Oftentimes those involved in ministry and church leadership speak of the pressing need to developing and implement three critical aspects of ministry: mission and vision statements, and core values. There’s also seemingly a pressing need to develop goals and strategies also. But what I’ve discovered, both in my tenure as a full-time pastor and later on teaching men and women preparing for ministry, that most actually don’t know the differences between all three, or how to set goals or to strategize. So what exactly are the differences between a mission statement and a vision statement? What are the ‘core values’ of a church and how are they developed, and by whom? How can the church set goals, and strategize in order to achieve those goals as an organization?
First of all, let’s take a look at what mission is. Mission, on the one hand, speaks to the issue of purpose by answering such questions as: ‘Why are we here?’ It also seeks to answer the question ‘We exist to…’? Vision, on the other hand, speaks to the issue of how you intend to work out that mission statement in your local context. The vision you develop is unique and specifically suited for your church; each missional context, and every congregation, is unique and different. Oftentimes churches fail in terms of mission and vision statements because they are trying to adopt, or adapt, that which belongs to a different church located somewhere else.
Core values are that which underpin an organization (much like the foundation of a house), and clearly define how your church goes about doing things. Values are about your unique identity as a church; what you stand for and are passionate about. Oftentimes there is a wide disparity between the stated values a church might claim to have (written on a piece of paper in the pastor’s office, or printed on the back of the church bulletin), and the actual values by which a church operates. In other words, any church can claim to stand for a certain set of values, but in the real world, not live up to them at all. Your church, for example, might hold “evangelism” as one of its stated values, but if the church is not consistently growing by conversion growth, then its actual values are something completely different.
Let’s take a look at how we might come up with a sample mission statement. They are often framed as a general statement of purpose, and the following answers could serve as a helpful template for you to come up with your mission statement for your church. Mission statements try to answers questions like:
- What exactly is the organization?
- Why does it exist?
- Does it (the organization) serve a particular need in the community?
- If not, why not?
- What is its reason for being (purpose)?
- What are its short- and long-term goals?
- On what basis does it make decisions?
- What is its path?
- Where is this organization headed?
Now that you have a general idea of how to develop a mission statement, let’s look at developing a vision statement. Remember, your vision statement is unique and specifically suited to your particular church context. Whatever your vision statement ultimately ends up being, it must be specific and also developed by the leadership team in conjunction with a dialogue amongst the entire congregation. Why does it have to be developed across the leadership team and entire congregation? Because if it is “handed down from on high” solely by the pastor or those at the top, the church runs two risks. One, there may be absolutely zero lack of ownership of that vision by the rest of the church. Buy-in of the mission, vision and values by the entire church are of critical importance. Two, that vision statement developed by the leader or leaders at the top may in fact be completely wide of the mark for that specific church. Either way, in order for the church to move forward as a healthy organization, each person must be able to express his or her input into the process.
Developing a vision statement, therefore, seeks to answers questions such as:
- What does this organization want to be?
- What is the organization’s descriptive picture of a desired future state?
- Where is the organization headed?
- Where do we see this organization in six months? A year? Five years? Ten?
- What do we believe God is calling us to accomplish as a church, in terms of mission and discipleship? (Involves prayerful and careful reflection).
The mission of an organization is how the vision of the organization is actually implemented. Vision speaks to the future of the organization, while the mission speaks to its purpose.
At this point we must ask the important question: why is it important that both the vision and mission of the church become assimilated into the culture of the organization? Exactly how does it happen that the people of the church buy into the vision and mission? Why is that even important to attain? It is critically important that both are communicated clearly and often, and this can be accomplished in a wide variety of ways such as the following:
- Modelling—the vision and mission must be modelled through the lives of the leaders, which speaks to the issues of integrity and credibility. They must demonstrate that they own the mission and vision personally.
- Preaching—assuming that the vision for the church is indeed biblically-based, this can be reinforced through topical and expository sermons.
- Small-group studies—discussed by the leaders throughout the week in homes.
- Church publications and communications—bulletins, articles and other forms of communication can help to get the word out on a consistent basis.
- Internet—make use of technology, such as the church’s website, discussion forums and social media.
- Worship—making use of, and talking about, worship that is consistent with the mission and values; also could involve engaging gifted members of leadership and congregation to write new worship songs that are unique to the congregation.
Now that we have taken a look at developing a mission and vision statement, let’s examine the third issue: what are core values? Why is it important for your church or organization to develop its own unique set of core values? Values are deeply held core beliefs that not only shape our behaviour, but they also help to define how the organization will (or ideally should) function. Values can provide effective ground rules by which to guide both the priorities of the organization, as well as inform its unique philosophy of ministry.
What makes good core values? The following principles can help to guide you in developing your own set of unique core values. Quality core values:
- Flow out of Scripture—consistent, for example, with the missio Dei and other core scriptural values (for example, biblical values such as: evangelism, discipleship, biblical community, Ephesians 4 culture, developing spiritual gifts, etc).
- Inspire everyone to a higher level—quality core values should always accomplish such a purpose.
- Are shared by the leadership–buy-in on the part of leadership is critically important, and leadership must also model those values consistently. If those in leadership do not model the church’s core values themselves, that will directly damage their credibility and integrity. Why, then, should anyone in the congregation hold to them, or try to attain them?
- Are unambiguous—values should be clearly stated such that no one can misunderstand them.
- Are not abstract—as a corollary of the above point, values must be stated in concrete enough terms that people can actually aspire to, and achieve, living according to them.
- Call forth specific behaviour—values should speak to the ways in which we all desire to live, but in ways that are attainable in the context of a safe and authentic biblical community.
Strategizing: Developing a Plan of Action
Now that we are beginning to gain a sense of how to develop a mission and vision statement, along with core values, let’s try and put all the pieces together moving forward. How can a church develop a clear plan of action?
Developing the image above, note that the core values are that which underpin both the vision and mission of the organization. Taken all together, this can result in developing clear goals and strategies for implementing the vision, mission and values moving forward into the future. A goal is an effective target at which one might aim, and speaks to the objective or intention of either a person or an organization. Goals also have to do with the result or an achievement toward which one has been striving; without a specifically-stated goal to attain, how will you know if you (or the organization) has actually arrived successfully at the target? Although you might have a fantastically-developed and well-worded vision and mission statement, together with a great set of core values, without goals and strategies to help you move forward, the organization will most likely achieve little or nothing. At the very least, even if you have achieved something, you will not know if it was in fact successful, since there was never a stated goal to attain in the first place.
So how exactly are goals set, and what are the hallmarks of effective goals?
Effective goals are:
- Specific—goals must be clearly-stated in order that the objective can be easily understood and aimed at by all involved.
- Measurable—without a set of benchmarks by which to measure progress, how will you know whether or not you are working to attain your goal?
- Believable—it is no use to frame a goal that is impossible to achieve, and ridiculously difficult goals end up discouraging the participants in the process of trying to achieve them.
- Achievable—going along with the point above, all realistically-worded goals must be within the realm of possibility to achieve, or else everybody is clearly wasting their time trying to achieve it. At the same time, this does not mean that every goal is easy to achieve, either!
- Personal—goals must be unique, tailored both to the individual and the organization. What one person shares as a goal may not be shared by another, and this is why engaging in dialogue in terms of organizational goals is important. Otherwise there may not be a sense of buy-in by those we are asking to try and attain the goals.
While goals are important to frame, both in terms of the goals of those in leadership as well as the congregation, one final piece needs to be added to this conversation: strategy. What exactly is a strategy? Strategy is the means by which goals are achieved. Strategy attempts to answer the questions…
- How can we go about achieving this goal or goals?
- What resources will be needed to attain it?
- When do we want this goal achieved? (Time frame?)
- What measurable steps are required to achieve it?
- How exactly will we know when we have achieved the goal or goals?
- Who will do what, and by what time, to help attain the goal?
- What opposition can we expect?
- How can we attempt to counter that opposition?
Hopefully this short article has been of value to you and your church in helping both to define such concepts as mission and vision statement, core values, goals and strategies. Moreover, it was the aim of this article to help you move beyond definition and try to frame, as well as implement, those various elements for your church or ministry organization. Finally, as we conclude, here are a series of reflection questions that can help your organization move forward in this process.
- Has your church or ministry developed a mission and vision statement?
- Do you believe it is clearly-stated and understandable to all those involved?
- Do you believe that the mission and vision statement is actually implemented throughout the organization? Why or why not?
- If not, what do their apparent priorities and activities indicate are the subconscious values and purposes of the church or ministry?
- If you were in leadership, how would you go about developing your church’s mission, vision and values with your team?
- At your church, do you consider your church leadership team are living out the mission, values, and vision of the church as it is stated?
- Are your organization’s goals specific, measurable and achievable? If not, why not?
- What might need to change in order for your organization to achieve its stated goals?