Too much on the menu: When churches lack a clear mission

March 9th, 2015

There used to be an Asian restaurant in Santa Barbara with a menu consisting of Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Korean cuisine. That's a lot of different styles of food for one restaurant to serve. Just because it's "Asian" doesn't mean it's all the same. We'd only stop by when we were desperate for a certain Korean dish. And the food? It was average at best. Most of the time, we instantly regretted our decision to go there.

This restaurant eventually went out of business. And I always wondered, why not just pick one of the cultures? Why try to do so many different styles of food? Maybe they could've done Chinese food really well instead of teaching their cooks to prepare all sorts of different genres of Asian cuisine with average results at best.

But many churches operate like this.

I knew a church whose mission statement was so long that it filled up an entire brochure, and because of its length, no one really knew what the mission of the church was. So if you asked church members, "What is your church about?" or "What does your church do?" you'd get varying answers depending on who you asked — oftentimes contradicting answers.

Every time there was a change of leadership (and not just a pastoral change), the mission and purpose of the church would change to reflect the heart of the person/people in charge.

When this happens, a church begins to have multiple personalities, if you will. Rather than having the members of the church uniting under one vision and mission, the church is spread thin by trying to accommodate everyone's passion and calling. So instead of doing a few ministries well, it does many ministries with average results (and often with average efforts).

Having too much on the menu can overwhelm a church's resources. You have unpaid servants serving on five different ministries. The budget is supporting more ministries and programs than it can handle. People are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of committees they can serve on. At some point, there are more committees, programs and ministries than there are resources to support them.

I'm in agreement with leaders like Adam Hamilton and Andy Stanley when it comes to mission statements for the church. Instead of the church trying to accommodate everyone's calling, the people should be united under the mission statement of the church. Their passion and calling should be guided by what God is calling the overall church to do and be. The mission statement should be short and easy enough to be remembered by everyone, from children to the elderly. All of the church's resources should be geared toward living out that mission statement.

Anything that doesn't fit our mission, we simply don't do it. It gives the leadership more room and confidence to say "no" to (the often crazy) ideas that are brought forth.

For instance, Andy Stanley's church's (Northpoint) mission statement is: to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

If that was your mission statement and someone came up to you and said, "I want to host weekly meetings for Bronies of our church. I want the church to put it in the bulletin and I want to use classroom 7 every Thursday at 5pm for this group. If it's not too much, I'd also would like the church to provide light refreshments, or at the least give us access to the kitchen." (Bronies are grown men who collect My Little Pony figures.)

Instead of flatly saying "no" or feeling bullied into saying yes because the person asking is your chairperson of Trustees, you can simply push back. "How does that fit into our mission? How does your group lead people into a growing relationship of Christ?"

Of course, they can always come up with an answer, but at the least you're getting people to frame their thoughts, ideas, and requests with the overall mission of the church — something that doesn't happen in many of our churches.

Here's a fun exercise: Start asking random members of your church, "What is our church's purpose?" And see what their responses are. If answers are all over the map, then it might be worthwhile to have a vision retreat with your leadership team (or your entire church if your church is small like ours) and prayerfully seek and discern what God is calling your church to do/be for your overall community. It will take a lot of effort, time, energy and training for your church to actually live out your mission statement. But I believe that it'll only make your church stronger and better in fulfilling God's purpose for you.

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