Replanting a Church: The Mission Statement

We are working through an article by Scott Thomas on replanting an existing church, that is, renewing a church so that it grows and matures as a church plant does.

Scott writes,

Establish a Clear Mission (Proverbs 29:18).

  1. Write (and rewrite) a mission statement that is easily understood and easily repeated that reflects exactly what will guide the church when determining the value of ministries (establishment and continuance). An example of a mission statement is adapted from Willow Creek “Turning unchurched people into fully devoted followers of Christ.” Another example is “Making True Disciples” (our former statement) and “Penetrating the Darkness – Sharing the Light” (our current statement).
    1. What are the values of the church that could be incorporated into a mission statement (evangelism, discipleship, worship, etc.)?
    2. Write out a first draft:
    3. Can it be recited easily?
    4. Is it easily understood by non-theologians?
    5. Who could be given the responsibility of forming the mission statement?
  2. The mission statement acts as a filter for all ministries. Is this specific ministry contributing to or taking away from the God-given mission statement?
    1. How will ministries be dissolved without creating division among the body?
    2. How open are the leaders of ministries to exploring other ways of doing things to be more effective in your mission?
  3. Communicate your mission statement often in as many avenues as you can.
    1. Publish is on everything (bulletins, business cards, letterhead, websites, pens, etc.)
    2. Preach the mission statement in detail at least once a year. Exegete every word. Include it in preaching regularly.

Believe it or not, I’m not a big fan of mission statements. I’m not against them. I just think the whole mission statement thing puts the emphasis in the wrong place. Let me explain.

One problem with mission statements is that all churches have the same mission. Therefore, writing a mission statement becomes an exercise in how to more cleverly say the same thing every other church says. Worse yet, many mission statements are woefully incomplete — risking an unscriptural over-emphasis on the things mentioned. Finally, some mission statements try to pick up everything a church might do — confusing mission with what churches do.

For example, if you work on a nuclear submarine, your mission, stated broadly, is to help the US win the next war. More narrowly, your mission is to remain undetected, detect the bad guys, and launch whatever missile the commanders order. Your mission is not to prepare meals, keep up a high morale, attend meetings, train, make repairs — even though it’s essential that you do these things.

The mission is made up of the ends of Christianity. And some essential things are means. Just because a church is called by God to do something, that doesn’t make it the church’s mission.

And so, one church in my hometown states —

To reach out, offer help and hope, and share the message of salvation with the unsaved and unchurched, daily along our Christian journey.
The four focus areas that Christian Community Church has chosen to travel on this journey is Worship, Education, Mission and Service. Each has equal importance and priority.

Now, I’m all about worship, education, mission, and service. Every church should be about those things. But education is not our mission. Education helps us accomplish our mission. If our members all attain 20 doctorates in Bible-related subjects, we might still be a pretty lousy church. We are not a college. We are a church.

Just so, I’m not comfortable with declaring worship as a mission of the church. I mean, the New Testament speaks about worship, but the Sunday assembly is not an emphasis. Indeed, the key verses that talk about the purposes of the assembly speak in terms of encouraging one another to love and good works (Heb 10:24-25) and the encouragement, edification, comfort, and strengthening of the members (1 Cor 14). In fact, there’s a case to be made that the New Testament redefines worship as Christian living.

If we were to have the greatest, most moving, most inspiring worship on the planet, and we did nothing else, we’d be pitiful Christians. And so, yes, Christians are to worship — because we understand who God is and what he’s done — but worship (as traditionally defined) is not our mission. It sure shouldn’t be listed first, as is so often the case.

Rather, the mission of the church is to participate in God’s redemptive mission — to bring others into right relationship with God, with each other, and with the Creation, and to be in right relationship ourselves.

Now, I think this is right because it fits the narrative of all of scripture — the story of the Bible. Rather than plucking  proof texts and consulting the church growth experts, I think we do better to look at the big picture.

And so, while worship is good and right and necessary, an undue emphasis on worship overlooks the personal spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible study, simplicity, faithfulness to our spouses, etc., etc. — all of which are just as important. Indeed, given a choice, I’m sure God would prefer that we handle our finances correctly than show up on Sunday morning. Just read the Gospels and see which one Jesus says the most about.

You see, we confuse “mission” with what we hire the ministerial staff to do (lead in worship, teach classes) or what the church has traditionally emphasized (attending the assembly and Bible classes) rather than what the scriptures are actually pointing us toward. Worship and classes are means to God’s ends. They are not ends.

Seemingly every church with a website has a mission statement, but for me, the value of a mission statement is the process of creating it, not the statement itself — for a church unclear about its mission. And any church that needs to be replanted is unclear about its mission.

You see, going through the process of defining the church’s mission forces those involved to consider just what they were saved to do. This is usually committee work, and if the committee prayerfully reads through statements from other churches, considers God’s will for his congregations, and then works to articulate God’s will, they’ll come to a fresh awareness of what God truly wants from his people.

But you want as many people as possible to come to this realization, and so you want to have as many people as possible involved in writing the mission statement. Talk about the idea from the pulpit and in the classes, accept suggestions from anyone, and spend some time together wrestling with God’s word. Help the membership to think deeply about this, and then the mission statement will serve its purpose well — even if it’s not very catchy or easy to remember. After all, the goal isn’t to learn the statement — it’s to internalize what God wants from his people.

Now, once the church has an understanding of God’s mission and how we are to participate in it, the next step is to figure how we intend to work together to do just that. It’s comparatively easy to write a mission statement. You can find 100 on the web and pick the one you like best. The hard part is doing the mission.

Worship and education aren’t that difficult. But spreading the gospel, serving those in need, redeeming the Creation — those are hard. And so that’s where you need to spend your most serious effort. How will we organize and operate our mission efforts to best participate in God’s mission to the lost? How will we equip and motivate our members to become missionaries right here at home? How will we make a real impact on the plight of the poor, the orphan, the widow, the oppressed? How will we participate in protecting the environment?

These are much harder questions. But we typically stop with the mission statement — as though that were some kind of an accomplishment.

Therefore, if I were leading the replanting of a congregation, I’d ask the congregation to participate in answering those questions. I’d be in no hurry and would want to allow time for prayer and Spirit to do their things. And I’d consider whatever results the church produces as temporary, as God may well choose to lead the church in new and unexpected directions. Hence, I’d urge the members and leaders to watch God’s hand at work in the church, the community, and the world to see where God may be leading them.

And learning to watch for and follow God’s leading is far more important than the mission statement. Therefore, you have to follow the mission statement with a strategy, a plan — something that takes God’s general mission and brings it home to what we think God wants from this church right now. How will we bring the mission into effect?

And finding the plan for effecting the mission is hard work indeed — in part because you never get done. The mission lasts until Jesus returns. The plan changes all the time.


3 Responses

  1. My personal mission statement:
    To make disciples of Jesus before baptizing them into Jesus so they want to obey the commands of Jesus in order to enjoy Jesus’ close presence forever.

  2. Therefore, you have to follow the mission statement with a strategy, a plan — something that takes God’s general mission and brings it home to what we think God wants from this church right now.

    You said a mouthful there, brother!

    I have just posted a blog on the book Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger. This book addresses that issue. You can read my review of it here.

    In brief, the authors show a strong correlation between a well-planned, strategic process for making and developing disciples and vibrancy in a church. By vibrancy, they mean growth.

    The plan and process must be kept simple and clear so everyone knows where they are going and how to get there.

    What they have to say goes hand in glove with what you write about here.

    Keep up the good work!


  3. I’ve always been fond of Rochester CoC’s mission statements/mottos:

    Connecting People To Jesus and One Another
    Take It To The Streets

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