Monday, March 30, 2015

Does Your Church Need a Mission?

Chris with Reggie McNeal, 
author of Misisonal Renaissance
The answer may surprise you

This semester I have been working at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Poway as my field study. Like the Cathedral, they are a wonderful, vibrant, friendly church. Interestingly, they both recently revised their mission statements as part of their respective strategic planning processes. And while some will roll their eyes at the mention of mission statements -- having spent time on committees painstakingly developing them only to see them gather dust on a shelf somewhere -- I am a believer in them. Having a clear sense of mission and purpose is vital to a growing, energized congregation. A recent study by The Episcopal Church, for example, showed that one of the most important factors in church growth is a clear sense of mission and purpose.

So what’s the problem you ask?

Well, not so much a problem as a question. And that is, how do we square our need for a mission with what our friends in the ‘missional church’ movement, such as Reggie McNeal, author of Missional Renaissance, who argue that missional churches really don’t. Reggie would say that it is actually God who has the mission and it’s the church’s function to discover and participate in it. “We have thought we were about building the church and inviting people to participate in it as the doorway into the kingdom of God. That is, we've thought that the church had a mission. The truth is that God's mission has a church. It's His Mission, not ours.” As a result, we spend a great deal of our efforts trying to get God and people interested in the programs and ministries that we are offering, instead of discovering and engaging in what God is already doing. “We try to get God to fall in love with our efforts, when we need to fall in love with his mission. We consider ‘children's ministry’ inside our walls, so we're so busy doing that, but we don't worry about the low reading levels of 3rd graders in our community.”

I have to say that I am sympathetic to that argument. As much as I think that a sense of purpose and direction that comes from a mission statement is useful to a growing, energized congregation, a sense of mission does not necessarily make one a “missional” congregation.  Missional congregations do ministry with the community rather than merely for.  We can do church really well, without necessarily doing God’s mission. We can have a successful, growing church, without making disciples. In short, we can build congregations while failing to make a difference.

The Diocese of Connecticut obviously got the memo. Here’s their “mission statement”:
(Short version)

God's mission is the restoration and reconciliation of all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. It includes care for God's creation.
(100 word version)
God loved into creation - the universe, earth, humanity. It was diverse, and it was good. Human sin entered and distorted our relationship with God, one another, and creation. God yearns to make all whole again. This is God's mission. God chose and liberated a people, sent the law and the prophets. God came in Jesus, fully human and fully divine. In Jesus' life, death and resurrection we are restored to unity with God and each other. God sent the Holy Spirit, empowering the Body of Christ. God co-missions us in baptism to participate in God's mission of restoration and reconciliation. 
We participate by learning what God is already up to, and joining that. 
1. We read the Bible to see what God has done, and continues to do.
2. We talk to neighbors and leaders and others, sometimes holding meetings to listen.
3. We take stock of our gifts and talents, in light of what we've learned.
4. We (prayerfully) go out from where we are to join God's mission.
(I added 'prayerfully.')

I think they are onto something here. What do you think? Are we agenda driven? Or are we in tune with God’s agenda? Do our mission statements and the goals and objectives they spin off reflect an inward or an outward focus? How do we know? Was the community at the table when we developed them? Were they part of the process? If you read your church’s mission statement to your neighbors would they get excited about it? If we were to achieve our mission, would anyone in the community know – or care? Would God?

Interesting questions to test your statements against. Even more interesting might be the answers.

Chris Harris is Canon for Congregational Development at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral and postulant for holy orders. His passion is helping people integrate their faith and a sense of call into all aspects of their lives -- workplace, finances and relationships -- while designing a life of purpose and mission. He can be reached at or connect with him on Facebook

 Read the whole series here


Hannah Wilder said...

Good food for thought, Chris. Here's my question for you: What do you think of the diocesan mission statement: Undeterred by borders or barriers, we are pilgrims with Jesus in relentlessly searching for others to befriend, know and invite to Christ's Eucharistic table of reconciliation and sacrificial love.


Chris Harris said...

I like it! I think Reggie might as well as the 'relentlessly searching' sounds like relentlessly entering into the community to discover and engage with God's mission of reconciliation.

One question for you, who is the WE in that statement?