Someone asks this question to our team at Church Answers about once a week. I get it. It is confusing and, often, contradictory. We have been looking at church vision statements and mission statements for years.
These brief explanations may bring some clarity to the confusion.
— There is no consistent definition to either statement. Okay, that should make you feel better. If you lack clarity, it is because there is no clarity.
— Some older definitions are still being used. I still hear these two definitions or those with similar wording: A mission statement is God's purpose for all churches. A vision statement is God's specific purpose for a specific church in a specific context. By these two definitions, every church would have a similar mission statement but vastly different vision statements.
— Some church leaders don't like either statement. The common complaint is that mission and vision statements come from the corporate world and not the Bible. There is truth to that criticism. But I prefer to think of either statement as a way to plan for the future of the church as a good steward of time and funding.
— Very few churches try to have two statements over any extended period of time. A number of churches have tried to have a mission statement and a vision statement. The former states the biblical purpose of all congregations. The latter provides specificity for their local church. Most leaders have trouble getting their members to remember one statement, much less two. Such attempts usually get abandoned after a short while.
— The memorable statements, whether they are called vision statements or mission statements, are succinct. I suggested to some church leaders at a retreat that it is often a futile effort to expect members to remember a long statement. The executive pastor of the church pushed back. He told me that their vision statement is long because every word is critical. I asked him to look me in the eye and repeat the statement in its entirety. He couldn't do it.
— Mission statements or vision statements should reflect an awareness of the community. Such is the reason I encourage church leaders first to start with the Bible and then do a thorough study of their community (We have a tool at Church Answers called "Know Your Community" for this purpose.
— The most commonly used statements today move members toward desired actions. Such was the thesis of the book I wrote with Eric Geiger, Simple Church. We suggested that a very basic vision statement could demonstrate a process of discipleship with just a few words. For example, a vision statement of "Gather. Grow. Go. Give." could set expectations that members are to gather for worship, grow spiritually in small groups, go and do ministry in the church and the community, and give faithfully. That simplicity is the reason Simple Church vision statements are fast becoming ubiquitous.
— If a vision or mission statement is not based on biblical foundations, it should be tossed. It then becomes a corporate or secular statement for sure. I still like these statements, but I insist they begin with the Word of God.
Does your church have a vision or mission statement? How effective do you believe it is?
Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Before coming to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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