a strategy are vital as well.
In other words, while you tenaciously defend your vision, keep a loose grip on some of the details. I learned in Mark Batterson’s book Wild Goose Chase: Reclaim the Adventure of Pursuing God that God is elusive. He wants us chasing Him in all of the turns and crazy loops He takes us through. If you want to grow spiritually, you’ll be ready to make tweaks the moment the first meeting is over.
Love People In Jesus’ Name
If you don’t love people, don’t begin to plant a church. Don’t cast a vision. Don’t rent a facility. Do something else with your life until you realize that people are the mission. If you understand God’s purposes, you can envision the future, you can communicate clearly where you want people to go, and you love them deeply on Jesus’ behalf, then go! The kingdom needs you for such a time as this!