10 Questions to Ask about Your Church’s Mission
By Ken Sloane
I recently led an in-person workshop (my first in more than two years) on the topic of annual campaigns and how to make them more personal and relevant for the local church. I shared the following quote from the book, Generosity, Stewardship and Abundance by Ann Michel and Lovett Weems. They offered the following two principles to guide conversations about money:
“Principle 1: Never talk about people’s money apart from their discipleship.
Principle 2: Never talk about the church’s money apart from its mission.”
Before I could move to the next slide, one of the participants turned to face the group and asked, “How many of your churches actually have a mission statement that reflects what your church is really about?” It was something of a hijacking of the agenda, but it was a great hijacking! The discussion was honest and fruitful, and it became clear that there were various understandings about what constitutes a good mission statement.
A great mission statement comes from within your church, built on things like scripture and what your church really values, as well as the context in which you do ministry. If you think it would be helpful to re-examine your church’s mission, here are ten questions you might consider asking.
By the way, working on your church’s mission should be a team effort. Bring together leaders from your church from different areas of your ministry and try to consider voices that are not always heard. Whatever it means in your church, context, diversity in age, cultures and perspectives will make the experience richer.
1. HAS THE MISSION STATEMENT BEEN AROUND PAST ITS ‘SHELF LIFE’?
Like that milk in your refrigerator, mission statements need to be checked regularly for freshness and whether they are still usable. Your leadership changes, your membership changes, the community changes, the world changes. All of these have the potential to offer new insights and new discernment of how God may be calling your church. While scripture may stay the same, what it says to us regarding the world around us may help us shape or tweak our mission.
2. WAS THERE WIDE INVOLVEMENT IN THE DISCRENMENT PROCESS?
No matter how deeply involved or connected to your church a person may be, discerning the mission for which God is calling your church should not be a solo assignment. I’m convinced that the most insightful mission discernment comes when diverse groups of disciples pray for and listen to one another. Include multi-generations if you have them. Include those who are leaders and those who are servants, teachers, and learners. The more diverse the group, the richer the conversation and the better the opportunity for God’s voice to be heard.
3. DOES IT LOOK BEYOND YOUR CHURCH WALLS?
A good mission reflects the congregation and its nurture and growth in discipleship, but it also points to the world outside your walls. I’ve seen many churches with mission statements such as, “We are a warm and friendly church growing in the love of God.” Such statements do not indicate any interest in the mission field that lies outside the church’s front door. Many of us have realized that it is less about a church needing a mission statement and more about understanding that God has a mission in the community, and the world and needs a church to fulfill it. What is it that God wants this church to do in this community?
A good mission reflects the congregation and its nurture and growth in discipleship, but it also points to the world outside your walls.
4. DOES IT CONNECT WITH SCRIPTURE?
What do we hear in scripture that makes us want to move to action, to get out of our pew or out of our Sunday school class and go out into the world? Invite a wide range of people to suggest those scripture verses or passages. Read them all; maybe post them around the room where you are working and allow your team to rank the passages on how well they speak to your church context. As you refine your mission, be conscious about which passages influenced you the most.
5. ARE WE CONFUSING CORE VALUES WITH OUR MISSION?
Core values are important, and they undergird your mission; but they don’t need to be included in your mission. Core values for your church are things like being Bible-based, loving, welcoming, diverse, and open-minded. These may describe your church because they are important to your congregation, but they don’t explain your mission – what God is calling you to do.
6. IS IT SIMPLE, BRIEF, AND MEMORABLE?
Many of us have seen mission statements that are clever and catchy, but the priority here is a mission statement that is the result of discernment and prayer and is refined in words that communicate the mission concisely and clearly in a way that people can remember.
7. DO MEMBERS KNOW IT, EMBRACE IT, AND SHARE IT?
I attended a conference at a large church in the Midwest where the pastor in his greeting shared the church’s mission. He then challenged all of us, as we encountered church members during our visit, to ask this question: “What’s this church’s mission?” From the person who served coffee to the guy who emptied waste baskets and mopped the floor, everyone in that church family knew the church’s mission.
I’ve also visited churches and asked that same question, and the answer was something like, “I don’t know, I think it’s on the cover of the Sunday bulletin . . .” The contrast is striking; a church will have a hard time successfully achieving a mission that its congregation can’t articulate!
8. IS IT IN ALIGNMENT?
Your annual conference probably has its own mission statement, and The United Methodist Church has one as well. These will be great resources as you reflect on and discern your congregation’s mission. However, don’t just copy these and bypass the opportunity to discover the mission that God has for you in your community. The question is a good one to ask as you review or revise your mission: “How well does our MISSION align with the mission of the conference and The United Methodist Church? Though many across our denomination know the wording of “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” if you read the mission from ¶120 of The Book of Discipline, you’ll discover that the second part of that statement reminds us of the importance the local church in achieving our worldwide mission.
¶ 120. The Mission—The mission of the Church is to make
disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Local
churches and extension ministries of the Church provide the most
significant arenas through which disciple-making occurs.
9. DOES IT INCLUDE AN OUTCOME?
In the book Bearing Fruit by Lovett Weems, Jr. and Tom Berlin, there is a chapter titled, “The Two Most Powerful Words for Fruitful Leadership: So That.” The authors assert that those two words have the power to move us beyond describing what we are going to do or who we are going to be to stating what difference it is going to make. They cite the many times we see the words “so that” in the gospels (John 3:16, Romans 12:2, 1Peter 2:9 and I John 4:9 are examples), moving disciples to actions and outcomes. Does your mission include a “so that” or its equivalent?
10. IF DONE WELL, WHO WILL NOTICE?
You may have heard the question, “If your church had to close its doors tomorrow, would anyone beside your members notice?” The flipside of that question is to examine your mission statement and ask, “If we do this mission really well, how will the community and world be different?” Sometimes churches prepare a vision statement to go along with their mission. A vision presents a picture of what the future will look like if your church does its mission well. If we can’t picture a more faithful, more compassionate, more just world resulting from our successfully accomplishing our mission, we may not have discerned and captured the correct mission.
11. BONUS QUESTION: IS THERE AN INTENTIONAL DISCIPLESHIP SYSTEM IN PLACE TO HELP YOU REALIZE YOUR MISSION?
If the answer is a resounding yes, great! If you’re not sure, we invite you to visit this page of the Discipleship Ministries website to find help and resources.
Ken Sloane is the Director of Stewardship & Generosity for Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.