I have a confession: earlier in my ministerial career I treated any conversation about church mission statements with the dreaded eye roll.
“Not again,” I thought. “There goes someone pontificating about mission and vision, which if you ask me is just a lot of talk that compensates for not doing much work.”
Now: I did help Mt. Carmel Church devise a mission statement sometime in the mid-90s. In retrospect, it was entirely too long and said something about open bibles and open hearts. I suspect no one there knows what it is or even where it came from anymore, either.
And then upon my arrival at Good Shepherd in 1999, I inherited a good one: To know, follow, and make known Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.
But I was too young in my ministry and too unfocused as a leader (and maybe too prideful that I hadn’t played a role in it?) to make much use of that statement. I certainly didn’t say it as part of the welcome every Sunday, nor did I find ways to work it into virtually every sermon.
And then, in a period of congregational uncertainty in 2008, we adopted a new slogan: Walking Together. Where? We didn’t specify. We had a temporary case of the stupids and felt that open-endedness and ambiguity spoke to emerging generations.
Actually, the only thing it said to emerging generations or those that done emerged was “this church doesn’t know who it is or where it is going.” God was most merciful to us in those years as we simply plateaued and suffered no decline.
So our strategic murkiness in 2010 led us to begin work with our friends at Auxano, who took our staff and Board through a process they call “the tunnel of chaos.” But there was light at the end of that tunnel — great light, as it turned out — for we arrived at a place that seemed to define perfectly not only who we are but who we want to be:
Inviting All People Into A Living Relationship With Jesus Christ.
A verb: Inviting. Not forcing, begging, manipulating, or cajoling. Inviting. Like God does.
An object: All People. Not our target demographic. Not people “just like us.” But the full-color, multi-national, multi-generational collection of sinners and saints who both attend and surround our church.
A destination: A Living Relationship. Not dead religion with a sentimental relic, but a living relationship with a living Savior. And living things always grow, stretch, and change. So it will be with us.
And a Savior: With Jesus Christ. We’re not vague in our theism. We believe that Jesus is not one of many; he is the One and Only. We rejoice when people recognize that their higher power is in fact the Highest Power.
Concise, compelling, memorable, and measurable. And most importantly to me, not derivative. It doesn’t sound like a thousand other churches who are “making fully devoted followers” of Christ, nor does it mimic the United Methodist Church’s making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As an added bonus, the two strong “v” words — “inviting” and “living” sound to the ear like they fit with each other.
So since we adopted and unveiled that new mission statement, five key benefits have emerged (it is Tuesday, after all, and you must have a Top Five list). Here they are:
1. Comprehensive Usage. We repeat our statement from the platform, in our LifeGroups, in student and children’s ministry, and even in our Out ‘N About Seniors programs (“all people includes retirement age people.”). There simply is no venue where it’s no appropriate to remind people who we are and what we are about.
2. People Repeat It Back To You. Nothing strangely warms my heart as quickly as someone from the church repeating the mission statement back to me. Sometimes it’s part of conversation, other times it’s in electronic communication, and two weeks ago it was one of our “testifiers” who spontaneously let the phrase escape her lips during her talk.
3. Clarity Of Purpose. There’s no doubt about what we want people to have: a living relationship with Jesus Christ.
4. Words Make Worlds. If you say something often enough, people begin to live into it. Because the language we use shapes our habits, more and more people are growing into that living relationship.
5. Hiring New Staff. This may seem minor, but it’s not. When interviewing, recruiting, and training new staff members a strong mission statement brings great clarity regarding candidates you want and those who want you.
And here’s how I know it’s all worth it. Awhile back, I received an email from a woman at Good Shepherd regarding someone she invited to church this past Sunday. Here’s what she said (deleting names):
We’ve been friends with [them] for several years…[She] could hardly believe how well I’m connected at Good Shepherd! I explained to her that it’s simply the culture of the people of Good Shepherd–together we invite ALL people into a relationship with Jesus Christ and that we experience that living relationship EVERY time we are together in community!