Only In a Small Church: You May Not Need a Mission Statement

large words on a sign 200cI know it’s practically heresy to propose this. But your church may not need a mission statement.

Since the 1990s, there may be no more widely accepted rule in church growth circles than the expectation that every church needs a mission statement.

It was taught in seminars and written in books. I remember at least one parachurch ministry that conducted a survey about it. They called churches and asked two questions to whoever picked up the phone:

  1. “Does your church have a written statement?”
  2. “Can you tell us your mission statement without looking it up?”

The result from these surveys reinforced what everyone expected. Bigger, growing churches have mission statements that people remember and receptionists can recite. Smaller, struggling churches don’t have a mission statement. Most don’t have receptionists. Many didn’t even answer the phone.

The conclusion everyone drew from the survey was that a memorable mission statement was an essential key to church growth. And a lack of one was why some churches didn’t grow. So everyone scrambled to craft a mission statement.

But no one was clear on exactly what that meant or why it might make a difference.There was even a big debate over the difference between a mission statement, vision statement, purpose statement and slogan. Just to be sure, some churches wrote all four. 

 

The Value of Mission Statements

In the early 1990s, the church I currently pastor spent over two years working on a mission statement. It turned out to be a good exercise for us, since it was one element in a process of a formerly sick and dying church figuring out who we were and what God was calling us to do.

In case you’re interested, we came up with a nine word statement: Exploring, Living & Sharing the Truth of God’s Word.

We still use it. For instance, our newcomer’s orientation is called our Exploring Class, and our community service days are called Share Days.

New Small Church has one too, and it truly does guide everything we do here. I believe a clear mission statement is a vital necessity for ministries such as this, since the average website visitor will give us less than 2 seconds before they decide whether to move on or stick around.

So I’m not against mission statements. But if I were starting a church, or church turnaround today, I wouldn’t worry so much about it.

I have breaking news on the mission statement front.

Your church may not need a mission statement.

 

Why You May Not Need a Mission Statement

A mission statement is a reminder of what we ought to be doing in the church. The best ones are little more than a restatement on the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

Loving God, loving each other and reaching out to love others.

If your healthy Small Church is already doing that, who cares if no one in the church can put it into words that are uniquely yours? As long as they know they’re fulfilling the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, you’re already doing what a mission statement is supposed to help you do.

In other words, Mission Accomplished.

In his terrific paper, “Leadership and Church Size: How Strategy Changes with Growth”, which I referred to in a previous post, Dr. Timothy Keller says the following about church size and the need for a mission statement.

…the larger the church, the more a distinctive vision becomes important to its members. The reason for being in a smaller church is relationships. … the larger the church, the more its lay leaders need to be screened for agreement on vision and philosophy of ministry, not simply for doctrinal and moral standards. In smaller churches, people are eligible for leadership on the basis of membership tenure and faithfulness.

The bigger the church, the greater the need for a clearly defined, written and enforced mission statement – especially for leadership. In smaller churches, commitment, relationship and faithfulness are stronger deciding factors.

The reason is simple. In smaller churches we know each other. What we do comes out of those relationships. In bigger churches, most people don’t know each other, so they need something else to bind them together.

Neither is right or wrong. It’s just another way small and big operate differently.

Keller and I are not alone in this. There’s a growing sentiment that the mission statement craze may have gone too far.

In “Do Churches Need to Develop Mission Statements?”, Alan R. Bevere questions whether churches of any size should develop a mission statement when he asks “I know that when churches develop mission statements they mean well, but in doing so do they unintentionally suggest that they can improve upon the mission Jesus gave the church some two millennia ago?”

In other words, Jesus already wrote the best church mission statement of all. Let’s stop trying to improve on it.

At times it may be necessary for larger churches to craft a statement that narrows down their specific mission within the body of Christ. But I do think it’s curious that, while all these churches were working on mission statements so they could have a clear, unique voice, so many of their statements ended up sounding a lot like the mission statement of Willow Creek Church. “To turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.”

I hope that doesn’t sound petty. I don’t intend it to be. But it seems to me if you’re going to have a “unique” mission statement, make it truly unique to your church and the needs of your community. Otherwise I agree with Bevere, that “no individual church needs to develop a mission statement. We’ve had one for two thousand years. What each church needs to do is to get to the task of keeping the charge we’ve already been given.

If we’re going to quote someone else’s mission statement, quote the original one from Jesus, not Bill Hybels – or Karl Vaters.

 

A Mission Makes a Statement

If your Small Church doesn’t have a mission statement, relax.

Take a look around. Are people loving God? Each Other? And are the expressing that love to the community and the world? Then you’re doing just fine without a mission statement.

But if you look around and they’re not doing that … don’t worry about a mission statement, either. You’ll just be wasting your time. Work on the people, instead.

Lead the church back to Jesus. He’ll give them a mission. And that will make a statement.

 

So what do you think? Does you church have a mission statement? Does it help? Does it matter?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

(Large Words on a Sign photo from Soukup • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

12 thoughts on “Only In a Small Church: You May Not Need a Mission Statement”

  1. LOVE. I’ve often wondered that myself…”why do we feel the need to try and say it better than Jesus? (esp. when we can’t)”
    HIS vision.
    HIS mission.
    HIS purpose.
    I love this statement: God’s will, nothing less, nothing more, nothing else. Period.

    On our FB page I have in our little purpose/mission/vision statement area: What do we have to offer? Jesus.

    I am just so silly, so backwoods enough to believe that JESUS really is enough.

    That people don’t need coffee shops in their church…they need JESUS.
    They don’t need an awesome band with strobe lights…they need JESUS.
    They don’t need a palace, play land and bouncy houses for their kids….they need JESUS.

    Jesus in all of HIS simplicity.
    Jesus in all of HIS power.
    Jesus in all of HIS suffering. (yes, I said suffering…it happens…it’s part of the “carry your cross”)
    Jesus in all of HIS holiness.
    Jesus in all of HIS glory.
    WHoo – hoo!
    We need MORE of JESUS…

    1. Jesus as the main course, not just a side dish? Revolutionary! Transformative! We might just end up with “transformed people, transforming nations” (that’s our “slogan”).

  2. LOVE. I’ve often wondered that myself…”why do we feel the need to try and say it better than Jesus? (esp. when we can’t)”
    HIS vision.
    HIS mission.
    HIS purpose.
    I love this statement: God’s will, nothing less, nothing more, nothing else. Period.

    On our FB page I have in our little purpose/mission/vision statement area: What do we have to offer? Jesus.

    I am just so silly, so backwoods enough to believe that JESUS really is enough.

    That people don’t need coffee shops in their church…they need JESUS.
    They don’t need an awesome band with strobe lights…they need JESUS.
    They don’t need a palace, play land and bouncy houses for their kids….they need JESUS.

    Jesus in all of HIS simplicity.
    Jesus in all of HIS power.
    Jesus in all of HIS suffering. (yes, I said suffering…it happens…it’s part of the “carry your cross”)
    Jesus in all of HIS holiness.
    Jesus in all of HIS glory.
    WHoo – hoo!
    We need MORE of JESUS…

    1. Jesus as the main course, not just a side dish? Revolutionary! Transformative! We might just end up with “transformed people, transforming nations” (that’s our “slogan”).

  3. I agree that a mission/purpose/visions statement, whatever a given church wants to call it, is not necessary. The advantage of such a statement is that it helps the people in the church remember why you are there. Pointing back to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission serve that same purpose.

  4. I agree that a mission/purpose/visions statement, whatever a given church wants to call it, is not necessary. The advantage of such a statement is that it helps the people in the church remember why you are there. Pointing back to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission serve that same purpose.

  5. I have been in many churches and I can’t not remember their mission statements. When I took their orientation classes, I had a hard time connecting to their well-crafted say-it in-a-sentence mission slogan. Now as pastor at a small church, I chose a mission that is Biblical and personal to me since I am the one who is going to repeat it and teach it. I want people repeating the words of Jesus so it gets into their heart. I like the Great Commission but I went with a summary of the Great Commandment: Love God, Love Others, Know Jesus. There is no law against love and knowing Jesus helps you get there.

  6. I have been in many churches and I can’t not remember their mission statements. When I took their orientation classes, I had a hard time connecting to their well-crafted say-it in-a-sentence mission slogan. Now as pastor at a small church, I chose a mission that is Biblical and personal to me since I am the one who is going to repeat it and teach it. I want people repeating the words of Jesus so it gets into their heart. I like the Great Commission but I went with a summary of the Great Commandment: Love God, Love Others, Know Jesus. There is no law against love and knowing Jesus helps you get there.

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