Inside our Strategic Planning Orientation Retreat and Visioning Process


Everything you could possibly want to know, and probably a little bit more more


This summer, the Vision Team and other Advent members are distilling everything we’ve heard in our Listening Small Groups into new Mission and Vision statements for Advent. Meanwhile, this process is winding up to grow outward, engaging new leaders in the church who are already preparing to explore how we will implement our Mission and Vision. Our Strategic Planning Teams gathered for an orientation retreat on Sunday, July 21, where they learned the foundational faith perspectives and strategic planning methods we'll use to transform our Mission & Vision into concrete and exciting plans for the future.

Inside our Strategic Planning Teams orientation retreat

On Sunday, July 21, our Strategic Planning Teams gathered for an orientation retreat to learn about the foundation faith perspectives and methods for our strategic planning process starting in August.

We have 6 teams, each focusing on a different aspect of how we will live out our Mission and Vision: the Ministry Planning Team, Outreach Planning Team, Spatial Planning Team, Financial Planning Team, Wordsmithing Team, and Research Team.

The teams were formed through a process of self-identification in June. Over 30 Advent members stepped forward to serve on a team. Council placed everyone on one of 6 teams, seeking to ensure a balance of skills and gifts on each team.

We had a lot to accomplish at our orientation retreat: We are setting up these teams as discipleship groups to build up the faith of these leaders. We are introducing a new methodology, a faith-based adaptation of design thinking. For the first time, we are embarking on the adventure of having truly multi-lingual teams, with non-bilingual English and Spanish speakers working together on the same teams. We needed to clarify goals, roles, and timelines. And answer questions like: How does all of this fit together with our visioning process, and the decisions we need to make as a congregation about our future?

The retreat began with a deep breath and a prayer.

Faith Foundations

With uncertainty in the future, we always start from prayer, and start from our faith. And so it was with our retreat.

The first hour was spent on Faith Foundations led by Pastor Danielle. We talked in our groups about why we live our faith in the Lutheran church, and we looked at what discipleship meant in the early church in Acts.

We set the expectation that our process would be grounded in the foundations of our faith — grace, inclusion, and love — and seek to build up the members of our teams as disciples of Jesus through prayer, Bible Study, and worship.

Process Goals

The next segment was spent clarifying our goals and roles in this process. Here are the goals for the process we shared with the teams. In the whole arc of this visioning and strategic planning process:

  1. Our 1st goal is to clarify our mission, vision, and strategy to accomplish it.

  2. In order to do that long-term, the congregation needs to make some decisions. Thus, our 2nd goal is to equip the congregation to have the information they need to make faithful decisions.

And all of this is so that we may live more fully into our unique expression of God’s mission here as one Body of Christ.


Next, we clarified the roles each stakeholder at Advent would have in realizing these goals for our process. Pop quiz: Do you see yourself in one of these roles?

  1. Strategic Planning teams are our thinkers and planners. We are calling team members to participate in a process to discover possibilities, generate and refine ideas, and develop plans for the future, producing concrete planning documents.

  2. Pastors & Staff are our directors and coordinators. They will facilitate and guide our strategic planning process, coordinating the interaction of our 6 teams, supporting volunteers, and congregational activities.

  3. Council’s role is empowerment and accountability. Council will empower and affirm the pastors, staff, teams, team members, the congregation, and all who participate in the strategic planning process. Council will be responsible for the empowerment and oversight of leaders to implement the strategic plan. Council will review progress and keep all parties accountable.

  4. Ministry leaders, Advent members, and community members are our partners in this process. We will collaborate and gather feedback as much as possible through our process.

Our Methodology: Design Thinking

Third, we introduced our methodology for the strategic planning process: design thinking.

Where does design thinking come from?

Design thinking is a new field developed by the leaders at IDEO, a design and consulting firmed consistently ranked as one of the most innovative companies in the world. In the last decade, design thinking has become popular with nonprofits for strategic planning, because it is so effective at leading to innovative, sustainable solutions to meaningful problems in an increasingly complex, interconnected, multicultural modern world.

At Advent, we started incorporating elements of design thinking into our Visioning Process in the spring. We even brought in an MPA in Nonprofit Management from NYU, trained the design thinking process, to plan and lead a facilitation training with Vision Team members for our Listening Small Groups.

Pastor Danielle and I chose design thinking as the foundational methodology for the strategic planning process both because of it merits in the nonprofit and for-profit world, and because of its uncanny similarity to the values, perspectives, and qualities of church.

What is design thinking?

Practically, design thinking provides constructive steps for a team to work together to explore solutions to challenges in way that is grounded in observation, collaborative and inclusive, and both creative and realistic.

It doesn’t require participants to come ready with the answers, but rather offers a process to discover new solutions we couldn’t have seen at the beginning of the process

What makes design thinking uniquely innovative and Gospel-led is that it is "human-centered," drawing inspiration from the needs, lives, and observations of real people. It is flexible, collaborative, creative and analytical, and is designed to meet the full need of the challenge, rather than yield merely incremental improvement. All these qualities (and more) make it a great fit for church.

How does design thinking work?

At the retreat, we introduced two fundamental concepts in design thinking to our Strategic Planning teams.

The 1st defines an “innovative solution” not as something more technologically glitzy, but rather simply as a new solution to a need or unsolved challenge. An innovative solution lies at the intersection of 3 factors: what is desirable, what is feasible, and what is viable.

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Second, we covered the 5 steps of the design thinking process. These steps can be completed in order, but depending what you learn along the way, they can also be nonlinear and iterative.

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Team Timelines

After learning about design thinking, we distributed draft timelines, based on the design thinking steps, for each of our 6 teams to use and adapt. We will continue to refine and coordinate these timelines together in the coming weeks.


Finally, we closed our retreat by worshiping God together. We prayed for each other. We sang “Amazing Grace.” And we were sent out.

In conclusion

The orientation retreat is just a starting point, but we covered a lot of ground. The Strategic Planning Teams will continue to reviewing supporting data, observing ministries, and refining their timelines in August in preparation to receive the direction of our Mission & Vision statements from the Vision Team in September.

Inside the Work of the Vision Team

On June 2, 2019, the Vision Team released an Initial Distilling Report of our Listening Small Groups from March 24 - May 12 . The report distilled 77 pages of notes, from 36+ hours of Listening Small Groups with 70 people, into a 10-page document of patterns, insights, and themes. Read it here >

So, how is the Vision Team getting from an initial report to Mission and Vision statements for our church? Here is a look inside the process.

In June, the Vision Team co-chairs sought the wisdom of Scripture, and a diverse variety of faith-based and secular resources about the mission of the (capital “C”) Church, and what makes for effective Mission and Vision statements today. Through the guidance of these resources, they developed the following prompt:

What is the Holy Spirit Telling Us?

Now it is time to bring this to a meaningful, actionable conclusion—to quite literally concentrate—as we gather all the rich and diverse wisdom that the Holy Spirit has sent us through our prayers, retreats, conversations and meetings with the congregation, and bring to these abundant but disparate insights form, focus and clarity. 

We ask you to take the next four weeks and go through the documents that we have gathered, and which are available to you in our Initial Distilling Report and Listening Group notes. This is our source material. 

Sit with what you read.  Look for connections, themes, nuance.  Listen for the still small voice.  Pray.

Contemplate Matthew 22: 36-40:

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

And then answer these five questions:

  1. What should “loving your neighbor” look like at Advent?

  2. If we could do only three things to put this love of our neighbor into action, what would they be?

  3. How does the world change when we love our neighbor in these ways?

  4. If we gave Advent’s collective faith a verb, what would it be?

  5. Name a core value that sets Advent apart in the world. How does it have the power to change us if we live our lives consistent with that value?

 In answering, please keep these guidelines in mind:

  • All responses should be based on the Initial Distilling Report and Listening Small Group notes

  • Cite or paraphrase what you read in the report or group notes that informed your answer as much as possible.

  • Be concise: Keep answers to one paragraph (about 5 sentences or less). Remember: we’re distilling!

  • Avoid platitudes or vague church-speak (yes, that’s a thing!). Try to be as specific and concrete as possible.

  • Question order is intentional—responses should be consistent and connected to each other.

Vision Team members, pastors, and additional volunteers in the congregation are completing this prompt in the month of July. In August, the Vision Team co-chairs will synthesize these materials into draft Mission and Vision statements to review with the whole team in early September. Their final product— a Mission and Vision statement that is Gospel-inspired, collectively owned, actionable and aspirational —will then be presented to the Council, and to the congregation on Mission & Vision Sunday, September 22.

Ok, so remind me again, how are our visioning process and strategic planning process different?

Our visioning process is more existential and up in the clouds. It still needs to be clear and directive. Our strategic planning process more is tactical and on the ground. Here’s another way to think of it:

Our Mission is what we’re called to do, and our Vision is why: our aspiration of how people, our church, our community, and the world will be different through living out our mission.

Our Strategy is how we’ll implement our mission effectively. Strategy outlines the steps we’ll take to realize our vision.

So our Mission and Vision will ultimately direct our strategic planning process. And the strategic planning process give our Mission and Vision effective strategies and defined steps, equipping us to make faithful decisions that bring our Mission and Vision to life.

Mission = what we’re called to do

Vision = why we’re called to do it (The end goal)

Strategy = how we’ll accomplish it (The steps we’ve chosen to get there)

Still have questions? Let us know >

Advent Lutheran Church