What is a mission filter?

November 11th, 2020

In your organization, how do you know that you are on mission? Are the activities, projects and initiatives of your organization focused on your “why”? How do you know? When someone has an idea, what process determines if it’s a “good” idea?

What if your organization had a filter for planning and decision-making? What if your leaders had a question they could ask their teams to keep the brainstorming process focused on the “why”? What if, when tensions rise and ideas compete, leaders could utilize a mission filter to redirect the attention of the group?

For a church or faith-based organization, a mission filter is a self-monitoring tool that gives leaders the ability to test their systems for engaging and serving people beyond their walls. Much like dredging gold from a mountain stream, the mission filter separates and sifts the pay dirt potential, gold-rich materials from the much weightier gold found in the gold box.

A church’s mission filter must be more than a mission statement posted on a wall. The power in a mission statement is the action that is executed by a disciple to motivate people to follow Jesus and to become more like Jesus. Most church mission statements are a derivative or some variation of the Great Commission cited in Matthew 28: 18-20.

A mission statement defines the purpose of “why.” Go to almost any website of a church, faith-based organization or company and you will find a webpage dedicated to a mission statement. But who is that mission statement for? The viewers? The clients? The customers? The guests? Shouldn’t the mission statement be for the interest and work of the players on the inside of the organization? So they will get it right by starting and sustaining their activity by knowing and living their “why” — their purpose — their reason they do what they do?

An example is the mission statement of Scott City Elementary School in rural southeast Missouri. Their mission statement is long and difficult to memorize or quickly recall. But they have a shorthand way of expressing it that is not for the use or consumption of the public but is for internal use by faculty and administration. It reads: “We do what’s best for kids.” This brief statement leads someone to ask questions through that filter. Does the change in food service help us “do what’s best for kids”? Will requiring masks by all people within our walls help us “do what’s best for kids”? This filter allows for daily decisions to be made that do not stray from the mission.

What good is it for a church or an organization to have a neatly-worded mission statement when the system is teeming with distractions and retractions instead of solid decision-making? No organization can match the powerful combination of a laser-focus on the mission and a volunteer capacity that sends every idea, every distraction, every retraction, through a filter before a decision is made. Then, the mission thrives because good ideas and bad ideas are mission filtered to be consistent with the “why” your church or organization is in business. And the more we can do to protect the mission or the “why,” the more we can promote the good news we have for future generations. 

The mission filter should evoke emotion, make the “why” apparent and keep everyone on mission. Leaders are frustrated being hit with lots of ideas and opinions from all directions all the time. “Just because someone else is doing it” is not a mission-focused path. The mission filter evokes emotion because we are doing together what we said we would do in the beginning. Mission effectiveness happens when taking everything through the filter becomes second nature. It is the leaders’ obligation and responsibility to keep the “why” present and active before the church or organization. This provides assurance that we have effectively worked the steps of decisions or solved the problem the way we planned. That keeps decisions from being transactional. Instead, they become transformative.

Finally, a mission filter is not an event, exercise or an intervention. That is not enough because it is usually short-term. The filtering of ideas that leads to effective mission is an ongoing practice that should be a part of every meeting, every planning session, every decision and every problem-solving effort. Wouldn’t you like to see that happen in your church? 

This article is adapted from a forthcoming book, The Mission Filter by Barry E. Winders; Copyright © 2020 Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without written permission from the publisher. 

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