By Jeff Brumley
Some pastors may look forward to — and even need — a post-holiday lull.
But not Doug Dortch, the senior minister at Mountain Brook Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. Instead, he’ll be busy those first few days and weeks of 2013 delivering messages that will lay out his vision for the church.
Despite coming on the heels of Advent and Christmas, Dortch said, the New Year season is perfect for an annual state-of-the-church preaching.
“It’s a way of taking advantage of the culture’s readiness for some kind of change or transformation,” Dortch said. “There’s something exciting about a new year … and a congregation is more prepared to hear a pastor offer direction then than any other time of year.”
The term some use is “vision casting,” and it’s commonly a practice in healthy congregations, said Bill Wilson, president of the North Carolina-based Center for Congregational Health.
Wilson said he sees a lot of pastors laying out their visions shortly before and after the New Year. The problem is not enough are doing it.
“It is almost always without fail one of the first things we find lacking when we walk into a congregation where there is conflict or lack of energy or passion,” Wilson said, adding, that reluctant pastors and ministry staffs should look at the process as setting New Year’s resolutions for their congregations.
“There is no better time to address the future than the first or second week of January,” he said.
Kyndall Renfro said she understands how the New Year is a perfect time for sharing blueprints for progress – as long as they are the right blueprints.
“It can be a problem when a church has a lack of vision, but it’s also a problem to have an under-developed or wrong vision,” said Renfro, pastor at Covenant Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas.
Renfro said part of her hesitancy stems from only being at the church since September 2011.
Plus it’s a small congregation – about 50 members – in which Renfro said she feels pretty close to each person.
“I try to be attentive to each person’s spiritual journey and notice how they are blossoming,” she said. “That’s a very personal way of doing it rather than from the pulpit.”
But Renfro said she can see the importance of taking a corporate view as well.
“I think there is a role for both of those,” she said.
Another pastor said he could not imagine leading a church without sharing his vision with the congregation at least once a year.
“For one, it keeps me honest,” said Greg DeLoach, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga.
DeLoach said he uses his state-of-the-church address to summarize his and the congregation’s successes and failures during the previous year.
“No matter what else I say, people always want to know how we did financially, in mission dollars, new members” and other categories, he said.
“And then I do the vision casting – we are looking ahead throughout the next year.”
That’s a good time to prepare the congregation for expected changes, such as in ministry staffing and worship changes, he said.
“I need to be able to hit those things head-on,” DeLoach said. “I need to be honest about the challenges we face and also about what we stand to gain.”