Church Unique’s Vision Pathway and Tom Paterson’s StratOps


Over the last few years, I have enjoyed learning more and more from the contribution of Tom Paterson. Tom is a brilliant consultant and friend of Peter Drucker who innovated a very specific, high-impact model of strategic planning in the business space. I am grateful for five gentleman who have been a part of my own access and “digestion” of StratOp as a certified facilitator : Doug Slaybough (pictured above & former guy beyond the success of Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven organization), Michael Murphy (current president of the Paterson Center), Greg Hawkins (executive pastor of Willow Creek Community Church), Buck Rogers (friend and master facilitator) and Todd Wilson (kingdom entrepreneur behind Exponential and a fellow clarity junkie).

Most recently, I have completed the integration work of utilizing Paterson’s StratOp process for churches as a follow-up to Vision Pathway process that I have developed and used for twelve years, through the ministry of Auxano.


Simply put, The Vision Pathway and StratOp are the two best ways to solve two different but related problems for the local church leaders.

In this post I want to explore the basic differences. In the rest of a series I want to show:

  • Part 2: The REAL Chemistry of Vision Pathway and StratOps
  • Part 3: Why StratOps is a Waste of Time if You Don’t Have a Vision Frame
  • Part 4: Why Every Church over 400 in Attendance Should Use StratOps 


The Vision Pathway  was created to solve the problem of cut-n-paste ministry models and photocopied vision proliferated by books and conference in the church space. The result is a lack of freedom, confidence, passion, credibility and ultimately progress for a local church leadership team.

The Vision Pathway was developed in 2001-2004 from a biblical  understanding of the church in order to develop new competencies in thinking, leadership and communication for local church teams. The deliverable of the process is a fully articulated vision and ministry model that takes into account a church’s heritage, the unique community context, the distinctive congregational strengths and Spirit-guided passion of the leadership. The process was formally articulated in the book, Church Unique in 2008 with the subtitle of “How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture and Create Movement.” Church Unique continues to be the leading book in the church vision and planning category since it’s publication.

The baseline Vision Pathway requires a minimum of 6 days of collaborative work over a several month period. The Pathway is built with 5 master tools, that cover 8 big ideas, with 10 specific deliverables with dozens of “add-on” features and optional sub-tools based on church’s theological bent, size, life-stage, growth challenges and culture. There really is no other comparable process for church leaders to experience.


StratOp was created to solve the problem of lengthy strategic planning process that don’t get total buy in across the executive team of large businesses.  The result is a lack of daily cooperation and coordination of diverse functional units towards the strategy priorities of the business.

StratOp was birthed through a challenge in 1980 issued to Tom Paterson to reduce the timeframe and increase the effectiveness of formal strategic planning. The design parameter was three days, which was given to Paterson by Thomas E. Bennett, who was the the Vice President for Corporate Planning for Ingersol-Rand Company. The content of the process is available only through the Paterson Center to certified consultants and facilitators. (Approximately 180 have gone through the process in the last 15 years.)

The StratOp process is a 3-day event (with a typical 2-day follow-up process with key individual leaders).  It works through 25 “tools” that are collaborative conversations ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours. The deliverable is a set of dashboard-like documents that can be used in the operational flow of leadership and management. While there are many planning processes out there, I have not seen one better for creating priorities within a one-year horizon. In addition several Paterson disciples are Jesus-followers who have applied what was originally designed for business, to the local church.

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Will Mancini

Will Mancini

Will Mancini wants you and your ministry to experience the benefits of stunning, God-given clarity. As a pastor turned vision coach, Will has worked with an unprecedented variety of churches from growing megachurches and missional communities, to mainline revitalization and church plants. He is the founder of Auxano, creator of and the author of God Dreams and Church Unique.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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