The Pros and Cons of Mission Statements

Some organizations have Mission Statements. Others have a mission. Some churches have Vision Statements. Other have a vision.

I’ve been closely associated with both groups. Guess which one had better clarity and a more engaging and well-defined culture? If you guessed the one with a mission, the one with a vision, you’re right.

Don’t misunderstand. Mission Statements are good. They’re helpful. A clear Vision Statement helps define reality and keeps an organization on track. There are good things about these kinds of statements. But there are also some drawbacks.

Here are the pros and cons of Mission and Vision Statements.

Pro: Canonization  
To “canonize” something means to make it official. The Bible has a canon. The pages of Scripture we read in our Bibles today were deemed “canon.” Thus, we know that they are reliable. Star Wars has a canon. Those books, movies and stories were deemed official by Disney and Lucas Films, Inc.

While they may not use this terminology, some churches have official (canon) statements. Statements of Faith. Vision Statements. Mission Statements. As previously stated, these are not bad. They serve to clarify goals, guide decisions, and motivate people to action. That’s all good.

The problem is when that’s all a church has. If a church has a Mission Statement that no one knows, they probably drifted from their mission. If they have a Vision Statement that no one sees or hears, they most likely lack vision. And “where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).

Con: Formalization

The problem lies in the formalization of these statements. Formal things rarely get used.

Years ago, my wife and I spent many, many hours picking our formal China for our wedding registry. We had numerous conversations about it. A few of them were tense. We considered countless place setting options and finally we reached a compromise. (Although, it wasn’t really a compromise. I got my choice. I told her she could have her way on something else.)

And guess what? We rarely use our China! It’s too formal. It’s too special. It might break. So, it sits on a shelf on our China Cabinet, unused, unacknowledged, and essentially forgotten.

And that’s the problem with Mission Statements and Vision Statements. They rarely get used. As pastor and author Andy Stanley said, “It doesn’t matter what’s hanging on the wall, if it’s not happening down the hall.” His meaning is that if people don’t know the statements, if they’re just a formal piece of paper in a larger document or a fancy picture hanging on a wall somewhere in the church building, they will never be used. They will never motivate us. They will never inform our ideas. They’re essentially useless.

A Concluding Thought: Watch Your Verbiage

As a Church Consultant, I don’t want to hear a church’s Mission Statement. I want to hear their mission. I want to hear their vision.

If a church leader (Pastor or Elder) tells me, “Here’s our Mission Statement,” they probably had to look it up. If they tell me, “Here’s our mission,” I know they know it. They live it. They breathe it.

So, if you are a leader in a church or part of a leadership group responsible for making decisions, here’s some advice. Stop calling them Mission Statements. Do away with the phrase Vision Statements.

Instead, replace them with “your mission.” Restore “your vision.” Create a culture where, if they cut you, you bleed your mission. One where you breathe your vision with every breath you take. It won’t happen overnight. It will take time. But having a clear and compelling vision, a passionate and motivating mission are significantly more important than having Mission Statements and Vision Statements. The actual thing is vastly more important than a statement about the thing.