Let’s Scrap Church Vision Statements!
Let’s scrap church vision statements! And while we’re at it, let’s scrap mission statements too!
“What?”, I hear you say. “Surely not! How would we know what we are meant to do?”
Surprisingly, the church on earth existed, and at times thrived, for thousands of years without vision statements or mission statements. It must have been a fluke!
Are we really so unsure why we exist, that we need a statement on the wall to remind us? A soccer team doesn’t need a vision statement. A soccer team’s mission is pretty clear: win as many games as possible by scoring more goals than the opposition. Any soccer team that needs a vision / mission statement is in serious trouble! Obviously, a church is far more complex than a soccer team. Its purpose is multi-faceted, its mission is complex, and, I concede, congregations need to be given constant reminders, fresh insights and regular practical guidelines to equip them to fulfil the mission that God has called them to. This, of course, is one of the purposes of preaching. But I question whether simplistic, cutesy vision / mission statements really achieve anything and, worse, whether they are actually detrimental.
Here are my concerns:
- They are based on secular business philosophies. Church vision / mission statements are an adaptation of the business strategies of the same name that swept the world in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Church vision / mission statements didn’t arise from in-depth study of the scriptures. Nor did they come about because of divine revelation. They were introduced to church life because church leaders wanted to copy the strategic business models of successful companies and businesses in the secular world. As a result, they import a commercial way of thinking into church life. Vision/mission statements can cause us to think of our mission in terms of hitting targets, meeting goals, making a spiritual “profit” (growth), selling a product, meeting local demand etc.
- They assume that branding is necessary. In other words, they assume that it is essential for churches to decide, “What is our particular style as a church? What is our heart? What are we going to specialise in? How are we going to differentiate ourselves from the church down the road?” This can result in churches effectively defining themselves as, “We are going to be a church that focuses on love”, or “We are going to focus on evangelism”, or “We are going to focus on social justice”, or “We are going to focus on teaching and truth”. The problem is, I don’t see the New Testament urging individual churches to specialise or to concentrate on some ministry areas at the expense of others. As far as I can discern, the New Testament urges all Christians and all churches to implement God’s whole mission to the best of their ability. Obviously, different churches will be stronger in some areas than others, and the same church will have different strengths in different periods of its existence. This is natural. But to define one’s church by intentionally articulating a specialised focus, necessarily limits its scope of reference, both now and into the future. Mark Woods, in his article in Christianity Today, entitled, “Does Your Church Need A Mission Statement: Why You’re Better Off Without One”, states, “The trouble with statements that define what you are, is that they also define what you aren’t”. 
- No vision / mission statement effectively encapsulates the whole mission of God. If a church’s goal is to attempt to summarise the whole mission of God in a few cute sentences, it is always going to be inadequate and possibly even misleading in its omissions. Here are a few examples of vision statements from the internet:
“Our church exists to love God and love people”. What about evangelism? Plenty of liberal churches who negate the need for evangelism could happily adopt this vision.
“Proclaiming God’s truth to the world”. What about loving and caring for people? Or is this church only concerned with proclamation and didactic teaching?
“To make believers out of unbelievers and disciples out of believers”. This isn’t bad, but like all vision statements, it’s brevity leaves all sorts of omissions and misinterpretations possible. For example, what about loving people and caring compassionately for the needy, even if they aren’t interested in becoming a “believer”?
The point is, God’s mission for his church is too complex and multi-faceted to be condensed into a brief, pithy statement. If I am asked what would make a good vision / mission statement for a church, my response is simple: The Bible is my vision statement. The whole of God’s Word is my mission statement. It took God 66 books to convey his mission to us; what makes us think we can effectively condense it to a few sentences that we can magnetise to our fridges?
- Most vision / mission statements quickly fall into disuse. Very quickly, no one notices them anymore. Your church vision / mission document, the one that took months of brainstorming and workshopping and hundreds or even thousands of person-hours and a large chunk of money to develop, now probably sits in the bottom of your drawer, seldom looked at. The harsh reality is that, in most churches, when church members are surveyed 12 months later, almost no one can recite their vision or mission statements, and those statements have made little, if any, impact on the various ministries of the church. Can you recite your vision statement? What impact has it had on your ministry area?
Churches that spend months formulating vision and mission statements can walk away from the process believing that they have achieved something of significance, when all they have done is put a bunch of words on paper; words which may even be limiting and misleading. Jesus isn’t particularly concerned with what words we have typed onto a piece of paper, no matter how professionally produced the document is. He is concerned about whether we are loving, obeying and serving him in practice. Next time I am invited to a church meeting to formulate a new vision statement, I think I will stay home and invite my neighbour over for a meal, in the hope of sharing my faith with him.
 Christianity Today, Wednesday 16th August, 2017.