Would Your Church Benefit from an Extreme Makeover?

Date Posted: 10/3/2011

On any given Sunday, a worshipper visiting {Any Church in America} may pass by dozens of flyers, posters and signs lining the lawn and hallways of the church, hear 10 announcements from the pulpit, view a video or two or even see several inserts fall out of their worship bulletin -- yet still be confused about what that individual church really cares about and how to be a part of that vision.


In light of shrinking attention spans, could the national trend toward “information obesity” be clouding the faith community’s true message of hope? Might that lack of clarity of purpose be contributing to the national decline in church attendance?


Do churches want to have greater impact – but just need a plan?


Vision casting case study: Always a work in progress

Over the last several years, church staff and lay leaders of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston have been discovering the benefits of less-is-more-effective communication.  The leadership team decided to reduce the message clutter and “noise” and zoom in on what mattered most. The result: a Bible-inspired campaign aimed at creating a “come-walk-with-me culture” more sharply focused on spiritual movement and connectivity.


To get there, leaders made a significant time commitment to prayerfully walk through a plan involving a two-pronged process:

1. to discover St. Luke’s God-given uniqueness and

2. to articulate that vision in a clear, concise and compelling way.


Start wherever you are

As a first step, St. Luke’s board members and executive staff began an in-depth discussion to answer basic questions such as:

What are we doing?

Why are we doing it?

How are we doing it?

When are we successful?

Where is God taking us?

According to clarity evangelist Will Mancini, author of Church Unique, every church and every person’s faith adventure is as unique as individual snowflakes or sunsets, because God is boundless. While faith-based ministries share a similar overall purpose, Mancini reminds ministry leaders that each church is called to serve a unique and God-given purpose.


Finding and Defining the Vision

SLUMC leadership opted to begin “framing the vision” by defining what distinguishes St. Luke’s from the other churches in the neighborhood and city. Leaders articulated the church’s values to be: Action, Openness, Compassion and the Gospel. According to Sally Penning, spokesperson for the communications staff spearheading the effort, leaders then defined a series of specific member-oriented strategies using action-oriented words:

1)   Awaken in Worship

2)   Embrace community

3)   Train in teams

4)   Move in ministry.


“St. Luke’s did not want these strategies to merely be words on paper,” says Senior Pastor Tom Pace. “Instead, these phrases create, for members and visitors of our church, the clear steps in a spiritual pathway: Seeker (ie: Awakened in worship) to Believer (Embrace in Community) to Belonger (Train in teams) to Disciple to Apostle (ie: Moving in ministry).”


Communicating the Vision: Visuals bring it to life

Like many churches, St. Luke’s started the visioning and branding process amidst a few added challenges. Having recently expanded to a second campus, St. Luke’s had two websites and church identities to integrate, an ever-expanding list of ministries and events with competing color schemes and logos, and the emotional sentiments and traditions associated with a 65-year history. “It was critical for us to begin the vision communication process by building a Branding Committee,” notes Penning. “Members felt their views were represented by this planning group because the participants were well respected professionals with branding, communications, design and facility planning expertise from a cross section of both campuses. This approach is also helping members be more comfortable about the significant changes that are unfolding.”


 SLUMC’s new vision statement is St. Luke’s UMC: Where No One Walks Alone. The vision-focused identity is coming to life through this descriptive statement along with a new logo identity featuring a pathway of interlocking hearts, and a single website that integrates information from both campuses. “With this new vision and brand, we no longer operate as a federation of ministries,” Penning adds, “which is a huge cultural change but one that is very unifying. By communicating opportunities based on the vision goals and values instead of individual ministries, we are clarifying to our congregation and community (1) what matters most, (2) how to take the next step, and (3) the importance of bringing someone with you.”


St. Luke’s lay leader Mark Kidd has been involved in various leadership roles with SLUMC for over 30 years. “I participated in the new logo criteria and selection process, and while it wasn’t easy, I believe the end result was worth the effort. I am most excited about our new vision in that it gives us clarity and definition of purpose. We need to practice being more intentional about inviting others to join us in our activities and ministries. Experience shows us that the main reason most people get involved in any community activity is due to someone inviting them.”


NEW everything!

The transformation has not been gradual – but instant and comprehensive -- to visually demonstrate a renewed focus. St. Luke’s members are seeing the new colors and logo/vision statements on everything: new worship guides, stationery, a simplified e-blast and newsletter design, new courtyard banners, logo t-shirts for kids and adults, buttons, posters, parking lot signs – and a brand new website. Audiences are also seeing the visioning messages in video form on the web, and hearing sermons built upon the mission values.


“While information used to be available by ministry, the information on the new website is organized under each of the four strategies to help educate our members and solidify our new direction,” says webmaster Chris Davidson. “Our web launch features all new content and navigation that is focused on helping web visitors take the next step in their faith journey. To avoid returning to a position of information overload, we have made the web calendar a more trustworthy source. The web calendar will be a one-stop source for all of the comprehensive details for each ministry activity or program.”


New initiatives bring new challenges and results

According to lay leader Jennifer Gould, “The beauty of this vision process is that it provides a framework that will serve as a guideline for future communication, ministry and programming. Since St. Luke’s is composed of members from all over the city, from a variety of age groups and ministry passions, having a clearly articulated vision will provide greater focus and unity going forward. It also allows people seeking a church to know what ours is all about.”


Dr. Tom Pace summarizes it this way, “People want to feel like they are a part of something that has direction and intentionality.  Our vision launch was designed to focus our whole congregation on something deeper than a phrase or emblem.  It provides a way to get people to want to join in across a complex organization.  Where No One Walks Alone is a thread that allows us to tie together some specific areas of ministry focus (e.g. small groups, a new caring network, and outreach ministries in a target neighborhood) with a more important cultural change, new ways of behaving across every area of ministry, and a new common language that can tie us together as a faith community.  We are just getting started, but we are to a wonderful start, and there is energy and excitement around the effort.”