A Pastor’s Annual Vision Sermon: an exercise in futility?

vison sermon, visionaryI’ve served in a senior pastor role over 20 years and each year I’ve preached an annual vision sermon.

As I look back, though, I wonder how much Kingdom difference those sermons really made.

Pastors from large mega-churches that I’ve followed from afar encourage us to bring an annual  message. As a result, I’ve prioritized it as a necessary leadership tour do force upon which I thought the health, vitality, and future of my church depended. I had engrained into my leadership DNA that a vision message must include content (the what), the motivation (the why), and the inspiration (the impetus for everybody in the church to be moved to take on hell with a water pistol after listening to me for 30 minutes).

The kinds of vision messages I’ve brought have included these general themes.


  • the I just got back from this great pastors’ conference and this is what we will do next year



  • the I just read a great book on church growth and this is what we will do next year



  • the I have no clue about what next year holds but I have to bring a vision message or else I’m not a good pastor



  • the I have to fire up the church with this message because, well, we need firing up



  • the I’ve come from a Mt. Sinai planning retreat and here is what God told me we’re to do next year



  • and as I’ve gotten more mature the I humbly bring this before you as a word from God


The responses to my annual vision sermon have included…


  • 100 people leaving the church the following year (after I attended Willow for the first time and decided we would be the Willow Creek of Atlanta; I’m not dissing Willow, I was simply too filled with myself when I brought that vision sermon)



  • a phone call from a leader saying he was not motivated at all



  • usually lower attendance on those days





  • nice, smiling faces in the audience that telegraphed, “You go get ’em Charles. We’ll be praying for you.”



  • yawns



  • kind people telling me afterwards, “that was a very cool acronym you used.”



  • a few (I can count them on my hands and toes) who said, “Pastor, that motivated me to embrace the vision with you.”


So, I’m beginning to question the value of an all-inclusive make it or break it 30 minute talk that outlines the churches upcoming annual focus. I’m not implying that we minimize casting vision. Rather, I wonder if we (I) have overrated the annual vision sermon. Will Mancini, one of the best church consultants today, has coined a phrase that resounds with me: vision drip. Here’s what he says.
Vision dripping is more important than vision casting: Great churches produce visionary teams, and visionary people that share (drip) the vision in the course of daily leadership and life. Vision ought to be a team sport and engage an army of everyday story-tellers in the community. Vision should never be relegated to special gifting of a the point leader only.
I’m slowly learning how to place more of my eggs into this vision ‘drip’ basket instead of the vision “sermon” basket.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how effective your annual vision sermon has been.
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