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Missions and Mission Statements -- Helping Parishes Engage with Their Future
One important session at the 2017 Small Parish Forum dealt with "Engaging with Our Future: Mission, Values, Identity". The session explored what a parish mission statement is, what it looks like and offered examples of effective and less effective mission statements.
 
Answer Important Questions
One quality of good Mission Statements is that they answer important questions.
Four in particular:
  • Why do we (our parish) exist?
  • How do we understand ourselves?
  • Who do we serve? Past, present and future “stakeholders”
  • What (jobs) does God want us to do? What outcomes do we strive to achieve? Bring people to Christ? Know God? Transform lives? (Deciding on “how” to achieve these outcomes is a different conversation.)
After sharing a few mission statement fundamentals, attendees were then challenged to create a mission statement for a hypothetical small parish. After breaking into groups of six or seven, attendees were surprised at their ability to create a useful first draft mission statement in less than 30 minutes.
 
A Statement of Purpose
But what value is such a statement? The mission statement’s basic role is to serve as a statement of purpose for the parish. While this may seem unnecessary to some (“Who doesn’t know what the purpose of a church is?”), our experience is that writing this down, particularly for many ‘heritage parishes’ which have never quite made the transition “from culture to gospel”, generates important conversations which help to align differing perspectives. While admittedly the exercise of creating a mission statement can sometimes be a waste of time, many parishes tell us that the written statement focuses decision making and centers parish activities.
 
Using the Mission Statement
The reason that many mission statement exercises seem to fall short is that the resultant statement gets put in a drawer never to be seen again. The people that helped to create it learned something but the product of their discussion is soon forgotten. The parish returns to business as usual. And the statement generating effort may have wasted time. The trick, then, is to use the statement.
 
Ways to use a mission statement might include:
1.   Display It
Put it on the wall in social areas. True eventually people will no longer notice it but it may well support useful conversations. (As in, “Why do we have this here if we don’t do it? Shouldn’t our actions reveal this mission?”)
 
2.   Feature It
Include the statement, or a brief encapsulation, on parish letter head and website.
 
3.   Remind
Repeat it often in parish bulletins and with occasional reflective articles to bring the mission to top of mind. ("People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed." C.S. Lewis.)
 
4.   Introduce
Include it in introductory materials such as new member packets. (New Member? What’s that? "New Member packet”? You must be kidding?)
 
5.   Focus
Include it in a sidebar box on the agenda for every parish council meeting? Add a reflective question for Parish Council meetings:
  • Is everything we are discussing in support of our parish purpose and mission?
  • How can we make our efforts better reflect the parish mission?
  • What aspects of our mission do we never seem to get around to discussing? Why?
  • Can we stop doing some things --and better support our mission?
6.   Context for Looking Backward
Review your parish calendar for the past year. What calendar items do not fit with our mission? Can these events be adapted to improve the fit with the mission? Is it time for these activities to be retired? What aspects of our mission seem to be missing from the parish events and activities?
 
7.   Context for Spending
Review your parish budget. Does the budget reflect the mission? Are there aspects of the mission that deserve a bigger portion of the budget?
 
Your Challenge from this Article
Take one action to improve/clarify your parish'sense of purpose and vision --and the way you live out that vision.