At least among many of the leaders in the Christian church in this country there is a sense that something is not quite right, or perhaps even terribly wrong. At a time when millions of Americans are seeking spiritual renewal the church is being abandoned. The church seems increasingly irrelevant to the lives of many. Surely, few would argue that the church has lost much of its influence in society. Over the years my own denomination has shuffled the chairs on the deck numerous times trying to revitalize our churches. There is currently a great deal of debate about proposed changes at the upcoming General Conference. Unfortunately, none of the changes over the years has stopped the bleeding and I see no current proposals that will do so.
What is really needed is actually quite easy to explicate. The problem is, it is extremely difficult to implement. The idea is simple but to deploy the idea requires a major paradigm shift. And it’s not that we don’t know the answer. We talk about it all the time. We give it relentless lip service.
What we need to revitalize our churches is a constant focus on our mission. Unlike the early years of my ministry, most churches today have a mission statement. If not their own, they claim their denomination’s. The United Methodist Church, for example, has a great mission statement: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The problem is that we write these statements but our members do not “own” these statements. Most members of most churches couldn’t quote their mission statement if their lives depended upon it. But even familiarity with the statement doesn’t mean the members really accept it as their mission. Unless church members, especially its leaders, “own” the statement and are guided by it when making decisions, a mission statement isn’t worth the ink used to record it.
The church’s mission is given to us by God. Each church can decide exactly how they will state the mission, but our mission is made clear in Matthew 28:19-20a. We call it the Great Commission. “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you” (CEB). While the mission is given to us by God we must constantly keep this before our congregation, frequently proclaiming and teaching its centrality.
Use the mission statement to guide decision-making. This cannot be emphasized too much. A mission statement filed in a drawer or even hanging on a wall and printed on the front of your Sunday’s bulletin, is useless unless it is utilized in planning and decision-making. This is where the rubber hits the road. It’s also where most churches end up taking the familiar road rather than the less traveled road that leads to the accomplished mission given to us by God.
Most churches are engaged in a lot of wonderful activities. The question that should be asked of each is, “How much does this activity contribute to our mission?” and “Could we use our invested time, talent, and treasure more effectively in some other way?” A mission statement, when actually used is the best tool we have to set proper priorities. Churches who use this tool make more disciples and do more to transform the world.