Saturday, February 6, 2010

Written Mission Statements

Sure your congregation has a mission statement, but does it have a mission? Many congregations have undertaken the task of writing a mission statement and generally speaking, I think this is a good thing. Yet, over the years, I’ve noticed that many churches with mission statements do not seem to have much of a sense of mission. Here are some critical questions to ask about your mission statement.

1. Is it up to date? Secular organizations know that the rapid pace of change means that mission statements tend to go stale or become irrelevant very quickly. This can even be true of churches too.

2. Is your statement too, well quite frankly, theological? Many mission statements that I read reflect the heavy hand of the rector in creating it. Better mission statements are usually created by lay people who say in normal language what they mean. Clergy, if this offends you, remember that the New Testament was written in Koina or common Greek. I would add this caveat for clergy; the rector should always write the finale version. After all, she or he will be the person who most often has to say it.

3. Are the verbs in the mission statement weak, or even worse, passive voice. The strength of a mission statement is found it active and strong verbs. “Nurture” and “Support” are poor substitutes for “care” and “love.” You might want to think of the Great Commission here with “go, make, teach as the active verbs.

4. In other words, some mission statements are really maintenance statements in disguise. What they really say is “We intend to keep doing things the way we like it around here and we would like to find some new people who will help pay for this!” Is this what your statement really says?

5. Is your mission statement borrowed from someone else? After “Miracle in Darien” was written in the early 80s, many churches adopted “to know Christ and to make him know” as their mission statement. Few did it.

6. Can the lay people tell you what the mission of your church is without reading it? If they can’t, it isn’t a mission statement.

7. Can the new people tell you what it is? This means you are attracting folks on the basis of your mission and not the Rose Window.

Lots of times folks ask me what is wrong with using something such as the Great Commission or the “to know Christ” statement (actually this is Archbishop Temple’s great statement on the mission of the church.) In one sense, nothing is wrong with it especially if the people really own it and the congregation really does it. What I would ask a group of leaders if they told me that their mission was “to know Christ and make him Known” is “can you tell me five exciting and dynamic ways in which you actually do this?

By the way, what is the mission of the Church? Paraphrasing St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians in the 5th Chapter, the catechism correctly says that “it is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”


  1. I agree with what you've written here. After being adrift for several years without a mission statement, the vestry at the parish I serve is about to adopt one (not copied). For various reasons, I drafted it after conversation about mission with vestry and other leaders. Your process of lay authorship would be better, but we couldn't quite do that. That said, the vestry did make some sensible suggestions about it. I regard our soon-to-be mission statement as a temporary measure as we continue to grow into God's vision for who we can be. My hope is that in a year or so, we'll rewrite it using the process you describe.

    My question is this: can you list some mission statements you consider to be especially good (or especially bad)? I don't want to copy them! Just curious to see how you read things.

    Thanks for this post and for your blog.


  2. Scott, I intend to post some examples and comment on them in a later blog.