Creative Thinking about Marketing and Ministry: The Importance of Vision
By George Barna
Without vision, you cannot be successful in marketing. This is true whether you are marketing cereal, auto-mobiles, computers, or a church. If you are serious about marketing your church successfully, you must start with a clear vision.
Sadly, it is uncommon for a church to be led by a man or group of people who have a well-focused vision. Experience has shown that, more often than not, churches that consistently grow and have the greatest ministry impact are those that have operated in accordance with a vision for their ministry.
The Lack of Vision
In my work with churches around the nation, I have seen two underlying reasons why churches seem paralyzed when it comes time to respond to problems and opportunities.
In some churches, rigor mortis has set in because the pastor is not willing to relinquish control long enough to allow others to have a stake in the church’s ministry. Although there may be able and willing people to assist the pastor in his quest for church growth and development, he is either too insecure to permit such assistance or is not able to manage people effectively (to properly utilize their gifts and talents).
Other churches suffer from the lay people’s failure to become excited about ministry and take an active part in the church life. For many years they have been involved in churches where their mere presence on Sunday morning was considered virtuous and only the spiritual giants were expected to or were capable of performing the “deeper” tasks such as teaching Sunday school or leading a Bible study.
In all these churches, the problem is not a lack of ability, for Cod provides all the talent needed to enable His Church to prosper. The missing link is not money, for the Church in America today raises and spends more money than McDonald’s and Sears Roebuck combined. The problem is a lack of vision.
What Is Vision?
My research indicates that most Christians have no sensitivity to the importance of vision in ministry, or in their own lives. Also, few churches consciously strive to impart a sense of vision for ministry to the people. Indeed, when the term vision is employed, people often think of individuals who live on the charismatic end of the Christian continuum—those people who see mystical images and proclaim grandiose revelations from Cod as a consequence of their personal experience of God’s extraordinary contact.
This, however, is not the kind of vision I am extolling. When I refer to vision, I’m talking about a comprehensive sense of where you are, where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there. I’m talking about seeing “the big picture,” a portrait of all that exists in your sphere of potential influence, and developing a concept of how you and your organization fit within the aggregate environment.
Yet vision is more than developing a mental picture of the past, present, and future. Vision is also the driving force behind the activity of a motivated leader or group of people. Vision is the internal force that guides an individual through unforeseen difficulties or stimulates a person to act when he is too tired or ambivalent to take the next step toward reaching the goal. Vision is the characteristic that is the responsibility of a leader and sets the leader apart from his followers. The leader has and communicates the vision; the followers accept and help carry out the vision.
Note that vision is not naturally possessed by everyone. Vision is a gift bestowed on some people who generally rise to positions of leadership and authority. Also, vision must be communicated. The key to making vision useful is for its possessor to share it with those who do not possess it, but who can support it.
Expressed differently, I am talking about the kind of vision that differentiated the Apostle Paul from other biblical characters. Paul visited the churches of Galatia, Philippi, Ephesus, and elsewhere because he had a clear-cut perspective of what the Church must become in order to be pleasing and useful to God. Paul was passionate about his vision and was not able to rest until he saw it fully realized. God provided Paul with a vision of the Church, and Paul was relentless in his pursuit of that vision.
I believe the Bible also shows us people who had no vision and thus were left behind without making a positive mark on the world. The Pharisees and Sadducees, for the most part, lacked vision. Their perspective was so narrow, antiquated, and inflexible that they could not progress. Pontius Pilate was a man who lacked definite vision. He was a functionary—doing the routine work required of his position, but who seemed to lack a comprehensive perspective on the world of which he was a part.
Contemporary Men Of Vision
In marketing, it is interesting to note that a person of vision leads nearly every company that is either successful or on the cutting edge of progress. The leaders of these companies feel challenged by the world around them and feel compelled to make their mark on the world through the force of their own ideas, personalities, resources, and desires.
Let’s look at a few examples of men with vision.
William Norris is the founder of Control Data, one of the world’s giants in the computer industry. Norris has a vision of solving societal needs by conducting his business in ways that will provide solutions to common urban problems. Toward that vision he has moved six of Control Data’s plants to inner cities, created numerous small business centers, provided educational opportunities (via computer) to prison inmates, and trained and hired several thousand uneducated and otherwise disadvantaged people who lived in dilapidated urban centers. Control Data has remained highly profitable while making a substantial impact on the lives of thousands of people who previously had little hope for meaningful lives. Over the years, Norris has been the object of scorn and ridicule, but he has persevered against the odds and come out a winner. Why?’ He had a vision, and he stuck with it.
Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computers, moved into IBM’s forsaken turf. Working with cohort Stephen Wozniak, Jobs set forth to make computer technology user-friendly—a new concept in computer application. He believed that if the technology could be harnessed and made both intellectually and emotionally accessible to the average person, the market would expand like hot cakes. Industry experts felt the idea was interesting, and that if it were possible, IBM would be the one to do it.
At the time he launched his challenge to IBM, Jobs was an unknown upstart in his twenties, a person without any viable corporate training or experience. He took on IBM, the industry leader, although few people figured he was anything more than a dreamer. After years of testing and developing, Apple became a major player in the computer market, a multibillion-dollar corporation currently challenging IBM’s supremacy. Jobs had managed to translate his dream into reality. How? By following his vision for what the future could offer.
The air freight industry offers another compelling example. For many years, packages that needed to be delivered as rapidly as possible were sent via passenger aircraft. Elaborate preparations had to be made and the process was cumbersome, expensive, and not terribly reliable. Worse, it took two, three, and sometimes even four days for those all-important packages to reach their destination. Fred Smith believed there was a market to be served and that a more efficient way to handling air freight was achievable, so he conceived a way of providing overnight package delivery. Defying his critics, Smith built Federal Express into a billion-dollar business, the leader in a fiercely competitive industry. Talk with Smith and you find a man who was able to keep going, and to motivate his staff to hang on during the dark times, because he had an unshakable vision of what his service could become.
Vision is not limited to business operations. I have met and followed the activities of various Christians who had a vision and implemented it. They are, by any standard, winners.
Bill Hybels was a youth pastor in Illinois. He had a vision for reaching the un-churched adults in his area. He conducted research, planned a creative marketing strategy for starting a new church geared to the needs of his community, and launched Willow Creek Community Church. Less than a decade after its first worship service, Hybels’ congregation now numbers some 10,000 people every Sunday. Most members of his congregation are people who were not attending church–and had no incentive to do so—until Hybel’s vision became a reality.
Pat Robertson began CBN with only a few dollars in his pocket and a vision. Today, his vision has expanded to include the CBN Cable Network, one of the largest and more successful cable networks in the country; CBN University, a school dedicated to training Christians in journalism; and a variety of other ministries that reach millions of people around the globe. At the outset, few people believed Robertson had a chance at doing anything special, given his limited resources. He was sustained by his vision of how God could use him and various forms of technology to reach millions of people with the gospel.
I have also known and worked with people who are less well-known but who have a powerful vision of how God desires to use them, and have been faithful to that vision. Stefan Bankov labored for nearly a decade to develop a concordance written in the Slavic language for pastors behind the Iron Curtain. Despite a lack of sufficient funds and staff, Bankov completed that volume and has been able to distribute thou-sands of copies in several Slavic nations.
Dick Innes was a builder by trade, in Australia, when he felt God leading him to develop a nationwide literature minis-try. In a short span of time, he mobilized the resources to reach every home in the outback and rural sections of Australia with high-quality, gospel literature. Thousands of people who had never visited a church or read the Bible came to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. Innes has since come to the United States with the vision of reaching this nation, Canada, and England with meaningful, needs-oriented, gospel literature. I would never bet against Innes, because he is a man of vision.
I am captivated by the realization that success in ministry is a result of vision, not a prerequisite for vision. Another inescapable, factual conclusion is that successful churches, like profitable business enterprises, must be led by people of vision.
How Can Vision Be Developed?
A number of similarities characterize the lives of men who have made it to the top of their profession or have had a significant impact on the world. It seems that a person of vision is:
Often, vision is not accompanied by unlimited resources to fulfill the vision, which requires some novel approaches to the obstacles that might prevent the execution of plans to accomplish the vision. Fulfillment of vision requires the ability to shake off the fetters of convention and devise unusual or unique ways to get things done.
There is a big difference between a dreamer and a visionary. A dreamer has pie-in-the-sky ideas—thoughts that cannot be translated into any kind of relevant and reasonable solutions. A visionary, however, keeps both feet on the ground and devises ideas that can be implemented and are likely to find a waiting niche in the marketplace.
Not Afraid To Fail
Vision itself can be scary, but the person of vision is not scared off by a monumental task or terrified by the prospect of an unsuccessful idea or activity. These people recognize that risk is part of the adventure of progress and that failure is but a steppingstone to perfection. Vision is analogous to accepting Christ as Savior; placing faith in Jesus is, by worldly standards, a risk, but it is necessary before spiritual progress can be made. Our human frailties will not prevent us from reaching perfection, through Christ, as long as we are diligent in our efforts to know, love, and serve Him.
Driven To Succeed
While some church leaders would reject a forceful, success-oriented attitude, I believe that men of vision inevitably exhibit an unquenchable need to do their work as well as it can be done and to push the limits of what is possible. Far too often, church leaders are complacent and accepting of whatever happens or whatever can get done without much sweat. But Iook at societal visionaries and biblical figures who exemplified vision; they were zealous in their efforts to achieve their goals.
A Team Player
Show me a man of vision who tries to do it all alone, and I will show you a person who will cause rather than solve problems. We have been created to live and work together, and being part ofa unified team is a key element to success. The visionaries of the secular business world take great pride in surrounding themselves with the best available talent—people who are competent team players, but who are not necessarily cut out for the spotlight. The visionary has a lead role, but operates as part of the team. He cannot implement his vision by himself. The Lord Jesus is perhaps the greatest example ofa person who had vision, but refused to do it all by Himself. Billy Graham is a man of vision whose crusades, publishing efforts, and other minis-tries are successful because of the strong team that has been developed and nurtured in concert with his vision.
A Person Of Perseverance
Vision is uncommon. As such, when shared or put into practice, it will generate resistance and may require unusual demands in terms of resources. A person who truly has vision, however, will not be deterred by hard times or new obstacles. Walt Disney had a vision for family entertainment; however, he failed seven times before his business finally caught on.
An Expert In His Field
Men of vision tend to confine their vision to their areas of expertise. Few people with backgrounds in medicine make seminal contributions in management. People who have vast insight into manufacturing rarely make new and exciting things happen in education. A person of vision, therefore, first recognizes his area of expertise and then tries to make giant strides within that realm. Further, a person who lacks a true understanding of his arena is not likely to be centrally involved in ground-breaking progress in that field.
Unique Characteristics Of Christian Visionaries
I believe two additional qualities distinguish Christian people of vision whose aim is to serve God through ministry.
I have yet to identify a Christian visionary for whom prayer was not a consistent, foundational reality. People to whom God has given the gift of vision pray for guidance, asking Him to open their eyes to opportunities and solutions. Their thirst for His direction is unmistakable. Embedded in their desire to serve is the constant request that He would see fit to use them as His instruments for blessing and that they would be keenly aware of their own strengths and limitations in fulfilling His ends.
The second key to Christians who impact the world for God is that they have unshakable faith–both in God’s sovereignty and in His desire for them to pursue their vision. Perseverance without faith is folly. To truly know that the vision the individual seeks to implement is of God will get him through many difficult times without suffering losses due to self-doubt, worry, and self-reliance.
Can vision be developed? Not by our own will to do so. Vision is a quality God imparts to those for whom He has designed positions of significant leadership. However, while we cannot deign to accept vision in our lives, we can pray for Him to bestow it upon us.
Vision In Church Marketing
What, then, does vision look like in church marketing?
Let me suggest six steps that describe the way in which I have seen vision work well in evangelical churches.
First, a leader must possess the vision for his church. The leader does not have to be the pastor; he might be an elder or some other lay leader. That person would then work with the pastor to refine the vision so it can be defined for the body.
Second, the people of the church must be prepared to understand the vision. That is, they must comprehend the purpose of vision and how it shapes the life of the church. Sometimes a pastor shares his vision for the church and the congregation yawns its assent, figuring it sounds like an ambitious agenda for one man to implement. Since many Christians lack an understanding of what vision is and how it relates to the church, some training must precede the push to transform a spoken vision into an active vision. People must be conditioned for exposure to the vision—prepared to intellectually and emotionally process the information, and to actively embrace the course of action and purposes the vision represents.
Third, the vision must be articulated for the church. Advertising agencies have often said that having the best product in the marketplace is useless if consumers are not aware of it. Likewise, having a vision is of no value if the people who must make that vision happen are not informed of it.
Fourth, the people must accept the vision. If the church does not accept the vision, it certainly will not act in ways to make the vision a reality. I believe there are two reasons why people might reject a vision shared by their pastor.
In some cases, the people simply do not understand the vision. It might be the way in which the vision was communicated. It might be that the people are not ready for such a direction. The point is, the application of the vision might be premature. The church leaders, then, have the task of “retooling” the congregation for the parts they will play in the implementation of the vision.
In other cases, the vision is not suited to the reality of the congregation: right vision, wrong church. The pastor must assess whether or not he is in the right place to realize the vision. Sometimes the answer will be “no,” requiring the pastor to make other provisions for carrying out the vision God has given him.
The fifth step is for the church, as a whole, to begin to make the vision a reality. Some individuals will have a more active role than others, but everyone in the body has a role in implementing the vision.
The final step is for the church to persevere. In almost every case with which I am familiar, a true vision from God requires stretching beyond what is normally considered to be reasonable. Pursuing the vision generally means attempting to do things that are neither easy nor typical. You may need to break new ground for ministry, and that will bring certain difficulties and hardships. Implementing the vision demands commitment and requires perseverance.
A Successful Example
Let me describe how one church was born from its pastor’s vision. The pastor felt God’s call to leave his existing church and start a new body in another area of the country. After considerable prayer, he was sure that he was being called to start a church unlike any that he had ever belonged to—much less pastored. He worked hard at thinking through the implications of his vision and making it practical. He eventually got to the point where he could articulate his vision verbally and in writing.
At that point, the pastor set about seeking people he could count as a core group—individuals who, upon hearing the vision, became excited about it and wanted to further explore how they could be a part of turning it into reality. The pastor continued his recruiting process, finding more people who were not interested in the vision than who were. However, by keeping the interested individuals involved in the growth of the church, the congregation that would eventually develop was certain to be built upon a unified vision.
Over a period of months, the core group took the necessary steps to fulfill the vision. Those with leadership capabilities began to design plans for different church projects and programs. Those who were capable helpers followed through on their tasks. Some people were not physical activists, but became prayer warriors for the fledgling church—consistently praying for God’s provision for the needs of the church. In one year’s time, that small core group managed to move the vision from a concept to a tangible organization. From its humble beginnings of meeting around the pastor’s living room table for coffee and discussing a vision of what could be done in the community, the church grew to more than 100 regular Sunday morning attenders in less than two years.
Was the vision’s success due to the pastor’s superb exposition of the Bible? No. Was it because the church grounds were attractive? No. Was it because the church was located in an area in which there were not enough churches to serve the population? No. (In fact, the thrust of the church was to reach those who were un-churched, not unhappily churched.) Very simply, this church was the result of the relentless pursuit of the vision the pastor possessed and articulated to his people. To this day, the church is growing. That growth is the result of the continual evaluation of every action the church takes in light of the church’s vision.
The Relationship Between Vision And Marketing
What does vision have to do with marketing?
Earlier in the book, we described marketing as the series of activities that satisfies the goals and objectives of the producer and the needs of the consumer. Marketing, then, is the means by which both the consumer and producer can be satisfied. The vision is a representation of what the final out-come will be.
In the next chapter we’ll discuss the next step in the church marketing process—planning goals and objectives. How can one reasonably develop goals and objectives without a vision?
Just in case you do not feel you have ever received an earth-shattering vision from the Lord of what your ministry will do to change the world, relax. Not everyone who has a successful ministry in progress has had that kind of experience–perhaps only a minority have. I cannot find any place in Scripture that suggests that everyone engaged in ministry will have a unique or world-changing vision.
It’s no different in the secular marketing realm. I know of many companies where the company president did not have his own vision, but was so impressed by another corporate leader’s vision that he adopted and adapted the other person’s vision for his own use. In the same manner, I have worked with churches whose senior pastor described his vision for the church in terms of “having a community outreach like that of Pastor Smith, in Albuquerque.”
The most important thing is to have a vision for your church that will work to the glory of God. Originality is not a requisite. Having the determination to see that vision become reality is.
This article “Creative Thinking About Marketing and Ministry: The Importance of Vision” written by George Barna was excerpted from “Marketing the Church.”