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S low and steady. That’s our vision story at Christ Community Church (Lemont, Illinois).

When I came to Christ Community in 2014 as pastor, the vision was easy to understand: survive! 

Money was low, fear was high, leaders were tired, and guests weren’t coming. With the help of an outside consultant, we identified core values and a new vision statement, “Living and Loving Like Jesus in Our Community.” The vision was catchy and matched the evangelistic courage of our community. We might not be able to share our faith with words or practice courageous invitation, but we could live as an example, so we aimed for that.

By God’s grace, the path toward organizational health was quick. Within months the church was stable. To outside eyes, everything was great and it was much better than the days stuck in survival mode. But there is a hidden danger in health that no one talks about; like all good things, health can become an idol. We fell in love with stability. We were in danger of settling for organizational maintenance until the next crisis struck. When the shutdowns started in 2020, we reverted to the same survival thinking from the previous crisis. Congregations have memory, especially in moments of uncertainty. 

Over the years, there was always support for the church, and I’m grateful for that. But if you have tried to lead a group of people somewhere that challenges them, you know there is a big difference between support and buy-in. For any vision to be successful, we as a congregation need to own it, not just agree with it. In those early years, we knew we didn’t have a big enough vision to force a change in behavior.

Inspiring change and a new vision

It didn’t take long to develop a plan. We’d host focus groups, conduct congregational surveys, interview the staff, and share our results in public forums. Within a few months, we had plenty of data, but no vision. So we kept asking questions, pouring over the survey results, praying and studying the Scriptures, but still no clear, compelling vision.  At this point, we started to question everything—our process, our discernment skills, and the potential of a medium-sized congregation to do anything special or unique. It turns out plans are easy; vision is more elusive. 

I’d like to say that the process was a beautifully scripted musical piece, but it wasn’t. It was more like a freshman wrestling team. We were regularly uncomfortable, over-matched, and trying on new postures of grappling. Our vision process was slow and steady, but we didn’t give up. We kept at it. We kept asking questions, petitioning God, and waiting for a vision worth following.

After 11 months of wrestling, the breakthrough came in two words: “Hope” and “Guides.”  Those words summarized our strengths, opportunities, and greatest dreams. Everyone is looking for hope and while we might not be experts at anything, we were a congregation who saw themselves as guides on the journey of faith. God was calling us to guide our neighbors to a hope-filled future. With this 7.5-word phrase, we started dreaming of ways to connect with neighbors, train leaders, and develop disciples. 

We didn’t discover a vision, but we discovered the words to describe the vision God had given us. Without vision, the future was apathetic and uncertain; with vision, we started moving.

The first action was to slay our fears. Survival thinking (circa 2014 and 2020 for our congregation) is all about uncertainty. So we developed a generosity campaign that stretched us. We asked every family to commit to sacrifice for a community center and thrift store for our neighborhood. (The header photo shares the joy of Commitment Sunday 2023, when the church committed to financially supporting the new vision.) Next, we started restructuring staff, increasing mission partnerships, and making bold invitations.  

To my delight, the vision was quickly met with enthusiasm. Slow and steady became quick and exciting. The campaign exceeded our goal, we’ve restructured staff, deepened our ministry partnerships, welcomed more new members than ever before, and had a ton of fun watching people wrestle their way into a bigger vision. It turns out that people were hungry for vision and our neighbors were hungry for hope.

What we’ve learned

We are still early in this process, but a few insights are clear:

  • Most vision takes time. You can rush it, but it won’t work.
  • A small vision asks for small sacrifice and gets small amounts of passion. Don’t settle for something safe; everyone will be unsatisfied.
  • If your vision doesn’t require a change in behavior, your culture won’t change.
  • Seeking vision is a unique paradox of waiting and seeking. God has something in store for those who wait and seek.
  • A coach is a great resource for keeping leaders on the path.
  • Be strong, take heart, and wait for the LORD! (Psalm 27)
Chad De Jager

Chad De Jager is pastor of Christ Community Church in Lemont, Illinois.