We have a running discussion in our house about salad dressings in the refrigerator. My sons and I are convinced that my wife would hang on to unused dressing until The Lord returns, perhaps right into His millennial reign. You might say that we have philosophical convictions about shelf life. We would say that these convictions are only exceeded in passion by our practical if-not-emotional concerns about our health. Cheri has articles from the news media to support her position. We have highly-developed dressing-avoidance mechanisms. Somewhere in the middle lies the truth. That Poppy-seed concoction may last longer than some of us believe it should. However, it can't be good for us forever. It has a shelf-life.
Church vision works the same way. Mission is timeless but vision is time-bound, it has a shelf-life. Vision is a preferable future that can be realized as we lead and He blesses. Perhaps you have had some dynamic shelf-life discussions on your leadership team. If not, perhaps you should. Let me give you an exercise that will help you assess your vision.
I maintain that the shelf life of the vision of nearly all churches is less than ten years, many are less than five years, and some are less than three years. What drives these differences? Consider the following general guidelines for testing shelf life.
1. The bigger the vision, the longer the shelf life. It will take time to see it realized.
2. The fewer execution steps you have taken toward your vision, the longer the shelf life. However, the longer you delay execution, the more #3 and #4 below become a factor.
3. The more changes that have occurred in your external environment (surrounding community) since your vision was developed, the shorter the shelf-life. These may be opportunities or threats that make your vision obsolete.
4. The more changes in your internal environment since your vision was developed (leadership team turnover, programming and system changes), the shorter the shelf-life.
5. The more growth your church has experienced since your vision was developed, the shorter the shelf life. A new vision will be necessary to overcome a smaller-church mentality and to become who you can become.
6. The more clearly defined your strategies, accompanied by goals and follow up, the shorter the shelf life. These things build a bridge from today's reality to the tomorrow of your vision.
7. Finally, use the Vision-Avoidance test. If there is very little conversation about your vision, if it is not found at least occasionally in sermons, if no one is writing about it, and it’s not naturally woven into casual conversations and formal training, the shorter the remaining shelf-life. There may be some hope of reviving it, but that will be very difficult.