Big churches need bold mission statements.
Small churches? Not so much.
If a small church has a mission statement, it’s probably because a church growth expert said you needed one. But it’s unlikely that having a mission statement has changed anything for the church, and today it’s hard to find anyone who can recite it from memory.
This is not because small churches are broken or lazy. It’s not because there’s anything wrong about churches of any size – or mission statements. It has more to do with the fact that big churches and small churches operate under entirely different sets of presumptions.
Big churches need clear mission statements, regularly repeated, taught and reinforced because the pastor or a pastoral representative cannot be physically present at most events or ministries.
Because of their size, big churches need a clear mission statement that every pastor, leader and member agrees upon. This keeps them on task together, even when they’re not all together.
Also, as new people come in, sometimes by the dozens or hundreds, a big church needs a clear up-front understanding of what the church believes and doesn’t believe.
Before people can even take the time to develop deep friendships, a clear mission statement can let a prospective member know what they’re signing up for and get inspired by it.
Small Churches Are Bound By Relationship, Not Statements
In a small church – especially under 100 – a mission statement isn’t needed as much. And it may not even be helpful. The smaller the church, the more likely the pastor and other church leaders, like a staff member, elder or deacon, will be present at all or most events and ministries.
So why not have a mission statement at a small church, anyway? There’s nothing wrong with that – usually. If it helps everyone clarify their common purpose, great! But sometimes a mission statement can do more harm than good in a smaller congregation.
First, most mission statements aren’t necessarily what God wants the church to do as much as what the pastor wants the church to do. And with the high pastoral turnaround that’s typical in smaller churches, it can be de-stabilizing when every new pastor arrives with yet another new mission.
Second, in a smaller church, instead of uniting people, a mission statement can feel controlling and manipulative.
“Who does this new pastor think he/she is? We’ve been operating just fine for decades with no mission statement other than the Great Commandment and Great Commission. Why, all of a sudden, do we need one that rhymes?”
Certainly, that kind of resistance may come from stubbornness, but not necessarily.
In a big church, a clear pastor-driven statement is helpful, because it unites people. But in a small church, where they operate more on the basis of relationships, a pastor-led vision often leaves other leaders feeling marginalized.
What Is a Mission Statement Supposed To Do?
To Mission Statement, or not to Mission Statement? That is the question.
The answer? Ask what a mission statement is meant to accomplish.
Simply put, a good mission statement unites people around a common purpose. So if your church needs one to rally around, or if it already has one that unites and motivates people, great!
But if trying to implement a new mission statement is dividing church members instead of uniting them, don’t do it.
Also, if the church is already united around a common purpose without having a mission statement other than the Great Commandment and Great Commission, you don’t need one.
A mature church leader always remembers this: a great mission is more important than a unique mission statement.
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