Table of Contents
Title Page
Copyright Page
What This Book Is Not
A Lifestyle of Visionary Leadership
Discovering Missional Vision
Infinite Uniqueness
Uniqueness = Culture
Lost on the Way to Your Own DNA
Falling down the Chute
Three Fallacies
Zooming Out on “Church Growth”
Unwrapping the Bad Rap
The Heart of the Matter
Soul Fast Food
High-Definition Leadership
Catalyzing Movement with Clarity First
New Levels Bring New Devils
Repent, for Clarity Is at Hand
Clarity Requires Humility
Between the Bookends of Utopia
God’s Vision, or Ours? Both
“Tapping” Visionaries Before Us and Around Us
Your Kingdom Concept
Kingdom Concept in Real Time
Troubleshooting the Kingdom Concept
Chapter 11 - SEE WITH NEW EYES
Your Church, in Ten Words or Less
A Framework for Missional Clarity: The Vision Frame
Mission as Missional Mandate
Doing More of What You Do Best
Shaping Culture with Missional Motives
Chapter 14 - SHOW ME THE WAY
Strategy = Quantum Leap Clarity
Defining Strategy as Missional Map
Illustrating the Missional Map
Strategy Development in Recent History
Summing It Up: Wal-Mart, or Starbucks?
Chapter 15 - TALK THE WALK
Cross-Firing Ministries
Measures as Missional Life Marks
Widely Used Marks
Developing Marks
Visionary Jazz
A Stroll on the Pathway
Defining Vision Differently
Vision Proper Within the Vision Frame
Mission and Vision: Clarifying the Difference
Vision as Missional Mountaintop + Milestones
Making Missional Milestones
Alignment: Pre-Traction Action
Practices That Harmonize Hearts
Making Waves
Pulling It All Together

More Praise for Church Unique
Church Unique is a much-needed book. I find that too many of our churches preach the uniqueness of God’s gifting and calling and then turn around and attempt to copy the ministry and calling of some other well-known church. While we can learn much from the best practices of other churches, it’s a terrible mistake to try to become just like them. Will Mancini shows us a better path.”
—Larry Osborne, author, A Contrarian’s Guide to Knowing God; senior pastor, North Coast Church, San Diego, California
“When I finished The Purpose Driven Church, I wanted to lead a church like Saddleback. When I finished Church Unique, I wanted to discover God’s one-of-a-kind fingerprint for my congregation. Will Mancini gave me an inspirational and courageous playbook to mobilize my mainline church for its own missional calling to follow Jesus Christ.”
—Rev. Richard Kannwischer, senior pastor, First Presbyterian Church, San Antonio, Texas
“As chief vision chef, Will Mancini offers up a creative recipe that will satisfy a leader’s hunger to create, cast, and implement a vision that is unique to his church.”
—Aubrey Malphurs, senior professor of pastoral ministries, Dallas Theological Seminary; president, Malphurs Group; author, Advanced Strategic Planning
“Having personally coached leaders around the globe in the area of vision, I am very selective when I invite someone to coach us at Discovery Church. Will Mancini is one of the few. The process he leads and shares in Church Unique is extremely helpful whether you’re just beginning or are a seasoned leader who’s been through visioning processes in the past. If you have ever had that inner pause as a leader that makes you wonder if something is missing, this book may provide the key to greater clarity and new levels of ministry effectiveness.”
—David Loveless, pastor, Discovery Church, Orlando, Florida
“The process outlined by Will Mancini has unleashed among our leaders a renewed joy and energy for clarifying, articulating, and advancing God’s vision for us in our community. In my fifteen years as pastoral leader of Trinity Church I have never been more excited and hopeful about the future of our 134-year-young church!”
—Rev. Dr. Richard C. Noack, senior pastor, Trinity Klein Lutheran Church, Spring, Texas
“Will Mancini is a cutting-edge, innovative leader who forces other leaders to look within themselves and their churches, attempting to dig out the reality of who they are and what they are about. His ability and his life message need to be read and heard by the masses today.”
—Ronnie Floyd, author and senior pastor, First Baptist Church Springdale and the Church at Pinnacle Hills, Springdale, Arkansas
“Will Mancini’s expertise concerning visionary leadership and strategic thinking has been a huge guiding presence to my ministry. Anything Will writes should be read.”
—David Saathoff, lead pastor, Bandera Road Community Church, San Antonio, Texas
“The process and principles of this book can be helpful at any stage in your organization’s life. If I were starting my ministry all over again, the first thing I would do is follow the pathway outlined in this book. If you are feeling stuck, this book is for you. Most important, if you are experiencing rapid growth that demands a constant refocusing on your vision, get this book. Will Mancini has worked with Upward Unlimited for years, helping us to define and communicate our vision more clearly. Among the many fruits of the clarity we now enjoy is the confidence that we are passing on our vision and protecting our DNA for the next generation.”
—Caz McCaslin, founder and president, Upward Unlimited
“Will Mancini has mastered a process of helping leaders understand God’s vision for the church, discover their vision for ministry, and communicate that vision to those they lead. It is not another program or one-size-fits-all approach. It is a tested process of discovery and discipline that results in a clear vision for healthy ministry and dynamic churches. The end result is a vision that is biblical, compelling, clear, transferable, practical, and unique. These principles will invigorate your leadership, motivate your team, and revolutionize your ministry.”
—Willy Rice, senior pastor, Calvary Baptist Church, Clearwater, Florida
“Most vision books are for people without vision. Not this one. Will Mancini’s Church Unique is carbonated clarity for your vision process. If you are just looking for a quick fix to cut and paste into the quagmire of wasted words known as your mission statement, then this is not the book for you. But if you are ready to awaken your church’s dormant uniqueness and live in the vivid high-defintion picture that only your congregation can create, then stop reading this and turn directly to page 85. Will and his crew of carnivorous learners have given us a new hero’s mantra: ‘Save the church leader—save the world.’”
—The Wayfarer Team, “Awaken Redefinition”
“I know that the Church Unique concept works, because I experienced it firsthand. Through the process, our church leadership was able to unlock the special vision that sets our church apart and positioned us to reach people in new and exciting ways. Far too many congregations are frustrated with cookie-cutter theories that just don’t work with their church culture. The Church Unique principles did just the opposite—they helped us articulate our purposes directly out of who we really are.”
—Ryan Rush, senior pastor, Bannockburn Baptist Church, Austin, Texas; author, Home on Time
“Many of the church and leadership books I peruse follow the same cookie-cutter approach, but Will Mancini’s Church Unique is different. The chapters moved me beyond ‘this is well written’ to ‘how do I engage in this with my team, NOW?’ When I wasn’t wincing from the ways he nailed my ineffective vision efforts, I felt motivated to jump right in. The churches surrounding me (all too often including ours) are desperate for the path to a healthier future but all too often find well-written platitudes that provide momentary relief rather than lasting direction. Church Unique goes beyond the easy quick fix to deeply useful vision for a God-honoring future. Church Unique gives hope, regardless of the health of your congregation. A book to implement, not just buy. Worth the price for his section on ‘thinkholes’ into which ministries can sink without self-awareness.”
—John Crosby, senior pastor, Christ Presbyterian Church, Edina, Minnasota
“You are holding in your hands a book that will cause you to rethink the way your church fulfills the Great Commission. Will Mancini has been a longtime friend and consultant to Castle Hills First Baptist Church. He has helped us understand the spiritual DNA that makes our church and mission to San Antonio so unique. He loves to help church leaders prevail over problems and obstacles. His understanding of the processes involved in bringing about change is extraordinary. This book can mentor you through difficult circumstances. It can guide you through the process of seizing initiative and opportunity. The principles you will discover in the pages of this book have been used, tested, and proven to be effective.”
—R. James Shupp, senior pastor, Castle Hills First Baptist Church, San Antonio, Texas
“Every once in a while God brings unique people across your path to add significant value to your life and ministry. Will Mancini is one of those people in my life. At a critical time in the life of our church, Will came into our journey and helped us navigate through the challenging waters of remaining true to our vision in a rapidly changing context. We understand and communicate our mission today with incredible clarity, thanks in large part to Will. I highly recommend this book as someone who has reaped the enormous benefits of its content.”
—Vance Pitman, senior pastor, Hope Baptist Church, Las Vegas, Nevada
“After walking the Vision Pathway years ago, we still consider it to have been one of the most important strategic steps in the history of our church. Most of what we do today has an imprint from the process. It has helped us to clarify our purpose and it continues to drive our ministry decisions. Church Unique carries my highest endorsement as a much-needed resource for church leaders.”
—Tim Sims, executive pastor, Gateway Community Church, Houston, Texas
“In Church Unique, Will Mancini clearly articulates how churches are hindered when they follow the model of the day rather than grow to celebrate the organic, God-given shape and culture for them through a practical and dynamic ‘visioneering’ process that delivers. I’ve experienced it, I’ve seen the benefits, and I believe in it.”
—Brian Audia, executive director, Surgance, Inc.
“Few people ever press the pause button in ministry to think. That’s why I’m so excited about Church Unique. This book will force you to take multiple steps back and review the church DNA that God has given you. Then it will help you to rebuild who you are with more focus and intentionality. So if you want to really think through every aspect of your ministry and become the church God has called you to be, then dedicate yourself to this book.”
—Billy Andrews, Southside Baptist Church, Warner Robins, Georgia
“Every time I am with Will Mancini, I walk away challenged to give my life to leading God’s church. Will Mancini maximizes his engineering background, his theological training, and his church leadership experience to help churches move beyond the practice of imitation, beyond the worship of innovation to the exciting world of becoming their Church Unique. I believe Will’s grand contribution is that he helps church leaders learn to think about how God designed their church for His unique purpose. Every church leader has a hunger to fulfill God’s plan for his congregation, but the models and mantras that are meant to help can get in the way. Before you know it, you are up a Willow Creek without a Hybels.
Church Unique celebrates God’s creative work in each of us and gives us confidence to embrace the corporate grace, collective soul, and divine mandate that makes our lives and our churches unique. Welcome to the inspiring season of living out your personal story and becoming uniquely you! The genius of Church Unique is found in the tools that help leaders move beyond understanding to integration. Read this book with a pen in your hand.”
—Bruce Wesley, senior pastor, Clear Creek Community Church, League City, Texas


The Blogging Church: Sharing the Story of Your Church Through Blogs, by Brian Bailey and Terry Storch
Leading from the Second Chair: Serving Your Church, Fulfilling Your Role, and Realizing Your Dreams, by Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson
The Way of Jesus: A Journey of Freedom for Pilgrims and Wanderers, by Jonathan S. Campbell, with Jennifer Campbell
Leading the Team-Based Church: How Pastors and Church Staffs Can Grow Together into a Powerful Fellowship of Leaders, by George Cladis
Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens, by Neil Cole Off-Road Disciplines: Spiritual Adventures of Missional Leaders, by Earl Creps
Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church: Mandate, Commitments, and
Practices of a Diverse Congregation, by Mark DeYmaz
The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community, by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay
Leading Congregational Change Workbook, by James H. Furr, Mike Bonem, and Jim Herrington
Leading Congregational Change: A Practical Guide for the Transformational Journey, by Jim Herrington, Mike Bonem, and James H. Furr
The Leader’s Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation, by Jim Herrington, Robert Creech, and Trisha Taylor
Culture Shift: Transforming Your Church from the Inside Out, by Robert Lewis and Wayne Cordeiro, with Warren Bird
Church Unique: How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement, by Will Mancini
A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey, by Brian D. McLaren
The Story We Find Ourselves In: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian, by Brian D. McLaren
Practicing Greatness: 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders, by Reggie McNeal
The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church, by Reggie McNeal
A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders, by Reggie McNeal
The Millennium Matrix: Reclaiming the Past, Reframing the Future of the Church, by M. Rex Miller
Shaped by God’s Heart: The Passion and Practices of Missional Churches, by Milfred Minatrea
The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World, by Alan J. Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk
The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and Ken McElrath
Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America’s Largest Churches, by Scott Thumma and Dave Travis
The Elephant in the Boardroom: Speaking the Unspoken About Pastoral Transitions, by Carolyn Weese and J. Russell Crabtree

This book is dedicated to
her daddy’s treasure

SINCE 1984, Leadership Network has fostered church innovation and growth by diligently pursuing its far-reaching mission statement: to identify, connect, and help high-capacity Christian leaders multiply their impact.
Although Leadership Network’s techniques adapt and change as the church faces new opportunities and challenges, the organization’s work follows a consistent and proven pattern: Leadership Network brings together entrepreneurial leaders who are focused on similar ministry initiatives. The ensuing collaboration—often across denominational lines—creates a strong base from which individual leaders can better analyze and refine their own strategies. Peer-to-peer interaction, dialogue, and sharing inevitably accelerate participants’ innovation and ideas. Leadership Network further enhances this process through developing and distributing highly targeted ministry tools and resources, including audio and video programs, special reports, e-publications, and online downloads.
With Leadership Network’s assistance, today’s Christian leaders are energized, equipped, inspired, and better able to multiply their own dynamic Kingdom-building initiatives.
Launched in 1996 in conjunction with Jossey-Bass (a Wiley imprint), Leadership Network Publications present thoroughly researched and innovative concepts from leading thinkers, practitioners, and pioneering churches. The series collectively draws from a range of disciplines, with individual titles offering perspective on one or more of five primary areas:
1. Enabling effective leadership
2. Encouraging life-changing service
3. Building authentic community
4. Creating Kingdom-centered impact
5. Engaging cultural and demographic realities
For additional information on the mission or activities of Leadership Network, please contact:
Leadership Network
(800) 765-5323

UNIQUENESS PERMEATES GOD’S PLAN. From galaxies to sandbanks, fossils to snowflakes, each element is unique. God’s unrivaled creation soars with originality.
So do His children. Each of us is a fresh version of His creativity. No two of us are identical. Each person is a unique compilation of DNA, environment, and circumstances. No one replicates anyone.
Elements of nature: unique.
His children: unique.
Our Lord loves to do all things new. Why would we expect Him to act differently with His church? Will Mancini says we shouldn’t. In this volume to hold, he urges us to see each congregation as a one-of-a-kind creation. Each band of followers is distinct from every other.
Each congregation plays the music a bit differently. Even if it plays the same piece as the group down the street, the music emerges uniquely because the musicians are not the same. Smart conductors discover the sound within their band and exploit it.
Wise church leaders do so as well. This book steers us away from the latest conference fads toward innate congregational strengths. If you are looking for a one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy church, try another book. If you are ready to roll up your sleeves and seek the uniqueness of God’s presence in your fellowship, this is your tool.
Will Mancini skillfully engages virtually all of the great ideas and opinions that are being employed today. He methodically distills and reorders them in a way that makes vision more than a statement. In many ways, this book is the missing link to all the chatter regarding church strategy. It is a unique approach in a saturated discipline, a both-and approach yet still simple. If you think your church doesn’t need this book, read Chapter Four. If you think you don’t have time for such a book, read Chapter Nine. Will works through the mixed messages and synthesizes the compelling truths with the simplicity and clarity he demands from the churches he works with.
We speak from experience. The Auxano team has led our church—Oak Hills Church, San Antonio—through this process. Although we are still piecing things together, we see a clearer vision emerging. May you discover the same.
Max Lucado and Steve Dye
Oak Hills Church
San Antonio, Texas

The differences between congregations are becoming greater with the passage of time. The safe assumption today is that no two are alike. Each congregation has its own culture.
—Lyle Schaller
THE MESSAGE OF THIS BOOK IS uniquely bound in my own story. I lead a small band of Christ followers who are deeply passionate about the health, growth, effectiveness, and faithfulness of the church. We call ourselves “Auxano,” named from the Greek word that Luke used to describe the early church expansion and multiplication in Acts. We are a new breed of consultants, new enough to seriously dislike the term “consultant,” so we call ourselves “navigators.” In less than a decade, we have worked with an unusually large bandwidth of churches ranging from insanely creative church plants to the rocket-ride growth phenoms of suburban America, to struggling revitalization projects, to the large and vibrant evangelical mainlines. Unlike many classic consultants, we have adopted a team approach to how we learn, collaborate, and serve the local church. We acknowledge, as with many others who have written in the past decade, what a challenging yet optimistic time this is for the church in North America.
I mention the variety of our consulting work not to throw you a resume at first blush but to underscore the uniqueness of this book. What has enabled us to serve such a variety of effective churches while the tectonic plates of modernity and postmodernity shift and grind? You will find the answers in Church Unique. In these pages we uncover the thinking, the tools, the process experiences, and the stories that our team has accumulated as we play the roles of clarity evangelist, missional strategist, alignment specialist, and cultural architect, all in the diverse body of Christ and in these most challenging times. To say it another way, we:
• Help missional churches articulate strategy and develop process
• Exhort overprogrammed churches to bury their ministry treadmill
• Show traditional churches how to put on “missional training wheels”
• Expose unintentional dynamics in our churches that are perfectly designed to create the religious consumerism that every pastor battles
• Encourage all churches to carry the heartbeat of Jesus to the surrounding community with their Church Unique
It is with optimism, born from our shared experience, that we see the future of the church. Every day, local churches step either closer to or further away from becoming the movement that God designed them to be. The baggage of institutionalism either weighs heavier or is unpacked. The heartbeat of redemptive passion beats stronger or grows faint. We believe that “the future as movement” for the local church is intrinsically tied to two assumptions. First, a unique vision must “ooze” from the leader’s life as well as the church’s leadership community. Second, this vision must create a stunningly unique culture inside the church that is inclined and motivated to penetrate the culture outside the church. In other words, reaching the surrounding community should be innate, driven by the church’s DNA rather than programming. Therefore, I write with one purpose: to challenge you to find your Church Uniquethat is, to live a vision that creates a stunningly unique, movement-oriented church.

What This Book Is Not

A quick survey of church leadership material today reveals several dominant categories. Church Unique clearly distinguishes itself from them with an innovative approach.

School’s Out!

Church Unique is not written from a primarily academic approach. There has been some excellent work researching and documenting the emerging church while challenging all churches to wake up to cultural change.1 There have also been some effective “strategic planning” or “ministry planning” tools produced by professor-practitioners (for example, Advanced Strategic Planning by my friend Aubrey Malphurs). Church Unique stands in contrast to these works. Yes, we must clarify the need for missional makeover in the local church, but who is showing us what it really looks like? Yes, we must have planning models to learn from, but who is helping local churches better define or redefine their DNA? This book speaks to these issues from the experience of our team of full-time navigators living in the pressure cooker of daily church leadership and change processes.

Questions About Questions?

Church Unique does not offer conclusions and extrapolations based on surveys or other empirical analysis. I walk the tightrope of a love-hate relationship on this point. On the one hand, I am profoundly grateful for researchers such as the Barna Group and Gallup Research, who serve the church with careful, integrity-based work that is indispensable. On the other hand, I am a little skeptical when someone writes a book on what the church is supposed to look like as a result of having mailed out a bunch of surveys. Books and consulting approaches from this methodology can be very helpful, but for me they create heartburn on two accounts: I have seen survey work distorted to fit preconceived expectations, and I have seen misapplication of survey results hurt the church through overanalysis. Allow me to illustrate. If I write a survey and send it out to three hundred “effective churches,” I can relatively easily develop my framework for “ten habits of effective churches” or something of the like. If I then take this to your church, I will evaluate your work on the basis of this predetermined criteria. This process quickly leads to a scorecard of what you are doing well and what you are not doing well. Once I dole out your B pluses and C minuses, what one conclusion have I left with you? That you must work on your weaknesses, of course. The problem with this is simple. If your primary focus, or paradigm for effectiveness, is trying to enhance your limitations, you will end up worse off than when you started. You will be immensely more effective if your focus is on discovering and developing your strengths.
To this end, Church Unique starts by looking at your surrounding microculture and at what makes your church one of a kind. What is God’s unique thumbprint for your church? What is different about your church’s corporate grace and collective soul? What does your church do better than ten thousand others? This perspective honors God by taking into account what He has made and what He is up to. This represents a synthetical approach that logically must come prior to an analytical one. (Many of you learned to do Bible study the same way, starting with synthesis or tentative conclusions about the unity of a biblical book before interpreting the individual verses of the text.) Clearly, there is a time and context to do analysis, but beware if it is the overarching approach.

Biting the Silver Bullet?

Church Unique does not focus on a particular tactic of church leadership. Again, the books that do this can be very helpful. Examples are books on staffing, on how to be a good executive pastor, on how to do evangelism and raise funds, and so on. I commend books like these regularly, while recognizing two limitations. First, we are suffering in general from overly fragmented approaches to church (synthesis versus analysis again). So learning about tactics at best leaves us susceptible to a tack-on approach that inhibits us from integrating vision into the life of the church. At worst, it can overpromise the future by offering “the solution”—the silver bullet syndrome—because it may falsely represent the missing key to church effectiveness. Second, the tactical approach usually does not take into account any of the unique features of your church or the microculture surrounding your church.

Models or Model Makers?

Church Unique is not the story of one church’s approach. Personally, I find “church biographies” to be enjoyable and inspirational reading. (For example, I’ve just read Confessions of a Reformission Rev, by Mark Driscoll. I appreciate his raw humor and refreshing insight as he tells the story of the Mars Hill Community.) As important as it is to swap our stories, there is one function that these books do not perform. Though telling you about their unique vision, they rarely give you insight and guidance for developing your own vision. Please understand that I do not say this to be critical, only practical.
In contrast to the “one-church’s story,” we show snapshots along the journey of many churches. These snapshots are not simply to illustrate, but to offer practical take-away value for you to contextualize your mission and focus your own strategic initiatives.
So what does Church Unique promise? It presents ideas on how to discern your “corporate grace” and surrounding microculture, as well as how to synthesize these into your unique Vision Pathway. More than that, it gives you a Vision Integration Model. This model is a framework for retrofitting all tactical learning to your unique vision. As we discuss vision as lifestyle, the ideas of church culture and vision integration will be important. You will not create contagious culture unless your unique vision seamlessly touches and manifests itself in every facet of body life!

A Lifestyle of Visionary Leadership

The contents of this book are an alternative to classic strategic planning. In place of a static planning document, I show you how you can develop a Vision Pathway that leads to a lifestyle of visionary leadership, over and against the concept of a vision statement. Table I.1 highlights some differences between classic strategic planning and Church Unique’s Vision Pathway approach.
In a nutshell, this approach represents a counterpoint to an epidemic we are witnessing in the North American church that I would describe as a “vision vacuum.” The symptoms of this condition have become so normalized that they may be hard to recognize. Leaders in the vortex of the vacuum clamor for the right tools, programs, and resources to propel their church forward in lieu of discovering better ways to direct leadership energy. The result is massive cloning and a glut of photocopied vision in the body of Christ. Even though this outbreak is real and widespread, I believe there is a clear and attainable remedy. What does it involve? A better way of leadership includes the disciplines of careful observation, vibrant imagination, and demanding collaboration that forge a unique vision based on what God is uniquely doing in each church’s unique context. There was a time when a one-size-fits-all approach was viable. That time is no more. Until leaders not only embrace uniqueness but celebrate and leverage it, they will miss out on God’s best for their ministry. The answer is having a vision that oozes, that is original, organic, zeroed in, and extravagant. When leaders start thinking clearly, engaging locally, focusing redemptively, and risking boldly, their church becomes an unstoppable force and an irresistible influence. It becomes a church that prevails not because it is “purpose-driven” but because it is purposeful.
Table I.1. Strategic Planning vs. Vision Pathway
Figure I.1. Preview of the Vision Pathway
Are you ready to discover and live a vision that creates a stunningly unique church culture? If so, Church Unique is your map. In this book we walk you through how you can discover, develop, and deliver your unique vision by creating your own Vision Pathway. The clarity and practical application you realize through this process will take you to new levels of effectiveness and to a lifestyle of visionary leadership.
Figure I.1 outlines the simple steps we follow in these pages to help you develop, discover, and deliver God’s unique vision for your church.

Discovering Missional Vision

Part One, “Recasting Vision,” exposes the nature of the vision vacuum in churches today. Where have two decades of the conference-craze era left us? What is the current usefulness of strategic planning in the church today? How do the emerging church and the recovery of the missio Dei challenge previous church-growth assumptions? These questions and more are explored. Part One explains how churches have lost their way and are in need finding their unique Vision Pathway.
Part Two, “Clarifying Vision,” shifts decisively to the essential nature of clarity for church leaders today. Where does clarity come from? How can leaders better ascertain the future? How can the leader have 100 percent confidence in articulating the identity and direction of the church? As we answer these questions, I trust you will find some fresh perspectives that significantly enhance your understanding of vision and continue to develop your skills as a visionary. For leaders who resonate with the missional thinking and writing of the last decade, Part Two supplies a perspective that pushes you to solidify and mature the movement you are already leading as you discover your “Kingdom Concept,” the simple, clear, “big idea” that defines how your church will glorify God and make disciples.
Part Three, “Articulating Vision,” presents a model for articulating missional vision that includes developing your Vision Frame. The Vision Frame contains five components that define your church’s DNA and creates the platform for all vision casting. The Vision Frame is expansive enough to include the church’s evolving vocabulary that anticipates where God is taking you. Once a leadership team completes the grueling, yet rewarding, process of clarifying vision, what are the right words to capture your Kingdom Concept? Which terms unlock the understanding of strategy? What language engages the hearts of your people?
Part Four, “Advancing Vision,” introduces you to a Vision Integration Model that helps you deliver vision daily. What practical steps help visionary leaders go to the next level? How can leaders raise up and align more stakeholders in the congregation? What do you do with those preciously frustrating saints who are anchored to yesterday? Is there a model for a central vision that redefines how the various departments and staff people can work together? Behind the Vision Integration Model is perhaps one of the most important assumptions of the book: the success of advancing vision is directly proportional to the degree to which the vision is first aligned and integrated. As we discuss vision as lifestyle, the ideas of church culture and vision integration are vital.
In other words, nourishing internal culture must precede expanding outside influence. Real change is inside-out.
Lyle Schaller, perhaps one of the most respected church consultants of the twentieth century, whose observations and work span five decades, supports this principle. Of his forty-some books, one of the most important observations about growth trends is this: “The crucial issue [for growth] is not the central theme of the strategy [for the church]. The crucial question is whether the congregation, including the configuration of the paid staff, is organized to be supportive of a clearly defined and widely supported central strategy.”1 In other words, the central strategy you choose is not as important as whether there is ownership and integration around whatever strategy you choose.
The Vision Integration Model gives you and your leadership team a common framework and shared understanding that most churches never have. It works for any denominational background, church size, and leadership style.
Finally, throughout the process of recasting vision, clarifying vision, articulating vision, and advancing vision, the chapters use the metaphor of redemption. This metaphor is used for two reasons. First, if the potential impact of creating a stunningly unique culture is so huge, salvation is a wonderful and stimulating analogy. Second, you will find the threefold pattern “lost, found, and transformed” thoroughly familiar in your personal experience and in the daily work of tending to people’s hearts.
I remember, before I felt the urge toward vocational ministry in college, as a young high schooler hanging on every word my pastor said. (I attended a small Bible chapel in the Brandywine Valley of Southeastern Pennsylvania.) One day, as he preached, he said something that gripped my soul: “I always wanted to be a king maker and not a king.” I honestly can’t remember the sermon or the context of the statement. The words simply penetrated my mind and everything else vaporized. It wouldn’t be until twenty years later that I recognized the prophetic resonance within my little heart. Having had the opportunity to lead a great model, I would rather work behind the scenes as a model maker. My greatest joy is seeing a leader for the first time articulate a stunningly unique model of ministry for his or her church. That is the passion behind Church Unique. My prayer is that God grant you a breathtaking view of His vision for your life and ministry as you interact with the pages of this book—laboring, loving, and living for Jesus Christ.

A PUMPKIN FARMER WAS STROLLING through his rows of beautiful green leaves at the beginning of the season, as the acorn-size pumpkins were starting to add dots to the landscape. He glanced down and noticed a clear glass jar. Curiosity got the best of him, so he took the jar over to one of his pumpkin buds, threaded the small pumpkin on its vine inside the open jar, and left it sitting there in the field.
Months later, with the experiment long forgotten, the farmer was walking his land, greatly satisfied with the large beautiful pumpkins that covered the patch. He rediscovered the glass jar, totally intact, and was startled to see it completely filled up with the little pumpkin that grew inside. The thin glass barrier had defined the shape of the orange mass within. The pumpkin was only one-third of the size it should have been.
The problem for this little pumpkin is the same problem for most churches today. Rather than growing to their full potential from their unique DNA, they conform to the shape of an external mold or model. These “glass jars” create invisible barriers to growth and predetermine the shape of community for churches across the country.
Part One shows us the jars we must break so that we can celebrate the organic, God-given shape and culture for each local church—and, most important, your local church. Visionary leadership today seems to be about more “jar-sharing” than about DNA-discovering. Therefore, it’s time to redeem vision by recasting it. In other words, we need to rethink what it means to be visionary, to see it in a different light. Once vision is assessed and reestablished, missional leaders can break the mold, one church at a time, by leading their people into God’s unparalleled future for their church.

In the life of faith each person discovers all the elements of a unique and original adventure. We are prevented from following in one another’s footsteps and are called to an incomparable association with Christ. The Bible makes it clear that every time there is a story of faith, it is completely original. God’s creative genius is endless. He never, fatigued and unable to maintain the rigors of creativity, resorts to mass-producing copies.
—Eugene Peterson
JACOB, MY THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD SON, recently enjoyed an energetic two-hour plane ride with his new friend Matthew. At some point in the get-to-know-you-moments they swapped signatures. Evidently Matthew thought that Jacob’s signature was a little boring. So every ten minutes I was interrupted by another napkin crossing the aisle for my review. Each napkin contained five new examples of carefully scripted signatures—Jacob Mancini. “Which one do you like best, Dad?” my son enthusiastically inquired. Changing the slant, restyling his J’s, and mimicking the sophistication of a doctor’s script, my son was enthralled with finding his right signature—an impressive one. With his mounting frustration, I searched for just the right words to free my son from his overanalysis. “The right signature,” I confidently asserted, “is the one that comes most naturally.”
Today I visited one of the largest churches in South Carolina: a downtown, red brick, white-columned, Southern Baptist church immersed in the distinct accents of Southeastern culture. Tomorrow I will spend a day at the first Protestant church established in the city of Houston, an elegant mainline nestled in the cultural center of the museum district and the world’s largest medical center. This weekend I will be in a suburb of Phoenix, working with an Assemblies of God congregation whose pastor preaches to seven thousand while wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Each of these churches has its own signature—a way it does ministry most naturally. Every week I am confronted with brute force that local churches are unmistakably unique and incomparably different. God doesn’t mass-produce His church.

Infinite Uniqueness

Let’s not dismiss the infinite creativity of our ingenious Lord when it comes to the thumbprint of the local church. How much does God delight in creative uniqueness? Consider the snowflake. No two snowflakes that have ever fallen in the history of existence are identical. How is that possible? It is God’s handiwork; each complex snow crystal has an almost infinite number of discernible crystal variations. As these extremely sensitive flakes blow about in the wind, the ever-changing conditions lead them to grow in different patterns. The final design is a reflection of these growth conditions.1
Consider what God does when fifteen people come together in His name. How much uniqueness is in those fifteen individuals? How about a church of a hundred people, or a thousand? Is it possible that the uniqueness of these groups far outweighs the uniqueness of a small water crystal blowing in the winter wind? Wouldn’t each church, however small, carry a unique collective soul, because each church is a different subset of one-of-a-kind saints? Doesn’t each locale present its own growth conditions that affect the pattern and development of God’s people? If every snowflake that was ever created in the universe differs, is it so hard to conceive that every one of the more than three hundred thousand churches in North America is unique?
These questions drive us to the essence of recasting vision. The starting point for vision—for thinking about our church’s future—is not deciding where we want to go or exploring what is working for other churches but understanding how we are unique.

Uniqueness = Culture

What is the uniqueness I am referring to? It is not simply about worship style or programs offered; it is something more significant yet subtler at the same time. It is something that is often overlooked: a culture that is unique to a particular church. Culture is the combined effect of the interacting values, thoughts, attitudes, and actions that define the life of your church. By nature, it is a little difficult to define because the term represents a broad, intangible concept. George Barna offers an expanded definition as “the complex intermingling of knowledge, beliefs, values, assumptions, symbols, traditions, habits, relationships, rewards, language, morals, rules, and laws that provide meaning and identity to a group of people.”2
Robert Lewis and Wayne Cordeiro describe this complex intermingling of culture as “the most important social reality in your church. Though invisible to the untrained eye, its power is undeniable. Culture gives color and flavor to everything your church is and does.”3 Another common definition of culture is the “unspoken rules of how things get done.” As each church expresses its life and ministry slightly differently, the outcomes are ultimately influenced by its culture.
There are as many illustrations of culture as there are groups of people, whether a nation, company, church, club, or high school. For three years, I participated in a local Indian Guides chapter with my two sons. The program, sponsored by the YMCA, builds a small community of fathers and sons around personal achievements in an outdoor context. The culture is nourished by tribe meetings, awards system ceremonies, and special clothing. Each week, we grabbed our patch covered leather vests and headdresses. Every campout, we couldn’t wait to watch the medicine man jump over the raging campfire. Everything we did was laced with Indian language, starting with our very names. Because my two boys were Straight Arrow and Red Eagle, I thought it would be cool to be Running Wind. (Eagles and arrows both need wind.) Overspiritualizing my name got me in trouble with some other dads who interpret “wind” a little differently! When you boil down Indian Guides, it is all about stepping into the microculture that multiplies the values, thoughts, attitudes, and actions of Native American culture. The experiences we shared have transformed my skill and appreciation for observing and respecting nature. A walk through the woods is now an expanded experience.
Just like Indian Guides, your church has its own culture. But without such obvious features as headdresses and teepees, your church’s culture and how it characterizes its own uniqueness can be difficult to discern. This is especially true for the inside observer because the culture itself is so all encompassing and intangible at the same time. Again, Lewis and Cordeiro speak to this issue: “Church culture is foundational to the life and witness of every church. Unfortunately too many church leaders fail to recognize or understand the implications of this reality4 (italics mine). In Part Two, we walk through specific steps to discern culture in the process of articulating vision. But for now, let’s remove some of the enigma of culture by considering sources of uniqueness for a church. For the questions posed here I add short illustrations from my consulting experiences:
Leaders: What are the unique strengths of the leader(s) in your church? Think of the unique strengths of biblical leaders—the faith of Abraham, the humility of Moses, the courage of Joshua, and the vision of Nehemiah. For example, when I think of David Saathoff at Bandera Road Community Church in San Antonio, Texas, I think of a leader with an unusual ability to replicate the value of lost people into other leaders’ lives.
Gifts: If each person has unique spiritual gifts in your church, what does the collective gift mix look like? When I worked with a church plant in the San Diego area, I was struck by the significant presence of the gift of mercy that permeated the core team.
Heritage: What kind of heritage do your people share? Is it multifaceted, or do they share many family ties? What does a common ethnicity say about your church’s DNA? A traditional Baptist church in the Dallas area with around five hundred members in attendance had more family ties than any church I have encountered. They were also facing significant decline. Are these blood connections a liability or a possibility for a new home-based evangelism strategy?
Experiences: What shared experiences do your people have in common? When I consulted with a church outside of Ft. Lauderdale, the leaders realized for the first time that most of their people came to Christ after the age of forty; this was a result of a season of brokenness in their lives. They began to see themselves as wounded healers, with a special ability to touch one segment of the adult population.
Tradition: How does the denominational background, or lack thereof, have an impact on your uniqueness? At First Presbyterian Church of Houston, the “thoughtfulness” of the confessional heritage seeped its way into every aspect of their vision and began to focus their outreach strategies.
Values: What values drive decision making in your church? What unique convictions do your people share? A megachurch pastor once interrupted a strategy session I was leading for an “urgent” care need that I did not think was that important. Later we articulated their crown-jewel value as “Each individual matters.” It wasn’t until then that I began to appreciate how this five-thousand-member church adapts, unlike other megachurches, to live out this core value.
Personality: If you were to describe what makes your church distinct from every other church, what would you say? I work with two Methodist churches on opposite ends of the spectrum in the same city. First Church of Pasadena emphasizes awe and reverence, while Gateway Community emphasizes authenticity and approachability.