This process can be run in a morning, afternoon, or a longish evening. The program works well with teenagers on up to seniors. Provide a variety of spaces for people to sit and work—some will want to work at tables, others may prefer comfortable chairs, and still others may want to sit on the floor. For those working in chairs, provide clipboards or other surfaces for ease in writing. Make sure that there are pens, pencils, crayons, and other materials available for participants to jot down their reactions. You will need newsprint and markers for every three people, as well as tape for posting the results. You can begin the program with simple chalice lighting and reading to set the stage.
Tip: You may also decide to hold this program several times, and then either have the team bring the results together or provide a final wrap-up session where you share the results of the various groups and then go through the process of compiling the individual and unique themes from the various sessions.
Invite the participants to relax and use their imaginations to dream of a compelling but practical future for your congregation in five or ten years. Provide file cards or paper for them to jot down the images, thoughts, feelings, and words that occur to them during the exercise. Here are some sample words for the guided imagery.
Tip: Make sure you have read through the guided imagery instructions several times before leading a session. Change anything that is not applicable to your congregation. If you don’t have your own building, you might want to include comments asking participants to imagine the sort of place where you will be meeting five or ten years from now. Some people find that playing soft, non-distracting music in the background aids in the guided imagery, and some people find that sitting in front of a blank wall, rather than facing others, works best. Before you begin, encourage people to become comfortable in whatever way works for them. Invite them to move until they get to that best place for them. Also, it can help to invite them to breathe deeply for several breaths before you begin; others find that suggesting to people that they leave behind their cares and worries is a good beginning to the visualization. Make sure you allow silent times, too, for individuals to create and deepen their imaginings.
We all have a vision for our congregation. It informs some of our involvement and continued education in our life together. This vision, though often unarticulated, exists like a moving picture in our imagination. Allow that moving picture of our congregation to become more explicit. As we engage in this process, relax and allow the vision to appear to you, rather than deliberately trying to create it. As images, thoughts, feelings, or words occur to you, jot them down on the paper, remembering to stay with these images, thoughts, or feelings long enough. Then, even with your eyes half-opened, write down the essence of your imaginary experience. Don’t interrupt the flow of your imagination to write. Consider that you are taking still frames from the moving picture of your vision, and just jot down phrases that describe these still frames.
In your imagination, approach a compelling, but practical, vision of our congregation five or ten years from now. What is the feeling of anticipation you experience in yourself as you do this? Imagine yourself approaching the neighborhood or the community where our congregation is located. What do you notice about this surrounding neighborhood or community? Who are the people that live here? What are their needs and desires?
Approach now in your imagination the actual location where our congregation meets. What does the landscape look like—how does the facility appear on the outside? What does it say about the congregation?
Now open the doors to the meeting place. What do you notice? Who is gathered there? In what activities are these people engaged? Who is missing from the picture? What is the atmosphere like? How does it feel to be there? What are the aesthetics of the place? Tour the building, and visit the various activities that are occurring in the building.
In your imagination, allow yourself to get a sense of the worship, education, outreach, and fellowship of this congregation . . . as you deeply hope and imagine it to be five or ten years from now.
Stay with whatever images, thoughts, feelings, and events occur to you. When you are ready, jot down just the essence of what presents itself to you. Spend the next five minutes in this exercise of imagination.
Tip: One way to include children in this exercise would be to get them to draw their ideal church. Then, by creating intergenerational groups for sharing, adults could help the young people give input by capturing their words as they explain the drawings. It might be helpful to others, too, to try drawing as a way to express their response to the imagery.
Another tip: Rather than jotting down words or phrases, ask them to draw a picture or draw images of their vision, and then talk about what they drew.
Invite participants to meet with two other people. In groups of three, each person takes five minutes to share his or her vision with the others. This is not a time to deliberate or discuss. It is a time to listen for some of the common and unique themes that emerge. At the end of fifteen minutes, give the group five minutes to list on a piece of newsprint some of the common and unique themes that they heard among the members of the group.
Tip: An alternative way of proceeding is to have the small groups work to come to one common vision for the congregation. They then report this common vision back to the whole group. The leader can then call again for the common themes and values.
Get back together as a whole group. Invite each small group to share the common themes that they heard.
Solicit some of the common and unique themes from the whole group. Reflect together on this information. Write these on newsprint under the headings “Common Themes,” and on another sheet, “Unique Themes.”
Invite a few participants or a task group (or the vision, mission, and covenant team) to take these sheets of common and unique themes and draft a vision statement that can be circulated among the congregation for thought and reflection before refinement. It may be helpful to provide this group with tips for a good vision statement.
Tip: Another way of proceeding would be to list a series of values on a flip chart page and give each participant three or four colored dots and then ask the participants to “vote” on their highest values by placing the dots near their favorite values. The top vote-getters would then be used as the basis for the draft vision statement. Examples of values would be terms such as justice, love, salvation, beauty, cleanliness, patience, kindness, frugality, peace, and so on.
After the draft vision statement is created, it should be presented for conversation among the members. The team should then create the final vision statement, incorporating the concerns and wishes expressed in the review process, for presentation to the congregation members for ratification at a congregational meeting.