Creating Your “Refined” Preferred Future

By Mark Howell

Cone SlideIf you’ve been along for very much of this conversation, you’ve seen this diagram.  Adapted from an idea of Glen Hiemstra’s, I use this diagram all the time.   Whether I’m working with our team here at Canyon Ridge or I’m off consulting, this diagram works its way into the discussion.

Today, I want to point out two things that I think will help you.

First, one of the most important things any of us can do is to painstakingly dissect and diagnose what’s happening right now in our ministry.  Andy Stanley articulates the reason we need to pay attention to the present when he points out that:

“Your ministry is perfectly designed to produce the results you’re currently experiencing.”

When you are diagnosing the present in your ministry, you need to be as honest as you can about the systems, programs, messaging, and strategies.  Another component I always want to look closely at are the kinds of people you are currently producing (i.e., are they consumers as opposed to contributors, are they other centered, what’s their maturity level, etc.).

Diagnosing the present is a very important step that often gets over looked on the way to the future.

Second, you need to pay close attention to the preferred future.  Spending time carefully articulating what it should look like when you get there is an essential step.  Describing the systems, programs, messaging, and strategies is right at the heart of creating what I’ve begun calling the “refined” preferred future.  Looking closely at the kinds of people you will produce is also a key.

Only in describing the “refined” preferred future can you begin to understand the steps that lead there.  And you might only know the first step or two, but with a clear sense of the preferred future you can begin moving in that direction.

What are the consequences of designing steps without a clear sense of where you’re going?  As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

Mark Howell

Mark Howell is the founder of, committed to helping churches launch, build, and sustain healthy small group ministries. He's also the Pastor of Discipleship Communities at Canyon Ridge Christian Church.  Having served as small group pastor at Woodlands Church and Lake Avenue Church, Mark is a seasoned veteran with experience in both the contemporary and the traditional church. In addition, he served as a consultant with Lifetogether and as a host for the Purpose Driven Campaign Coaching programs. You can read Mark's blog at or follow him on twitter.