Everything starts and ends with mission.
Almost every church we work with already has a mission statement for some sort. Usually it was written by a committee or board. Sometimes it was written by the pastor by himself—or a pastor who has long since left the church.
But in nearly every instance, the mission has little impact on the day-to-day life of the church. The mission statement is on the bulletin or on the website, but it doesn’t do anything. It simply exists.
Churches often feel apathetic about re-working their mission statement during a revitalization process because their past experiences have been neutral at best.
I get it. Writing a mission statement doesn’t seem exciting.
So let’s re-frame the conversation about mission and explore the role that mission can play in helping your church. Here’s a hint, it’s a vital role.
Mission determines your direction.
Mission is the answer to the question, “What is our mandate?” It forces the church to think about the one, most important thing that the church must do.
Most declining churches are functionally lost. They don’t know what they are or why they exist. Are they a social club? Are they a place to learn the Bible? Are they a food pantry? Are they the host facility for a pre-school? They don’t know.
Declining churches are pulled in a hundred directions because their commitments have accumulated for decades. They may give lip-service to a mission (we are supposed to reach the lost), but their calendar conflicts with any sense of a central mission.
To revitalize your church, you’re going to need to be able to say, “No. We aren’t doing this anymore,” to the good-not-great things your church has committed to in the past.
What makes the decision for you? Mission.
How do you decide what stays and what gets cut? Mission.
What should be the one thing that everyone agrees on when debates about strategy arise? Mission.
Your mission will determine your direction, and so it will pre-determine what you say “Yes” and “No” to moving forward.
Mission roots us in Christ’s command.
We believe that your church’s mission is a contextual expression of the Great Commission. We believe that every church was given the same mandate: “Make disciples,” and it’s our great joy to find a way to embody that mandate in our place and time.
I was once speaking on the phone with a board member at a Baptist church in Virginia. She was a kind, elderly woman who had questions about defining her church’s vision. As we progressed through the conversation, we discussed the role that mission plays in developing vision.
I said, “When we dream of the future of our church, we have to root that vision in Jesus’ mandate to make and mature disciples.”
She paused for a moment, and she said, “How do we know that this is the mission for every church?”
Slightly surprised to hear a faithful, Baptist woman say this, I said, “Because it’s the one thing Jesus commanded us to do right before he ascended. It’s recorded differently in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts, but they all have the same clear message: make disciples.”
She replied, “But in John, he tells Peter, ‘Feed my sheep.’” I acknowledged that, but pointed out that the sentiment is similar. We are to spiritually direct people to Jesus.
I was floored with her response. She said, “I think it means we are supposed to feed people who are hungry.”
I knew at that moment that her church’s vision process was doomed if they shared her sentiment. Mission matters. Having the right mission matters. If you don’t clarify your mission, you can end up losing sight of what Christ commanded.
Mission facilitates evaluation and defines success.
When I first meet a pastor, I’ll often start with a simple statement, “Tell me about your church. How are things going?”
I’m often amazed at the answers. Most of the time, I’ll get responses centered on nickels and noses. I get it. They probably assumed that’s what I meant by the question.
But nickels and noses don’t define success. Making and maturing disciples is the goal. When we have a clear mission, it becomes easier to have discussions about “did we win?”
When evaluating the effectiveness of a ministry, Bible study, or event, the success isn’t found in how many people showed up. The question is, “Did we make and mature disciples?”
This re-centers the focus on what matters most. It’s not critical that your church become the biggest in town; what matters is that you maximize your disciple-making impact.
Imagine for a moment that your church went back to the basics. What if you were less busy but more effective? What if you valued transformation more than tradition? What would it look like to have more impactful ministry?
None of this can happen without a clear mission. This is your why. This is your mandate. The Great Commission is why God has established the Church, and churches that stop caring about this mission deserve to close.
Making and maturing disciples isn’t something God has called your church to do, it’s the only thing God has called your church to do. It’s time you clarify what the Great Commission means in your context, and begin to rally your congregation around this mission.
Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).