It has become popular of late for churches to develop “mission statements” that attempt to define the character of the church and identify its essential business … some pithy declaration that can be used on websites and letterhead and as a teaching tool to focus a particular congregation on a particular task. Here are a few examples:

Our mission is to carry the gospel, the sacraments, and God’s love and fellowship to the unchurched, the alienated, and the excommunicated (the church’s homeless).

Reaching out to the World…Preaching to the Unsaved…Teaching the Saved to Serve.

At _______ Church, we’re not about “having it all together” or even pretending we do. We’re just a family trying to grow together toward a God who knows us and can help us put all the pieces of this sometimes bizzare world into perspective. We may not have all the answers but we know someone who does. In fact He not only knows the answers…He made up the questions. [I’m not making this up. How awful!]

To connect people to Jesus Christ and to each other.

The mission of the ______ Church is to increase our love for God and to help meet the needs of humankind by “Loving God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.”

At ________ Church, we “Exalt the Savior,” “Evangelize the Sinner,” and “Equip the Saint.” [A little churchy, but I kinda like this one!]

[For more examples of church mission statements, go to: http://www.missionstatements.com/church_mission_statements.html.]

Some people roll their eyes when talk turns to such statements; they just don’t get it. “Why bother?” the want to know. “What’s the point?”

Others believe the mission for the church—for every church—has already been established by Christ. “Just follow the Great Commission!” they insist. “Here is the church’s mission!” they tell us, hefting their New Testaments. They see any statement containing more (or less) to be presumptuous and, possibly, unfaithful. They are deeply averse to the idea that human beings play any part in setting the direction and goals of the church. And they are deeply suspicious of the kind of intentionality and focus that good mission statements provide.

Still others respond favorably to the notion of “mission” but don’t have a clue how to go about developing one. They hope throwing a bunch of people in a room will allow a functional mission statement to emerge, having (apparently) never heard the joke about the camel (“A horse designed by a committee”) or the computer acronym GIGO (“garbage in, garbage out”). When the result of such “group-think” is a statement so unbiblical as to be worthless (“Better living through positive thinking!”) or so broad as to be useless (“We love everybody and do good works and hate world hunger”), there are those who will suggest simply sidestepping the hard work of developing a mission statement by borrowing a statement from another church (“This one worked for Willow Creek!”).

A Process for Developing a Sense of Mission

Some churches “fall” into their mission quite organically (e.g., campus churches where the focus is naturally on developing faith among college students). Some simply adopt the mission of a charismatic leader (and develop a television ministry or build a preaching school).

For most churches, however, a mission must be shaped and crafted and painstakingly developed. There is a process for doing this. It isn’t easy. It will take a great deal of time and prayer and soul-searching. It will force a church to figure out what its priorities are and how serious it is about its goals. It will require a reengagement with Scripture and the Spirit of God. It will lead a church to move beyond the “tyranny of the nice” to embracing a mission that matters. It will take hard work to fix a focus and develop consensus around it.

The following series of articles addresses this process: the theology behind “mission,” where to begin, who should be involved, important principles to keep in mind, how to build consensus, etc.

It is vital for churches to have a sense of mission. [See the next article in this series.] The only alternative to a clear sense of mission is a muddied and vague commitment to good works … a lack of focus and effectiveness … churches doing lots of nice things but never making a kingdom difference.

[Read the next article in this series.]