When was the last time you had your vision checked? No, not at the optometrist's office. I mean the last time you developed a vision for your organization's meetings. It's an investment of time that's both exhilarating and practical, and I believe it can help to improve your meetings.

In the past six months, I've had the opportunity to work on visioning processes in two settings: at my church and in my home.

At my church, we hired a consultant who specializes in these activities to lead us through the process. He invited any member with an interest in the congregation's future to participate in a seven-hour “Vision Day.” His questions were: “Envision this church 10 years from now. What does it look like? How is it using its resources to help others? What kind of staff does it have? What do the facilities look like?”

In asking us to think 10 years into the future, to the year 2011, our minds were free to think with passion and enthusiasm, free from current, pressing obstacles that prevent us from being imaginative.

When Vision Day was complete, our congregation — through the skillful help of the facilitator — was able to identify major visions for the year 2011. From there, the congregation is working backward to develop specific, annual goals. In the end, we will have consensus regarding spectacular, challenging visions — ones that are attainable because of progressive goals that have been constructed to reach the visions.

My wife and I went through a similar exercise, using models set forth by Stephen Covey in his book, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families.” We went away to a bed-and-breakfast for a 24-hour retreat and focused on this question: “At our 50th wedding anniversary, what do we want the scene to look like? Who will be there? What will they say? What did we do to help our family and friends walk their paths through life?” Covey calls this exercise, “starting with the end in mind.” With this as our focus, we set priorities in all areas of our life together, and we have a shared vision of what we want to be.

Visioning practices of this sort are based on the research of Dartmouth sociologist Elise Boulding, who studied why some groups survive over time and others don't. She discovered this: Organizations that thrived had a shared vision of the future, and they accepted this future as fact. These groups didn't just hope their preferred futures would happen, they believed their futures would happen. The groups that did not survive might have had shared visions of the future, but these visions were “hoped for” and not believed in.

You can modify these processes to develop a vision for your organization's meetings. If your organization is small, you could adapt Covey's “start with the end in mind” concept to fit your needs. If your organization is large or complex, and if your meetings are, too, the process is more complicated, and it would be worthwhile to consider bringing in an expert to help you. Keep in mind, too, that the most successful visioning exercises include young people (age 5 and up!), because the dreams of the young are bolder than the dreams of adults.

The result should be a vibrant, faith-driven vision for how you want your meetings to look and function in the future. A reminder: When you have your eyes checked, you don't wait 10 years before you check your vision again. The same is true for organizational visions; plan to revisit your 10-year vision at least every two years.