Why We Junked Mission Statements

Four years ago we had an elders/staff retreat to discuss the future direction of Northwest. In these types of retreats, we would collectively work through a number of things in regard to vision, mission and purpose as a congregation. As a part of this discussion we decided it was time to re-think our mission statement and re-work it to be more relevant to where we were as a congregation. The first step in a task like that is to put down what the current mission statement is. As we all started to write down our current mission statement…some of us were scratching our heads a little trying to come up with it. We didn’t know it because we never use it. That was an “aha” moment for us that lead to a change in how we structure some of what we do.

For us, the mission statement was one of those things that used to look really nice on a banner that had hung there so long that no one even paid attention to it anymore. We realized having a mission statement, in and of itself, did nothing. It was just a statement. It couldn’t act. It couldn’t move. It was just words. Passive, descriptive purpose…unable to do anything on its own. We also realized that if the leadership doesn’t know it, the congregation doesn’t know it. They didn’t know it because we hadn’t made it memorable in any real sense. It is not that it wasn’t memorable in a catchy kind of way it was that it wasn’t memorable because it hadn’t caught on. It hadn’t caught on because it wasn’t being visibly and consistently represented in what we said and did and looked forward to as a congregation. That was when we decided to junk our mission statement. We haven’t had one sense. If you aren’t going to use it, don’t put it out there. It just communicates that we are just as confused about what it means as you are.

Here is what we have done instead – annual themes. Each year we pick a theme that we think adequately reflects something we need to prioritize that year as a congregation. We communicate the theme to the congregation in January. Then we use that theme as a filter for the things we do, for some of our sermons, fellowship activities, etc. It doesn’t encompass everything we do but we try to make sure it is put into action. I guess it is a mini-mission statement of sorts…a sort of temporary focal point that helps get us to the next step in our development.

A helpful resource on creating and casting effective and memorable vision is Andy Stanley’s book “Making Vision Stick“. A very quick and helpful read. Here is a summary of that book here on the blog back in June.

6 Responses to Why We Junked Mission Statements

  1. Greg Taylor says:

    Matt,
    Good stuff. Stanley’s book great. I mined a great idea from your article: get everyone to write the current and obvious aha moment of “we don’t know this” . . . was waiting for you to say the Bible is full of mission statements good enough for us. Is that part of your thinking as well?

    • mattdabbs says:

      I have tried to write a response to your question a few times now but it is hard for me to put in words. So let me try this out…I guess the tension there for me is that I am wondering what verse(s) would fit the rules for a good mission statement (brief, memorable, purposeful) and be sufficient for communicating and engaging people in the mission of God. In other words, what scripture would plug right in as a quote with nothing added to it that would do all of that? Thoughts?

  2. Richard Kruse says:

    What about Love God with all your heart …. and your neighbour as well as yourself?

  3. ozziepete says:

    I agree Matt. A lot of this comes back to the leadership. If the public leaders are not referencing the mission statement or theme then the congregation will not pick up on it or value it. It’s not that a mission statement is wrong or bad, but the leadership must adopt it as programmatic for the church or it will never serve its purpose.
    I have been using themes for 4 or 5 years now, and we’re gradually evolving ways to integrate them into various aspects of congregational life. If nothing else I preach a series at the start of the year on the theme and then try to preach at least one thematic sermon about every 4 months.
    We have also asked our members to submit artwork that reflects the theme that we can hang around the building. I’ve really liked that although not everyone appreciated every picture.

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