Who are we, as individual Unitarian Universalist congregations? Who are you, when you gather? Who are you, as a religious community?
Vision, mission, and covenant are resources for congregational development and health. Congregations without a compelling and shared vision may too easily lose track of what they should be doing and, consequently, struggle to determine how to allocate their human and financial resources. Without a centralizing agreed-upon focus, battles can rage over competing interests and equally good projects. However, when vision and mission and covenant are in place, all discussion circles back to these articulated statements for a double-check and grounding.
In congregational decision making, the way forward should reflect the vision and mission of the congregation. If it doesn't, then something needs to change. Sometimes it’s the decision that needs to change, and sometimes it is time to revisit the vision or revise the mission of the congregation. The vision and mission are made alive by the involvement and participation of today’s members.
Congregations that have living vision, mission, and covenant statements are the ones that are growing—not only in numbers but also in the depth of membership commitment and attraction of new members. When vision and mission work isn't followed by planning and execution, resistance and resentment build up; people who helped craft the statements feel as if their time, and life-energy were not well spent.
Good work around vision,mission and covenant may create tension, but that just means you are going deep in your conversations about how to be in community together. By speaking about it forthrightly, and engaging the members and friends of the congregation, this tension can help bring into place creative and deeper relationships among people of the
Vision, mission, and covenant work is not easy, and many congregations bring in a consultant such as UUA field staff or a paid church consultant. Developing and following a good process that involves most of the people in the congregation is hard work and takes time. And the outcome can be well worth it.
It is always helpful to understand how language is used in a particular context. There are many competing definitions of the words vision, mission, and covenant. In this document, the terms mean the following:
A carefully defined picture of where the congregation wants to be in five or more years. It is the dream of what the congregation can become in alignment with their "vow with the Universe."
A concise statement of the congregation's core purpose. What the congregation wants to be known for, or known as, within the wider world? What the congregation wants to mean to the community.
A statement of how members of the congregation will be with, and will behave toward, one another, as well as what is promised or vowed to one another and to the congregation as a whole.
Why Undertake Vision, Mission, and Covenant Work?
Congregations that have living vision, mission, and covenant statements are the ones that are growing—not only in numbers but also in the depth of membership commitment. This growth shows in the depth of commitment members have to the world around them and to living more fulfilled lives. When a congregation’s leadership uses the mission to create objectives and to make major decisions, the commitment of the members is strengthened.
What Are Vision, Mission and Covenant?
The words vision, mission, and covenant have been used but the meanings have varied over time and context. They are interrelated; vision has the broadest focus, which then narrows into mission and covenant, becoming further focused as these statements come alive through shared ministry goals and mission objectives. This diagram offers one mental model of how they might fit together.
First Steps in Creating Vision, Mission and Covenant Documents
Guiding documents like bylaws, covenants, mission statements, vision statements and strategic plans are developed in consultation with the congregation as a whole so that there is a general sense of trust and ownership. The documents can then serve as guides for the board, minister, staff and lay leaders in setting goals and making day-to-day decisions.
Next Steps: Design a Process
There is no one perfect way to develop your vision, mission and covenant. Some congregations do it as part of a congregational retreat, while others do it as part of a single-day program or one that takes place over several weeks. Some congregations create it as part of worship, while others use lifespan faith development religious education as a vehicle for creating these guiding documents.
Whichever method is used, make sure that it is easy for people to take part in by giving plenty of advance notice and providing child care and children’s activities. You may wish to incorporate social time, such as a refreshment break. Beginning with a chalice lighting and reading will impart the feeling that this is an important event.
You may wish to have an outside facilitator assist, but that is not necessary. Make sure that you allow adequate time for the process to unfold; rushing people through these important steps doesn’t contribute to a good process. If exercises take longer than you originally thought they would, stop and talk with the members about that fact. Then work out a way you can continue the process, either through having additional sessions or perhaps agreeing to allow a smaller group to complete the activity and bring the results back for the larger group’s input and feedback.
As with any generative, open process, you need the participants to respect the facilitation and engage with the process. You may wish to start with a covenant at the beginning to be able to address any attempts to derail the process.
Remember, the secret to a good vision, mission, and covenant process is making it easy and fun for people to be involved.
Tip: With any of these processes, save the final wording of the statements for one or two "congregational poets" to create using what came out of the process. Wordsmithing in a large group rarely produces good results.
Here are some general guidelines and sample processes. You can also contact your regional staff for assistance.
Sample Vision Processes
World Café: An Exercise for Vision Discernment
- Guided Imagery for a Group
- Searching for the Future: The First Step of Strategic Planning from Beyond Fundraising: A Complete Guide to Congregational Stewardship by Wayne B. Clark (pp. 17-24)
Memories, Hopes, and Conversation s: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change by Mark Lau Branson
Sample Mission Processes
Sample Covenant Processes
- Embodying Beloved Community and Covenantal Relationship
- Behavioral Covenants in Congregations: A Handbook for Honoring Differences by Gil Rendle
Following Through: Using Vision, Mission and Covenant as Part of Congregational LIfe
When done well, the vision, mission, and covenant process captures the people’s sense of who they are and who they want to be as a religious community. It is the clearest articulation of why the people think the congregation should exist, and the results can help the congregation in all areas of its decision making. Where should we build our new building? The answer can be found in the congregation’s vision. Where should we put our money? And why should we even bother to donate money to the congregation? The answer, you can say, is found in the mission—this is what we have said is most important, so therefore we should focus our money, time, and effort where we said we wanted them to go. How should we treat one another in committee meetings, social gatherings, and the children’s time? Once again, the answer can be found in one of the statements you’ve created—this time the covenant statement. Over and over again, the work and life of the congregation can be tested against the collective will and desire by reference back to the vision, mission, and covenant statements. The reason why most vision, mission, and covenant statements fail is because the congregation fails to plan for their effective implementation.
- The End of Strategic Planning (article)
Holy Conversations: Strategic Planning as a Spiritual Practice for Congregations by Gil Rendle, Alice Mann (2003)
Doing the Math of Mission: Fruits, Faithfulness and Metrics by Gil Rendle (2014)
Memories, Hopes and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change by Mark Lau Branson (2004)