The virtual environment has empowered many parishes to build a sense of community and engage more parishioners in deeper ways. As we approach the holiday season, CCS encourages you to leverage the momentum of your community to position yourself well for 2022. Now is an excellent opportunity to activate your parishioners who have been particularly engaged in parish life by inviting them to participate in a January 2022 visioning session.

The goal of a visioning session is to identify your parish’s aspirations, involve key stakeholders, and start to formalize a plan to meet your goals. Using our seven-part framework, your visioning sessions will undoubtedly bring your constituents closer to your mission and set you up for a successful year.

Step 1: Prepare for success.

Time: Days to Weeks

Prepare for your session by helping lead clergy create a shortlist of decision-makers that they would like to invite to the visioning session. You can also offer an open invitation to the full parish to ensure that all parishioners have a voice and feel valued. This should include clergy, volunteers, parishioners, staff, donors, and when relevant, community partners. We recommend a group of between five and fifteen individuals that represent different backgrounds and ways of interacting with your parish. Staff can be prepared beforehand to take an active role in supporting and facilitating your session.

Every interaction with a parishioner is an opportunity to thank them and show them how important they are to the parish’s mission. Be sure to send out preparatory materials beforehand and ensure that session attendees are comfortable, connected, and thanked!

Step 2: Set the stage.

Time: 20 Minutes

After an opening prayer, be sure to state the purpose of the meeting so all attendees are focused on the same goal. You will want to offer a formal overview of the financial and programmatic realities at your parish. For example, there may be anticipated changes to your parish’s income or costs that need to be addressed in your near-term plans. Next, center the group by reminding attendees about your mission and vision as a parish. Finally, be sure to identify key priorities for the meeting and commit to a strategy for next steps as a group.

Step 3: Brainstorm with the group.

Time: 45 Minutes

The purpose of this exercise is to begin dreaming and imagining future projects at your parish. Before you facilitate this brainstorm, be sure to have a plan for these four essential elements:

  • Identify three categories of your vision that you would like the small groups to discuss. For example, your parish’s vision might include: strengthen the congregation, welcome your neighbors, and serve the community.
  • Offer a prompt such as, “What do you want your parish to look like three years from now?”
  • Assign roles for facilitator and notetaker. Members of the staff often serve as helpful leaders for these exercises.
  • Conduct the conversation in multiple small groups. The groups will develop a list of possible projects within the scope of your vision.

Step 4: Review and prioritize ideas.

Time: 30 Minutes

At this point in the exercise, you will:

  • Review each group’s ideas.
  • Discuss which items to keep, change, or eliminate.
  • Identify additional ideas that have not been discussed.
  • Incorporate thoughts and ideas from parish leadership.
  • Identify opportunities for the group’s review.

The purpose of this step is to consolidate ideas from the previous step and begin to concretize which ideas are candidates for pursual.

Step 5: Identify points of intersection and divergence.

Time: 30 Minutes

As with any brainstorming session, there will be ideas that are pursued and others that are not. Everyone who has joined this session is undoubtedly a valuable contributor to your parish, so you will want to understand their emotional response and move forward as one enthusiastic unit with ideas that combine philanthropy and ministry. Some questions that could prompt this discussion include:

  • How did participants feel about this exercise?
  • How can philanthropy and ministry work together to accomplish our goals?
  • How can we align any differences in ideas?

After this step is complete, you should have group support for a shortlist of ideas to pursue.

Step 6: Define next steps and close.

Time: 30 Minutes

At this point, you should be ready to move your ideas from vision into action! Some helpful ways of doing this include:

  • Determine your timeline for each idea.
  • Discuss who will be responsible for the next steps for each initiative.
  • Develop themes into testable ideas and projects.
  • Identify your message from today’s workshop and how you will communicate this to the broader parish community.

Step 7: Follow up with contributors.

Time: Within One Week

After your meeting, you will want to follow up with a summary of your discussion, an overview of your timeline and next steps, and language that the group can share with other parishioners. We recommend using tools like the Cornell notetaking method, a Gantt Chart, and a RACI matrix to support next steps.

The above steps will help you align projects to your parish’s vision to ensure a successful start to the new year. If you would like to discuss best practices for a visioning session, or if you would like support with your parish’s strategy, please reach out to info@ccsfundraising.com.

About the Authors

Kristen “Kris” Kuhns is a Vice President at CCS Fundraising. She has experience with international non-government organizations, higher education, religious, and human service organizations. Kris has extensive knowledge of capital campaigns, major gifts fundraising, annual fundraising, volunteer management, nonprofit operations, and analytics.

Christina Mathis is a Senior Vice President at CCS Fundraising. She brings more than a decade of working with nonprofit organizations across sectors such as secondary education, religion, advocacy, and arts & culture. Christina has enjoyed bringing her knowledge and expertise in communications, volunteer training and management, and program management to her work with client partners to conduct feasibility studies, major capital campaigns, and assessments.