By Paul Townshend
As coaches, we often find congregations nervous about letting in an outsider to share in their planning. We try our best to assure church members that our role is to work alongside them to assist in their decision-making. The decisions are theirs to make.
Coaches have an outside perspective that may allow church members to see connections that they are too close to recognize or may take for granted. There may be some special things happening that don’t get noticed. New ideas grow out of reordering individual insights with a fresh look. The ideas that come forward are those of the congregation. Coaches only assist the process.
The acronym VIVA is the Italian word for life, which appropriately describes one of the processes used by Huron coaches to provide a congregation with renewed life through a renewed action plan.
Most churches have established structures and routines over years that were very successful for them. But more and more churches are finding these tried and true ways are not working quite as well in dealing with today’s realities. The VIVA process is a popular approach that assists congregations in moving forward to meet these new challenges.
This VIVA process is accomplished in three sessions, usually scheduled about one month apart.
During the first day’s session, members of the congregation are taken through a series of activities that help them articulate the core values of their church. More activities and discussion establish the current identity of the church. Chart paper displays the day’s work throughout the hall or church, so parishioners who were unable to participate in the meeting can get an idea of the results and provide further input or suggestions. Prayer during and throughout the process is important in discerning God’s will.
The second meeting begins with a review and confirmation of the values and identity. Sometimes adjustments are made after a month’s reflection and discussion with other parishioners. But the main focus of this session is to establish a vision for the congregation looking out into the next three to five years. Having agreed upon their values and current identity, the congregation is now better able to look toward the future to describe who they want to become. They have a foundation to address new challenges.
The third meeting once again begins with review and confirmation of results. This particularly helps those new to the meeting to fully participate in the discussions. This meeting is devoted to setting down three to five concrete goals that will bring the vision into reality. These goals should then be approved by parish council, which then needs to ensure the development of an action plan. This is the critical point of the process! Without a workable action plan, great ideas and visions remain great ideas and visions. Action is required to bring the vision into reality.
Coaches are often asked, “Why does this process have to take so long?” This process is different than the usual business problem-solving model. Reflection time and prayer are needed between the meetings to help participants discern God’s plan for the congregation. Usually lots of ideas are brought forward and it is important to take the time to feel which path God’s hand is leading us toward.