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Do It First, Write It Later: A New Approach to Mission Statements

Does your church have a mission statement? If so, is it relevant and up-to-date? Could most of the people in your church repeat it if asked?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” I have one word for you.


You don’t need to call an emergency vision-casting meeting to write, rewrite or remind everyone that they need to “Know, Grow & Go,” “Love, Learn & Live” or “Become fully devoted followers of Jesus.”

No, none of those statements are bad. But I’m convinced that they have far less value to most churches than the last three decades of leadership training have led us to believe.

If you don’t have a good, working, memorable mission statement right now, it’s OK. Writing a mission statement should be one of the last things a church does, not the first.

I know that goes against common wisdom (I tend to do that), but I believe it’s true.

Here’s why. There are fewer things more irritating than a person, church or any group that says something but doesn’t follow through on it. The only real hope that a church will follow through on their mission statement is if it’s based on what the church is already doing.

For a video version of these principles, watch Thinking Like a Great Small Church

The Problem With Our Mission Statement Obsession

Remember about 20 years ago when it seemed like every business in the world wrote a mission statement, framed and mounted it in the break room, then stopped hiring employees and started “empowering associates”? If you find someone who worked for a company that did that, ask them if all the hoopla actually changed anything where they worked. The likely answer? Nothing changed at all.

Then ask them how the changes made them feel. Again, the likely answer? There were no warm fuzzies or feelings of empowerment. There may have been momentarily raised hopes, but they probably turned very quickly into feelings of disappointment and frustration, followed by whispered mockery and jokes about the “new day” that never materialized.

Mission statements aren’t bad. The church I pastor has one. (It’s Exploring, Living & Sharing the Truth of God’s Word, if anyone cares to know. And no, most of our congregation couldn’t quote it, either.) But even a great mission statement won’t fix a broken church.

Clever words won’t change the culture of a church unless one other thing is in place—we have to be doing the stuff already. It’s one of the basic principles I try to live my life and pastor my church by: Don’t put anything into words until you’re already putting it into action.

As Christians—and especially as Christian leaders—this shouldn’t be a surprise to us. James 1:22 tells us, James 1:22” href=”http://www.biblestudytools.com/james/1-22.html” target=”_blank”>Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

That’s a powerful, scary truth. If we know the words but aren’t doing them, we’re living in self-deceit. Obviously that verse is about God’s Word, not our self-written mission statements, but I think the principle still applies. Saying, reading or memorizing a mission statement without living it is a form of self-deception.

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Karl is the author of four books and has been in pastoral ministry for almost 40 years. He is the teaching pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, a healthy small church in Orange County, California, where he has ministered for over 27 years with his wife, Shelley. Karl’s heart is to help pastors of small churches find the resources to lead well and to capitalize on the unique advantages that come with pastoring a small church. Karl produces resources for Helping Small Churches Thrive at KarlVaters.com, and has created S.P.A.R.K. Online (Small-Church Pastors Adapt & Recover Kit), which is updated regularly with new resources to help small churches deal with issues related to the COVID-19 crisis and aftermath.