Does your church need a mission statement? Why you're better off without one

Church mission statements. You've got to have one because – well, you just do. Everyone's got one, so it must be right.

'Leading people to experience a God-First Life.'

'Connecting people to Jesus and one another.'

'Helping people find their way back to God.'

Do churches really need mission statements?Pixabay

These examples are from a list put together in 2013 by I don't know how many of them have stood the test of time, but is it terribly unspiritual of me to say they just leave me yawning?

And is it just too antique of me to question the whole idea?

Here's the thing. I think the fashion for mission statements is fundamentally secular. I think it imports a commercial way of thinking into the life of the church. It sees a church as something that has to achieve and hit targets. It implies a congregation needs to make a profit, not necessarily financially but spiritually, in a way that can be measured against a goal.

The idea is to encourage people to judge their Christian life and the activity of their church against a particular standard. The implication is that if you aren't meeting it, you aren't measuring up.

Does this drama club help with 'Reaching people with the life-giving message of Jesus'? No? Too bad.

And how exactly is this toddler group helping to 'revive believers and renew culture'?

A mission statement is about customer service or how to achieve the bottom line.

It's not even necessarily evangelistic, either – it serves more to distinguish our own congregation from the one down the road.

But does branding really have to be part of church life?

Churches are different. Churches are about bringing the whole of life under the Lordship of Christ, not just the bit of it we've decided to focus on. Because Christ was incarnate as a whole human being, with no part of humanity excluded; all human life is his concern, and he has a particular care for the lost, the poor and the broken, who are typically not impressed by shiny logos.

The trouble with statements that define what you are is that they also define what you aren't. A church that says it's all about evangelism is saying it isn't about renewing its community. And a church that says it's about both still isn't talking about discipleship or holiness or culture or any of the other facets of what being a Christian means.

Mission statements that say, 'This is who we are', focus the self-understanding of a church in a way that's exclusive and counter-productive. They close down debate and quench the Spirit in the interests of managerial tidiness.

The real Christian world is much messier than that. God presents us with people who don't fit into our pre-planned grids. He disturbs our programmes and ruffles our sleek theological feathers. He laughs at our plans. 

The best branding for a church is that it is – a church.  

Now, I admit it, I'm over-stating the case – just a little. I know lots of churches just do this because it's the thing to do; it's part of the design furniture and it doesn't really register in its daily life. And  I can see how sometimes, for a brief season in a church's life, it might help to say, 'This is what we're going to focus on.' But once it's fixed, as a letterhead, on the signboards, on the notice sheet, in the brain, and if it really does shape how the church sees itself and what it's called to do, it can become idolatry. Christ defines us, not a branding committee – and Jesus said, 'If anyone wants to follow me, let them take up their cross and follow me.'

'Crucified daily with Christ' – now there's a mission statement. Anyone? No?

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods