Clarifying Church Growth Terminology

During the past twenty-five years many books have been written, sermons preached, and seminars given about the mission, vision and values of the church. I’ve read, listened to, and attended many of them. And I’ve received practical advice, useful tools and helpful tips that serve to define the mission of the church. The only problem is that no one seems to define things the same way.

thesaurusSome experts even use the same definition to describe different words, creating confusion rather than clarity. The paragraphs that follow will define several important words that will bring clarity in your efforts to lead your church. Here are seven definitions of critical terms for you to consider.

Foundational Beliefs
Someone once said, “A belief is what you hold. A conviction is what holds you.” Foundational beliefs are stronger than regular beliefs. They are convictions. Some churches have different levels of beliefs. They separate them into discuss, defend, and die for beliefs. Your foundational beliefs are essential to your church paradigm. They define what you believe, and what you’ll die for.

Core Values
If foundational beliefs define what you believe, core values define who you are. For example, I am a beloved child of God, a husband, father and a pastor. At my funeral, people will hopefully speak of what I valued, not so much of what I did. Values describe what’s really important. So a church’s core values describe what’s fundamentally important to your church.

Mission and Purpose
Mission and purpose are closely related, yet fundamentally different. A church’s purpose is not to accomplish its mission. Your mission is what you do. Your purpose is why you exist. Purpose always precedes mission.

The mission of a food processor is to chop food. That’s what it does. But why does it exist? What’s its purpose? It exists because chunky food needs chopping. The answer to why do we exist (purpose) should always begin with the word, “because…”, and speak to a significant, current reality that needs to be addressed. The answer to what do we do (mission) should always begin with the word “to…”, and relate an imperative action that needs to be taken.

Vision is a clear, mental picture of a preferable future. It’s a visual word. It’s a future word. Vision is inspiring. It’s what drives you and motivates you to action. Churches don’t need a vision statement. Churches need a vision. A vision can be a statement, like North Point’s vision: to create a church that unchurched people love to attend. But it doesn’t have to be a statement. It can be a song. It can be a concept. It can be a culture. Whatever your vision is, it has to be clear. And it has to be inspiring.

Once you know your mission and purpose, you can then focus on strategies. Strategies are how you will accomplish your mission. It’s important to remember that strategies change. Mission and purpose rarely do. No single strategy works in all situations. A small, rural church in Idaho may use different strategies than a large, multi-site, megachurch in Cincinnati. And that’s ok, as long as they accomplish the stated mission. When strategies don’t work, they need to be replaced with ones that do.

Goals are how success is measured. Churches can measure goals against their mission, or their values. They can ask, did we accomplish our stated mission? Or ask, are we becoming more of what we value? Either way, goals are tools that should challenge, stretch, and motivate us. Will we accomplish all of our goals? Probably not. Will we accomplish more than if we had no goals at all? Most likely. Remember, goals are tools to use to increase effectiveness.

These definitions may be different than what you’ve heard in the past. The critical point is not that you agree with them. Rather, it’s that the leaders of your church come together and wrestle through this topic, resulting in their own definitions. Agreeing on these definitions will be essential for alignment, crucial for clarity, and vital for effective church leadership.