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Andrew Estes - The Clarity Project


  • Writer's pictureAndrew Estes

God Dreams, The Horizon Storyline, and the 12 Vision Templates Explained

In this Post:

God Dreams is a book written by Will Mancini in 2016 that describes in detail how to cast a clear and compelling vision for your church. The 2-Day God Dreams retreat is designed to help you and your team find and focus on where God is leading your church in the coming years.

Too often, church leaders get caught up in the whirlwind of ministry without a clear understanding as to what they're ultimately supposed to be doing and why, how to actually go about doing it, when they know they're successful, and faithfully pursuing where God is taking their ministry.

There's a fundamental lack of freedom, confidence, and clarity as a leadership team that comes from a unified understanding of God's design for your church.

The God Dreams process is a simple, yet profound journey that will help you move away from leading from a generic sense of your church's future, to a vivid and compelling picture of where your church is going.

When it comes to pursuing a God-sized vision for your church, leaders often face similar roadblocks that stand in the way.

  • Oftentimes, the vision is too vague, it's too generic, and isn't actionable, leaving your team feeling uncertain about what to do next.

  • Sometimes we try and do too much, focus on too many things, and just don't have the resources to see them through. There are always more good ideas than there is the capacity to execute.

  • Another roadblock is that our vision lacks timeframes. We articulate some grand goals for Kingdom impact but have no clear checkpoints or finish line. For example, you could say you want to lose 15 pounds, and that's great. But if you say you want to lose 15 pounds in the next 30 days, you have to get after it! You have work to do now. Too often, our vision as church leaders lack accountability, so we get caught up in the whirlwind of ministry, staying busy and planning the next service every 7 days.

  • Another problem teams face is that there's a disconnect between the high-level, visionary dreamers on the team and those who thrive in the details of execution.

The God Dreams process and tools are designed to help solve these and many other problems as your team prayerfully pursues your church's vision.


The God Dreams process is built on powerful tools that will help you clearly and creatively see and articulate your vision. To help you understand the God Dreams process, we need to start with a tool called The Vision Frame.

This simple tool is designed to answer 5 fundamental questions every leader should ask.

  • What are we doing?

  • Why are we doing it?

  • How do we do it?

  • When are we successful?

  • Where is God taking us?

The Vision Frame helps us understand the different aspects of these questions by tying each one to a side of the frame.

  • What we are doing is the MISSION of the church. Our mission, is the Great Commission, nothing more, nothing less.

  • Why we do it is best articulated as the VALUES that drive us.

  • How we go about accomplishing the mission is our STRATEGY.

  • When we know we're successful are the clear MEASURES or Life Marks of a disciple. This is your church's shared definition of who a disciple is, and what a disciple does.

  • Then we move to the picture in the middle. Where is God taking you as a church? In light of your disciple-making identity, where is God taking you? What will your greatest contribution to the Kingdom of God be over the coming years?

The Vision Frame is a simple yet powerful tool to help guide the conversation as you discern your church's vision.

The God Dreams process is about discerning the Vision Frame's centerpiece.

Where is God taking you as a church?

So let's look at this pathway for the God Dreams process.


We're going to restart the conversation around vision. What problems are we facing? What do we mean when we say that word? We'll talk about the need that we have as humans to be able to dream and look forward to something. And we'll talk through the problems that we'll face along the way.


Then we'll enter the 2nd phase of the process as we Discover visionary planning. I'll introduce you to a new tool called the Horizon Storyline that snaps right into the middle of the Vision Frame to help us discern where God is leading your team and articulate some clear goals to pursue along the way.


To help us discern that God-sized vision, the book offers 12 Templates to accelerate your thinking about your future. Anytime when leaders sit around and discern where God is leading them or what impact they could have on the Kingdom, those dreams could be categorized into several different "kinds" of vision. Chapters 7-10 in the book describe each of these templates. Hopefully, everyone on the team will read through this to begin thinking about where you believe God is leading your church. This will dramatically accelerate the team's conversation. I'll walk through these 12 Templates in just a minute.


Out of that conversation, in parts 4 and 5 of the process, we're going to build out the Horizon Storyline for your church. We'll start by focusing on your long-range vision and move into the Execution of your short-range strategy.


All of this culminates in this deep sense of leading with freedom, confidence, and clarity as you pursue the dreams that God has placed before you. It gives you the ability to say 'yes' to the right things and the freedom to say 'no' to the things that will distract you from your vision.

As you've probably noticed, the journey is built around 1 primary tool, the Horizon Storyline, and 12 Templates, which help accelerate our conversation. Let me explain these to you.


Check out this overview video of the tool!

The Horizon Storyline is a tool that brings

the right amount of vision content at the right amount of time in the future to the entire leadership team.

Have you ever thought about what makes a picture or a painting more interesting? It's oftentimes the depth or layers or different horizons that are there. The foreground, the midground, and the background.

Take this picture, for example.

The focal point is the church and the bridge, but there's so much more to it. If we were to slice it up, you'd see in the foreground, where the bank of the river is, the midground would be where you might cast that fishing pole on a nice summer night, the background is the church and the mountains beyond, and if we wanted to, we could notice that there is a lot beyond the horizon of those mountains. It's something that we know is there, but we can't quite see it yet.

At any given time, we could transition from foreground to midground, to background, and back again. The way we see with our physical eyes, transitioning the focal point, is called accommodation.

The Horizon Storyline tool translates how our physical vision works to how our leadership vision can work.

The Beyond-the-horizon dream, your church's vivid vision, is 5-20 years out. The Background would be the 4 objectives just 3 years from now that would have to be in place in order to pursue that Beyond-the Horizon dream. The Midground Horizon is a 1-year goal that is the first major milestone to focus on. Then you move to what's important right now as you articulate four 90-day initiatives in your Foreground vision.

This is the tool that we'll focus on building out during our time together at the God Dreams retreat. Praying, discerning, and discussing where you believe God is leading you in the future and faithfully pursuing that dream right now.

But again, this tool creatively brings together the right amount of vision content at the right amount of time in the future for the entire leadership team.

Vision Transfers Through People, Not Paper

Ultimately, vision transfers through people, not paper. But in order to get a team or entire church moving towards one vivid vision, the way you do that is through the words you use to describe that vision.

This shared language is what moves the hearts of those you lead toward a dream God has put inside of you.

The primary tool that any vision caster has is words. Just think of the phrase "I have a dream," and immediately, your heart and mind are flooded with images and profound meaning that came from the great Martin Luther King Jr. Four simple words that encapsulate a movement, stir the soul, and remind us of what can be done through a compelling vision.

When building out the Horizon Storyline, the most difficult thing to identify, and this is where we'll start, is the Beyond-the-Horizon vision. Where is God leading your church in the next 5-20 years? What words will you craft in order to lead your church into this next season of ministry?

The 12 Vision Templates

To help accelerate this conversation, the book offers 12 Templates as a starting point for where your church might focus its resources. Think of these templates as a kind or type of vision. It's not restrictive, limiting your ability to dream creatively. It's a starting point. For example, if you and I filled out a resume and used the same template, it may look similar, but the content is drastically different.

It's the same for visionary leadership. Though your direction may look similar to other churches, the content, the people, and the outcomes, may look drastically different.

The 12 templates are broken down into 4 primary categories:

Check out this video for an explanation of The 12 Vision Templates.

There is Vision that ADVANCES. It points at a hill and says, "We're going to take that for Christ." Whether it's a city, and neighborhood, a people, an apartment complex... it's saying, "Our vision is to change that specific thing with the love of Christ." A vision that advances says, "Take it" for Jesus.

The 2nd category is RESCUE. This is the intuitive understanding of your context where God has placed you. Rescue sees a need and meets it. So the question is, what need? What is the burden or need in your specific context for which God has uniquely positioned you to make a difference? Needs like hungry kids in the schools, homeless populations, marriages in need, sex trafficking, or anything else you can think of where there is a specific need that your church is positioned to make a huge impact on over the coming years. A vision that rescues says, "Save it."

The 3rd category is BECOME. Instead of Advance and Rescue, where the vision is focused outside of the church walls, the Become templates turn your attention inside the church to become the people who God has called us to be. This is a deep spiritual formation that transforms and leads others to follow after the heart of Christ. Often, this internal growth leads to external impact and outcomes in your community. A vision that becomes says, "Grow it."

The 4th category is OVERFLOW. Again, this is an internal focus for the purpose of raising up something from within and multiplying it outwards. Whether that is leaders, church planters, or a ministry of the church, your vision is to develop from within to multiply and overflow the mission of the church. A vision that overflows says, "Send it."

4 categories with 3 templates in each one. Let's look at these 12 Templates in more detail.

Starting with the Advance templates.

Geographic Saturation - Your church's vision is to bring the gospel to as many people as possible in your surrounding geography.

  • There's an example in the book of a church in Houston that identified what they call the "4B" area. They defined that from Brazoria County to the Beltway, from the Brazos River to the Bay... everyone in this area will come into contact with the Gospel over the next however many years.

  • This is the 1st template and a great way to articulate the vision for your church in the coming years.

Targeted Transformation - Your church's vision is to identify a specific people, place, or thing you want to see changed dramatically by the gospel.

  • I was on staff at a church in the Denver area, and we identified what we called "the square mile," which was an area in a very poor area of Denver. Projects, gangs, crime, you name it, it was dark. Our church intentionally went into this specific area, focused on children, and helped bring the light of the gospel to this area. That's a specific place.

  • Another church I know targets men in their community. Their belief is that if you "win the man, you win the family." So everything they do is geared towards attracting, keeping, and training men for Christ.

  • Do you have a specific target in mind to focus on for your church's vision? What might that be

People-Group Penetration - Your church's vision is to take the gospel to a group of people who don't have it yet.

  • This template is a little less common, but the idea is that there's a specific group of people you'll focus on. For example, whole ministries have started around this. Aviator Church in Wichita, KS, was created to reach that kind of community. Cowboy Church was founded to reach a certain type of person.

  • In Dallas, there was a church near a huge refugee population. Part of their church's vision was to impact that specific people group in their area.

  • Another way to view this is to focus on 1 of the hundreds of people groups who have yet to hear the gospel in our world and still don't have the scriptures translated into their language. Maybe that's part of your church's vision.

Next, we move into the Rescue Templates.

Institutional Renovation - Your church's vision is to rejuvenate an institution that matters to God, most often a ministry that historically has been significant but has lost a degree of relevance, focus, or momentum.

  • One church leader in Montana heard a new community was being planned that was allotting no space for churches because the city planners believed the church had no relevance in the community. This leader intentionally planted a church in that city to 'renovate' the 'institution' of what the Church meant to a community. He helped revive the relevance of what the Church was always supposed to be.

  • Another institution you could focus on is Marriage. Intentionally investing, training, and multiplying healthy, Christ-centered marriage.

  • What institution has lost relevance or momentum in your community that was meant to make a huge difference in the Kingdom?

Need Adoption - Your church's vision is to adopt a specific need you identify, often through compassion or mercy, typically triggered by studying the needs and then responding to them.

  • A church in Colorado had a heart to dramatically reduce the number of foster care kids in their area. They intentionally called on Christian families to care for the orphans in their state and drastically reduced the number of children without families.

  • There are countless needs you might intentionally address as a church. What are the needs in your community? What burdens could you focus on and intentionally meet?

Crisis Mobilization - Your church's vision is to mobilize for crisis or be prepared to mobilize for a future crisis.

  • This template is a little less common, but if you live in Florida or the mid-west, or a number of other areas, natural disasters happen regularly. Several churches operate as storehouses or mobilization centers in times of need. They intentionally position themselves as a light during trying times.

  • Depending on the types of a crisis relevant in your area, this could be part of your church's vision.

The Become Templates

Spiritual Formation - Your church's vision is for a spiritual formation that changes people and takes them along a significant pathway toward spiritual maturity.

  • When I helped plant a church, our mission was to "help people far from God come to life in Christ." Care to guess what kinds of people God brought to us? Yep, people far from Him! Only a few months and years in, our people lacked spiritual depth and understanding. We knew we needed to intentionally invest internally as we dreamed of raising up a church that was obedient to Jesus' teachings.

  • Other churches might realize that while their people may have the head knowledge of the scriptures, they don't tend to see the Fruit of the gospel being lived out in the lives they care for. Their vision is to train "doers of the Word," not just "hearers of the Word."

  • Are there aspects of spiritual formation missing in the foundation of your church?

Presence Manifestation - Your church's vision is to welcome and experience God's presence, anticipating ripple effects far beyond the life of your congregation.

  • "we will be a people of prayer" - While every Christ-centered church leader would say they desire to be that, some communities tend to exemplify the heart of this on a whole different level. Pursuing the presence of God to impact cities and generations isn't just a charismatic church emphasis; it's a similar posture to that of the Israelites in the wilderness, following the cloud by day and the fire by night. When God moves, we move. When He stays, we stay.

  • Maybe your church's vision, in large part, is focused on becoming the people of God through intentionally and, more significantly, seeking His presence.

Obedient Anticipation - Your church's vision is to live in strategic or obedient anticipation of more clear revelation from God and with the intent to respond as He leads.

  • We kind of joke about this as the 'anti-template.' That this is perhaps just a season of waiting on the Lord. As you stay diligent in the disciple-making mission He's already given you; you're waiting to hear from Him a more precise direction to invest as a church. It's a strategic pause in the sermon your church is preaching to the community. We know we're called to make disciples; maybe we just focus on getting that right first, then God will reveal to us what other things we should focus on.

  • Typically, the God Dreams process is designed to help you come out of this season, but it's totally fine to say, "We're not sure yet."

The Overflow Templates

Leadership Multiplication - Your church's vision is to develop more leaders so that God can direct them where He wants them to go.

  • Leadership development, sending out church planters, multiplying disciple-makers, all of this is gospel-centered leadership multiplication.

  • A church in South Carolina developed a "Leadership Pipeline" to intentionally address their belief that every leader is an interim leader. If every leader eventually moves on for any number of reasons, they need to intentionally develop their replacement. They're constantly working themselves out of a job by raising up leaders in every ministry, at every level of leadership, at all times.

  • This is Jesus' heart in Luke 10:2 that we would pray for more workers for the harvest.

Cultural Replication - Your church's vision is to replicate its model via multi-site or other forms, spilling over to many places, new franchises, and new brands of "our" kind of ministry, vision, and brand.

  • We're all familiar with the common use of multi-site in order to reach more communities with the gospel. Whether you favor or oppose this philosophically, it is hard to deny that it has been effective in many settings. Though, like everything in life, it can easily be abused.

  • Culture has been replicated through programs or curricula such as the Orange curriculum for children's ministry. Programs like Celebrate Recovery, AWANAs, Grief Share, Rooted, or any number of programs that were developed in one place and replicated in others are great examples of this kind of vision.

  • Is there something at your church that stands out as something that could easily be replicated elsewhere?

Anointing Amplification - Your church's vision is to do all you can to leverage and amplify the impact of a particular leader, often someone who is a stellar teacher.

  • I always like to joke and say, "You can ask the pastor's wife if this is a viable option for your church." 🙂

  • We all know the dangers and abuse that can occur in this style of ministry. However, there are exceptional leaders in Church history, even recent history, that God uses in extraordinary ways. Billy Graham, for example. The dude just showed up, and people came to Christ.

  • One practical example of this is Max Lucado's church in Texas. If you're familiar with his books, you know he's an incredible storyteller. The church decided to implement that DNA into every aspect of its ministry. From children's ministry to youth, to adult small groups, it's all based on storytelling. Amplifying Max's storytelling ability was a huge part of the life of their church.

  • Perhaps there are characteristics of your leader that need to be multiplied.

Chapters 7-10 of the God Dreams book articulate each of these 12 Templates in more detail, giving historical, modern, and Biblical examples of each.

As you begin to discern your church's vision, which area are you leaning towards?

I know we want there to be some form of "yes" in every single one of these templates, but we have to realize that there are always more good ideas than there is the capacity to execute. Where will you say "yes," and where will you say "no" as a leadership team in order to make a bigger difference?

You can always take the shotgun approach to ministry and spread your resources in a million different areas. OR you can take more of a rifle approach focusing on one or two things, doing them extremely well, and making a significant impact for the Kingdom.

What will your greatest contribution to the Kingdom of God be over the coming years?

What words will you craft in order to inspire yourself and your church to contribute sacrificially to that vision? Where is God leading you?

The Horizon Storyline and the 12 Vision Templates from God Dreams will help your church or faith-based nonprofit identify and pursue a God-sized vision.


Before I leave you, I want to say one thing.

We hold the vision with open hands. The vision we hope to articulate when we're together might shift and change from season to season. That's ok!

Proverbs 16:9 says, "In their hearts, humans plan their ways, but the Lord determines their steps."

While there is always a need to purposefully plan our way, we know that God will do whatever He is going to do. Take 2020, for example. Every leader had an epic 2020 vision that went down the drain 3 months after it started. Right?

We dream in faith with God about His desire for us, plan intentionally, and pursue that with everything we have until God tells us or shows us a different path.

If your team could benefit from a 2-Day God Dreams retreat, let's talk!

Schedule a free Discovery call.

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