Mission and Mission Statements – Important Distinctions
“Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Philippians 2:2)
The mission is the purpose for which the parish exists. The mission statement is the the description of the purpose in clear and compelling language. So working on the mission statement is about sharpening the language so the parish can work more closely together on fulfilling its purpose.
Many parishes, perhaps even most parishes, do not have mission statements even though it is a common topic and fairly universal in the nonprofit community. For parishes that do have them, when the question of the mission statement comes up with a parish council, sometimes groans and complaints are heard.
“We don’t want to get bogged down in wordsmithing; we have more important issues to deal with.”
“We all know why we’re here; let’s figure out how to do our work better.”
“We worked on that two years ago and gave up because it was a pointless waste of time. Why should we get into that again?”
“So what is the point of a mission statement? Is it just something you’re supposed to have somewhere for appearance sake and move on to more important things? Is it really worth more time and effort to re-examine?”
The truth is a mission statement is a fundamental tool of strategy, focus, outreach and identity. It provides the shortest route to the goal of parish life, because without it the leadership, the parish council and parishioners do not collectively know what the goal is.
If this is doubted, at a future parish council meeting distribute 3 x 5 cards and ask each person to write down in one sentence their understanding of what the mission of the parish is. Collect the cards and anonymously read the results aloud. Occasionally, people are fairly near the mark but often they are all over the map – and these are parish council members!
What is the difference between mission and a mission statement? The mission is the reason the parish exists. If the parish is to effectively fulfill the reason or purpose that it exists then this needs to be shared with those and by those who lead, govern, manage, work within, volunteer for, financial support and otherwise have some level of ownership or sense of belonging to the parish.
Unless the mission is expressed clearly there is no way that everyone involved will have the same understanding of it and be able to work most effectively toward it together. This overarching goal validates the need for the mission statement. The purpose of the mission statement is to articulate in clear and compelling language the essence of why the parish exists. Without articulation, then it’s very likely that the mission is unfocused and highly subjective – just a cloud assumptions.
So, when people advocate working on the mission statement, what they mean is: let’s sharpen what we say about our purpose so that we can work more effectively together to achieve it, and draw more people into our fold to support it.
A mission statement is identity and positioning. It differentiates the parish from other faith communities that may do similar work. It captures most compellingly the case for support. It creates awareness for the mission and it focuses that awareness on the church. It unifies communications so that when people hear about the parish from any source, the message is the same and reinforces what they heard before.
A number of years ago a priest was serving on a panel discussion of pastors of other expressions of Christianity. The moderator addressed the priest with this request, “Father, tell us about your denomination.” After pausing for a moment the priest responded, “The Orthodox church is pre-denominational.” This is not suggested as a mission statement, but perhaps the point is clear. He immediately succeeded in differentiating and therefore, positioning Orthodoxy in a rather unique and attractive way. But this is a subject of another paper – “Why Orthodoxy?” and “How well are we articulating this?”
A mission statement is a generative tool for clarity and focus. First, through that maligned process of wordsmithing, the discussion itself will raise important questions of intention and priority. If the discussion is difficult, that may suggest there is a need to resolve some differences of direction. If well-orchestrated, the discussion will be neither interminable nor tedious, but contained, validating and invigorating.
Once the statement is written and accepted, it will remind leaders of what is most important and distinctive about this faith community as an Orthodox parish. It will help parishioners to be clear about what they’re involved in and to stay focused. It will help them avoid disappointment that the parish is not doing things they value individually, but are outside the purview of the mission.
The mission statement also helps you to structure the strategic planning process. Once again, the mission statement expresses the purpose for which the parish exists. A strategic plan is a tool for fulfilling the mission. The strategic planning processes starts from the mission statement and lays out broad mission-based goals, more specific supporting objectives, and measurable actions.
When the mission statement is clear and robust enough to serve as a solid foundation for a strategic plan, and every action can be traced back by steps of what is necessary and sufficient through objectives and goals to the mission, then it has truly served a useful purpose.
Without this linkage of actions to mission, how is a parish to determine what actions to take to support the church, much less make a compelling case for the plan as a whole?
Finally, this approach allows the parish to develop, evaluate and rank metrics for tracking the plan and holding everyone to account for its—and the parish’s—progress toward fulfilling its mission. A mission and the broad goals that fall under it are qualitative statements about what is important to the parish and its parishioners. They are not measurable directly. However, with a firm logical link from mission down to measurable actions, there will be quantitative measures that indicate progress toward a qualitative mission.
Here are some suggestions for drafting a mission statement:
Keep it to one sentence. If it is to serve the purposes described above, it needs to be memorable. How many senior staff and parish council members can recite your mission from memory? If they can, the statement is more likely to do its job of defining, differentiating, identifying and supporting internal consensus and focus.
What’s in, what’s out
A mission statement should be about why the parish exists. It can address what the parish is, but should avoid getting into what it does. There is plenty of room for that information—and more—on the same page with the mission. That’s where statements of vision, values, principles and means appear. That way the compelling power of the mission statement as a tightly worded tool remains intact.
In an age of hyperbole it can be hard to avoid aspiring to be the best in the country or the world at something. Identify best practices, for sure, but it can be much more effective to focus on the local environment than on greatness.
Don’t be afraid to test the mission statement. If it’s been revised in the early stages of a planning process, check it against the plan at the end. Does the knowledge acquired during the process suggest it needs a tweak? While mission statements should have a longer shelf life than any of the more specific elements of programs, operations, or strategic goals, that doesn’t mean they can’t be modified or refined from time to time. It’s also good to test the elements of the mission statement in parishioner surveys. It may be discovered that the responses show a need to clarify the mission and specific positioning of the parish. If that is the case, the result will be better understanding, loyalty and support.