The Value of Mission Statements

The Value of Mission Statements
Last week when I wrote about the problem with jargon, I got one of two responses:  “You are an idiot” or “You should be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.”  Perhaps they didn’t state it quite that way, but I can read between the lines.

In the off-chance that you did not memorize last week’s blog, one of the examples I used of a catch phrase that has become jargon was the mission statement of The United Methodist Church:  “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  In response to that, one gentle reader replied swiftly: Bashing the mission statement? Really? I think you could have come up with a better example.” Another said, Do we really want to back away from thematic statements that define our purpose?”

Please let me be clear, I really, really LOVE the mission statement of The United Methodist Church. It is inspiring – and perhaps more amazingly, it’s easy to remember.  But, there are some problems with it – and it’s not in the statement itself, it’s how it is being used.
Here are the plusses of a mission statement:
1.  Done correctly, coming up with a mission statement can help you focus on who you are and why you exist.
2.  Creating the statement is not and should not be a solo act – it needs to be done in community with as many voices in the initial stages as possible.  That way everyone owns it.
3.  It is inspirational and aspirational.  It’s not merely a statement of fact (e.g., “We serve as a mainline presence in our community.”) but serves as a testament of where you want to be (e.g., see The UMC mission statement).

Here is the minus:
When a mission statement has been adopted, and all the initial hoopla is over, it will lose its meaning and relevance if it just sits on a shelf.  A good mission statement is a living, (jargon alert!) organic set of words that gets discussed and debated. 
Despite the fact that I love The UMC mission statement, I have seen plenty of eyes roll when people are asked to repeat it.  For many the statement has lost its significance. Here’s how you can bring your mission statement back to life: 
1. Preach a sermon on it.
2. Host a study on what the words mean and how they might prompt your congregation to take action.
3. Discuss it on a regular basis at your leadership meetings – how are you living out your mission?  Are you missing the mark anywhere?
So hear me loud and clear – there is a place for mission statements – in particular ones that are inspirational, aspirational, and keep you working with its meaning and its purpose for your congregation.  If it’s not doing those things, banish that meaningless mantra to the great by and by.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past decade, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over $2 million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. She served as the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012. She LOVES the mission statement of The UMC.   Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation. You can reach her at inspiringgenerosity@gmail.com.
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Cesie Delve Scheuermann
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.