The unwritten mission statement of most “churches”
The mission of an organization is what holds it together. Whether written or implicit, the shared understanding of an organization’s purpose is its compass bearing through storms, its flag to rally around in battle, and its scale to weigh decisions.
Healthy, effective organizations articulate their mission in a meaningful, written statement, and they keep a keen eye on this mission statement as they go along. A single-minded focus on advancing this statement guides all of their plans, expenses and activities, and leads them to prune anything that distracts or detracts from it.
Unhealthy, ineffective organizations have missions, too, but they’re generally unwritten, even unspoken. Sure, they do usually have a written mission statement. Problem is, that’s not the mission they follow. The written mission statement of an unhealthy organization is nothing more than words on paper, often a remnant of the self-deluded dream of a long-ago leader or committee.
Instead, unhealthy, ineffective organizations follow unwritten, implicit mission statements, which are often centered on traditions, bad habits, and self-interest. If you’ve been involved in many organizations, and you stop to think about it, you’ll understand what I’m saying.
Let me give an example. I recall a skeet shooting club that I became familiar with awhile back. It had been founded a generation before for the purpose of promoting the shooting sports to the community. Over time, however, the membership’s self-interest had taken over, and by the time I encountered the group, it clearly existed for the sole purpose of catering to the desires of the existing members. They did nothing to promote shooting sports to the community, and they didn’t even consider membership applications from “outsiders.” Sure, they had a grand, lofty mission statement. I’m sure they felt good reading it. But it was worthless! None of them would have admitted it, but the real mission statement was, “To provide a comfortable shooting environment for our existing membership at the lowest possible cost.”
How can you tell the real mission of an organization? Simple: “By their fruits you shall know them.” The real mission an organization follows is like its DNA, the seed from which it grows. You can paint an apple seed orange, put it in a package that says “orange seeds,” and convince yourself and others that you are going to grow a great orange tree. It doesn’t matter one bit: If you plant it, it’s going to grow an apple tree. We reap what we sow. There’s no escaping reality: The real way an organization spends its money and time, and the real outputs it produces, are an accurate reflection of its real mission. If these things don’t line up well with its printed mission statement, then you know it’s following an unwritten one instead.
I say all this to ask a question: What is the real mission of your local “church”?
I’m not asking what its written mission statement says. If it’s like just about all the others on the face of the earth, its written mission statement probably looks great on paper, and you feel good quoting it – and it says something about reaching the lost, impacting the community, building up the members, fulfilling the Great Commission, etc., etc.
And also, if it’s like just about all the others on the face of the earth, its real mission is far from this. If your “church council” were able to step back and re-write it honestly – looking objectively at the real way it spends its money and time, and the real outputs it produces – it’d probably be closer to this:
“Our mission is to fund our clergy and staff salaries, build and expand the facilities we dedicate to Sunday morning activities, put on a good Sunday show, make our members as comfortable as possible while they’re here, make sure all our committee positions are occupied with anyone who will take the job, fill the offering plates, expand our membership, and (if we have anything left over) throw some scraps at ‘missions.’”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is pretty much the unwritten mission statement of most “churches” today, as it’s their primary fruit. These activities take up more than 90% of the money given to advance the “mission,” and are considered the de-facto pre-requisites that must be satisfied before anything else gets done.
If my saying this rubs you the wrong way, let me challenge you to a simple exercise: First, find out your “church” mission statement (the official, printed one), its annual budget, and its existing base of assets. Then, starting from scratch, put together a strategic plan to employ those resources to advance the mission as effectively as possible. When I say starting from scratch, I mean anything goes – you don’t have to spend a penny of your money or a second of your time to maintain any ceremonial gatherings, or designated “clergy” salaries, or committee structures, or anything else, if these things do not line up directly with maximizing mission impact.
If you had this mandate, would you really build a big building and equip it with state-of-the-art multimedia equipment, etc., only to use it a few hours a week, and mainly for people who already are “believers”? Would you really bother holding any of the weekly Sunday shows we call “church services”? Truly, if you were seeking to advance the mission statement of your “church,” would you do anything at all that we call “church” today? Probably very little of it, if any.
While some small part of our grand, printed mission statements may be achieved through these efforts, are these things really the most efficient and effective way? Let’s be honest here: There’s no way.
We have a fine way of rendering our written mission statements meaningless for the sake of our traditions.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!