October 5, 2022

You Don’t Need a Mission Statement – Episode 265 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

you dont need a mission statement

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4 things churches don’t need, and what they really need instead (Part 1)

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When The Unstuck Group first began, most churches reached out to us because they wanted to clarify their mission, vision, and values. And in many cases, they were right—there were certainly some gaps in those areas that were contributing to their “stuckness.” 

However, we learned that just clarifying mission, vision, and value statements and running an improved version of the same old playbook for reach and spiritual formation strategies did not necessarily help churches get unstuck.

It’s possible to have clarity and alignment and still be doing the wrong things to get the results that you want. That’s why, in the next four weeks, I’m going to try to convince you of four things churches don’t need, and what they really need instead. Hopefully I’ll still have a job by the end of it 🙂


Back in the day, we would spend hours with churches crafting their mission statements. But as time went on, we came to realize that having a mission statement on the wall or repeated in Sunday services didn’t help churches experience health.

In other words, it’s possible to have a great mission statement, etch it in stone, ensure that everyone in the congregation knows it… and still be stuck. In this episode, Amy and I will explain:

  • Why churches don’t need a perfect mission statement
  • The importance of knowing your mission field
  • How to know when you’re winning in your mission
  • Two key reflection questions

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You can be a healthy church without a great mission statement, but you can’t be a healthy church without knowing your mission field. [episode 265] #unstuckchurch Share on X Healthy churches think about “who” before “how”—they think about the people they’re trying to reach before their own preferences of ministry strategies. [episode 265] #unstuckchurch Share on X If you don’t know why you’re winning, you might unintentionally drift away from the strategies that are helping you fulfill your mission. [episode 265] #unstuckchurch Share on X You can’t keep using the same ministry strategy and expect different results. Something has to change. [episode 265] #unstuckchurch Share on X It’s possible to have clarity and alignment and still be doing the wrong things to get the results that you want. In other words, alignment isn't the win—more people following Jesus and becoming more like Christ is the win. [episode 265]… Share on X
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This Episode is Sponsored by Planning Center:

Planning Center is all-in-one church management software where you can organize your ministries and give your congregants a place to connect and get involved. With a unified platform of products, you can keep people from falling through the cracks by creating workflows to follow up with first-time guests, accept online donations, and empower your staff and volunteers to run individual ministries smoothly.

Learn what else you can do at planningcenter.com and get a 30-day free trial to start exploring for yourself! 

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Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. Every church has a mission statement, right? But what if the focus on the statement plays a role in churches getting stuck? On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy kick off a new series on why what we sometimes think we need isn’t really a need at all. Before we go there, though, if you’re new to the podcast, head over to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe to get the show notes. Each week, you’ll get resources to go along with that week’s episode, including the Leader Conversation Guide, bonus resources, and access to our podcast resource archive. Again, that’s theunstuckgroup.com/podcast to subscribe. Now, let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation.

Amy (00:54):

Well, Tony, I’m looking at the outline for this new series, and needless to say, I’m intrigued by the direction you’re heading. And if I understand it correctly, you’re gonna try to convince church leaders over the next four weeks that they don’t need a mission statement, that they don’t need a list of core values, they don’t need a vision statement, and they don’t need to improve their evangelism training and Christian education for the people in their congregations. Tony, aren’t those basically all the reasons why a pastor would hire a church consultant? And just asking for a friend, does this director of consulting at a church consulting group need to be looking for another job? Again, I’m just asking for a friend.

Tony (01:34):

All right. So Amy, this will be a fun series, but let me just go back in time a little bit. I launched The Unstuck Group back in 2009, and one of the reasons why we called it The Unstuck Group is because I would have these conversations with pastors and they would describe the challenges that they were experiencing. And I kept on hearing this phrase over and over again. We’re stuck. And so because of that, we’ve just decided we’re going to start a ministry, to churches, to pastors and church leaders to help churches get healthy, to make a greater kingdom impact. And hopefully through that, we would start to see more people following Jesus. And, you know, we started to engage with pastors. We began to address some of the felt needs that they were experiencing, and many times we would hear from them we feel like we need to clarify and align around our mission, our vision, our values, the strategies that we’re engaging. And in many cases, they were right. There were certainly some gaps that were contributing to their stuckness, if you will. However, I also learned that just clarifying mission, vision, and value statements and running an improved version of the same old playbook for reach and spiritual formation strategies did not necessarily help churches get unstuck. Churches may have been more aligned, they may have been more unified, but they weren’t necessarily getting results, and they weren’t getting unstuck. And so, maybe at the front end of this entire series, I can share this key thought, and that is this. It’s possible to have clarity and alignment and still be doing the wrong things to get the results that you want. In other words, alignment isn’t the win, but more people following Jesus and becoming more like Christ, that’s the win. So, for the next four weeks, I thought it might be fun to share maybe what I thought back in 2009 when we started The Unstuck Group, and compare that to what I know today. Or another way of stating it is that I’m going to share the consulting services that I tried to sell to churches in the past, and what churches really need instead. And also, Amy, you can tell your friend that she doesn’t need to be looking for another job. If anything, she probably needs to help that guy who started The Unstuck Group find another job, But all of this, I remember several years ago I was teaching a workshop at a conference for other church leaders. And the name of the workshop was supposed to be, “What to Do If You’re Stuck.” And I was gonna help churches try to become unstuck through the workshop. But they had a big sign on the door leading into the space where the workshop was held. And the sign said this, “What to do if you’re stuck with Tony Morgan.” And this is one of those places where a comma would’ve been really helpful. But when I’m recalling that sign on that workshop, I kind of feel like even now I need to apologize to the pastors that I served back in the early days of our ministry. Unfortunately, I was learning too. You may have been stuck with Tony Morgan back in 2009, and I just wanna apologize today.

Amy (05:12):

Maybe we should put that sign on the show notes for this episode. It’s a good one. Well, again, with that framework for where we’re heading next, I wanna talk about mission statements this week. Tony, can you help us understand why you think churches don’t need mission statements?

Tony (05:28):

Yeah. So let’s start with why organizations develop mission statements in the first place. I mean, part of it is they just want to clarify in writing, why do we exist as an organization? What’s our primary purpose? And for churches, I mean, I would argue in almost every instance, I think it just goes back to the Great Commission. So we’re called to go. We’re called to make disciples. We’re called to baptize them. And what’s crazy, though, is in our old original Unstuck process, we used to include this effort to craft mission statements, and it would take hours and hours of time to help churches with that. And what we saw, of course, is having a mission statement on the wall or repeating it in Sunday services every week, that mission statement didn’t necessarily help churches experience health. In fact, Amy, several years ago I worked with this church. It was a great church, but they had previously gone through an experience where they crafted a mission statement, and then they etched their mission statement in stone in their church atrium. And it was a bit challenging because they were starting to revisit some of the language of their mission statement and considering whether or not there needed to be some adjustment, but that wasn’t the bigger problem, the bigger problem was trying to figure out how are we going to fix what we’ve etched into the stonework in our lobby. And then, kind of related to that, there were some friends that I had in ministry many years ago, and they thought it would be cool to get tattoos of their church’s logo. And so they all went out day one day, and they got these tattoos, and then several years later, they decided to rebrand the church, and they ended up with a new name and a new logo to go with a new name. And so, in both of these instances, these efforts were made to kind of clarify the identity of the church, to clarify this is who we are. And by the way, just side note here, maybe two practical takeaways from today’s episode. Don’t etch your mission statement in stone, and don’t get a tattoo with your church’s logo. So don’t do either of those things. But here’s my point. It’s possible to have a great mission statement and even etch it in stone and ensure that everyone in the congregation knows it and still be stuck as a church. In fact, most of the stuck churches that reached out to us way back in the beginning of what we do at The Unstuck Group, most of those churches, they were stuck, but they had mission statements. So the problem wasn’t the lack of a clear mission statement. Everybody knew why they were engaging their mission. Many times the churches were stuck because of the way that they were engaging their mission, and because of that, they weren’t getting the results that they were hoping for. So through the years, we’ve shifted The Unstuck Process to focus on the way churches need to engage their mission. And let me just give you another example here to maybe reinforce this thinking. Here’s a sample mission statement from a church. “Our mission is to help people meet and follow Jesus.” Now, Amy, I would argue that’s actually a good statement. It reflects the great commission. It’s only 10 words. It’s easy for people to remember, but it just happens to be the mission statement of one of the most stuck churches I’ve ever worked with. In fact, it’s one of the few churches I’ve actually had to fire midway through the Unstuck Process because of how dysfunctional the team was. But they had a great mission statement. So in our current Unstuck process, we still begin by reflecting on Bible passages that speak to our purpose as a church, including the great commission. And that’s still really the foundation for all of the conversations that we have through our planning process, but we stopped helping churches craft mission statements. Is it wrong to have a mission statement? Absolutely not. We just didn’t find a link between having a great mission statement and becoming a healthy church. I just think there are many more other important aspects of our mission that require focus in order for a church to experience health and to make a greater kingdom impact.

Tony (10:23):

This episode is sponsored by Planning Center, an all in one church management software where you can organize your ministries and give your congregants some place to connect and get involved. With a unified platform of products, you can keep people from falling through the cracks by creating workflows to follow up with first-time guests, accept online donations, and empower your staff and volunteers to run individual ministries smoothly. Learn what else you can do at planningcenter.com and get a 30-day free trial to start exploring for yourself.

Amy (11:00):

Well, if churches don’t need mission statements, Tony, what do they need instead?

Tony (11:04):

Yeah, so you can be a healthy church without a great mission statement, but you can’t be a healthy church without knowing your mission field. Or more specifically, who is it that you’re trying to reach within your mission field? And let me explain it this way. Missionaries start with who they’re trying to reach, and then they decide how they’re going to reach that person. It’s crazy, but churches tend to hyper focus on how they’re going to engage their mission regardless of who they’re trying to reach. And it’s almost as if they look at it backwards. They tend to get married to preferences around ministry strategies like evangelism strategies, worship, discipleship strategy, mission strategies, and then they hope and pray new people connect with the church and connect with faith. When they don’t reach people in their mission field, they tend to blame those people then that they’re trying to reach rather than the ministry strategies that they’re trying to use. So, just a side note here, it’s never good for business to blame the customer for not buying what you’re selling, or maybe this key thought here. Healthy churches tend to think about who before how. Healthy churches think about people before preferences around ministry strategies. And, Amy, related to this, I’m just recalling, a couple years ago. I guess it was a few years ago before covid. We were up in Canada, we brought our entire staff team to spend a day with Carey Nieuwhof. And Carey said, maybe you can recall specifically how he said it, but he said something along these lines: In today’s world, we need to be more missionary than pastor or preacher. Amy, do you recall that time with Carey and maybe how he articulated that?

Amy (12:59):

Yeah, I’m not sure exactly how he said it, but it was really profound because it brought me back to a time. I used to host the Global Leadership Summit at our church. And there was one speaker, his name was Floyd Flake, and he was, I think, from South Africa. And we were just on the cusp of opening a new location for our church. And he raised that same question in a much, you know, it took him a lot longer to say this, but he kind of said, Maybe you ought to look where God placed your church and reach the people around where he’s placed your church. And it was interesting to me because we were moving our church into a new community. And that whole concept then of adding the language of, man, we need to help pastors see themselves as missionaries, just, it brought me back to that time and that clarity again, that, you know, you have a church, it might be there 10 years. It might have been there a hundred years, but it’s not one and done. You have to constantly assess who are the people that God’s bringing around your church where he’s placed it and reach them? So it was great.

Tony (14:00):

Yeah. And so because of this, we kind of unplugged all of that time investment that we were helping churches craft mission statements. And I would say, you know, the biggest chunk of time that we take now with churches is getting very clear about who’s in their mission field and specifically who the church is trying to reach within that mission field. So we, you know, again, it’s a deep dive around some key questions like, Where has God actually placed our church? Who are we trying to reach within that mission field? What’s important to the person that we’re trying to reach? What are the questions that they’re asking about life and faith? And then some, you know, really focused questions that the church needs to be asking about themselves related to this person they’re trying to reach and what’s important to that person. And it’s interesting, Amy, again, we have a pretty important mission, and it’s very clear from scripture about the fact that we’re supposed to go and make disciples and baptize people. But it’s interesting to see how little time we really spend on who it is we’re trying to reach. We jump so quickly to how we’re engaging our ministry strategy instead.

Amy (15:21):

I just want to say, Tony, that’s one of the most transformative conversations I think churches have, especially on the day one of that process, is just getting that focus. But you mentioned helping churches focus on who they’re reaching, but are you suggesting that churches shouldn’t try to reach all people?

Tony (15:37):

Yeah. It’s funny. I almost feel like when I engage this conversation with every church that I work with, that I almost have to apologize ahead of time. Because, I mean, that’s certainly my heart. And I have to believe for the people that God’s called into ministry at any church that we’re engaging with, they do, they want every single person possible to experience the transformation that Jesus has offered and brought to our lives. And that’s why I always, at the front end of this conversation, just remind teams that what we’re talking about here is being more intentional. We’re not talking about being exclusive. In other words, if somebody shows up to our church on a Sunday morning and they don’t necessarily look like or act like or have maybe the demographics of the person that we said were focused on reaching within our mission field, we certainly don’t turn them away from our church and say, I’m sorry, you need to find another church because we’re focused on reaching this person. What’s crazy though is what we’ve seen through the years is when churches have focused on a specific person that they’re trying to reach within their mission field, and I can’t explain why, but as they get really intentional about engaging strategies, ministry strategies to reach that person, they ultimately end up reaching a broad cross-section of people in their community. And the only thing I can liken this too, and it really goes back to the early days of the church, just looking at the differences between Peter and Paul’s ministry. I mean, they kind of modeled this for us. Peter, his ministry was really focused on reaching Jews in Jerusalem. Paul, on the other hand, was really focused on reaching the Gentiles, thankfully he was, because otherwise you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation today, Amy. They were both focused on reaching different people in their mission field, but no one would ever suggest that either Paul or Peter, they certainly wanted everyone to experience a relationship with Jesus Christ. So, that’s the critical nature here of this conversation is we wanna help churches try to understand their mission field, and more specifically, who within that mission field are we trying to reach? And then that can help us begin to shape the ministry strategies we need to be engaging to connect that person to church and then ultimately to faith. And so, you know, the bottom line question here is, do you really know who your church is trying to reach in your mission field?

Amy (18:23):

Maybe this is okay to say, Tony, but I think if we all look at our regular lives, we are engaging in products and services that were designed for us. In other words, many secular organizations, they don’t try to make a product for everybody because that product is really for nobody. It’s the ones that are really targeted, and obviously we see success in that approach. So, well, let me ask you this then, Tony. How can churches determine whether or not they’re winning when it comes to this focus on their mission field? How can they confirm that they’re getting the kingdom results that they hope to see in a church that’s unstuck?

Tony (19:00):

Well, the simple answer is you need to measure it. But Amy, it’s kind of interesting. I think churches through the years have gotten more effective in measuring the spiritual formation side of their mission. But when it comes to the reach strategies that they’re engaging, we kind of do things to reach other people, but we never really ask the question, are we getting the results that we’re hoping to get from those strategies that we’re engaging? So, you gotta measure it. And I think that begins with really getting clear about what’s the profile of the person who is connecting to our church? And does that match with the profile of the person that we’re trying to reach? Now practically, what could that look like? Well, I think you could ask new people when they connect with your church, maybe through your membership or partnership experiences, to share their demographic information, to get a sense of, at least for the people that are going through membership and partnership, do they reflect the person we’re trying to reach within our mission field? I’ve seen churches periodically, maybe once a year, survey their congregation, and they are really up front with the congregation. You know, our desire is to bring diversity to the people we’re trying to reach in our community, to reflect the diversity of our community in our church as well. And because of that, we wanna get a sense of how we’re doing. And so they’ll do a quick survey in a service so that they can get as much participation as possible and just get a sense of are we starting to reach the people that we’re trying to reach?

Amy (20:41):

I just wanna jump in, Tony. It’s not a survey to ask what they think of this ministry or that ministry. It’s specifically a survey about demographic information, correct?

Tony (20:50):

That’s right. We’re just trying to get to know who they are. Amy, I think, you know, we don’t encourage the types of church surveys where you’re asking people how we’re doing because people will tell you, and then when you don’t respond the way they think you should respond, it actually, those types of surveys create more division in churches. And so we don’t encourage that. Something else you may wanna consider here is just what are you hearing from your first impressions or your guest services team? In other words, how would they describe the profile of the new people that they’re seeing that are visiting the church for the very first time? So I mean, ask them. Ask them what they’re seeing, and then take a look at what the demographic data from your website traffic and your social media engagement tell you about who’s connecting with your ministry, and does that data reflect who you’re trying to reach as well? And I know it’s almost impossible to know every single person who is connecting with your church for the first time, either online or in person, but hopefully a combination of these strategies that I’ve mentioned will at least give you a good sense of who you’re actually reaching. But here are two key questions to ask once you have some of the data to review. The first is this: if we are engaging the person we hope to reach in our mission field, what’s working? In other words, if you don’t know why you’re winning, you might unintentionally drift away from some of those strategies that are helping you fulfill your mission. And then the second, maybe more obvious question is, if we’re failing to connect with a person we hope to reach in our mission field, how does our ministry strategy need to change? So you just can’t keep using the same ministry strategy and expect that you’re going to reach different people. Something has to change.

Amy (22:49):

Tony, I think our audience likes to hear stories of how other churches are putting these principles into practice. Do you have a church that you can brag on today related to this focus on their mission field?

Tony (22:59):

Yeah. A great church comes to mind only because we had some further follow up with them just in recent weeks. And that’s Anthem Church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Pastor Brad Sharp, young leader there. And he, I mean, the formation of this church is a fantastic story too, because it’s basically the story of a church merger several years ago. And we’ve had the opportunity to work with their team year after year over the last five or six years. Last year they got really intentional again about revisiting and clarifying the identity of who they’re trying to reach in their mission field. And through that conversation, through that process with our team, they narrowed it down to a young couple. This is a couple in their late twenties. They have two kids. Those two kids are under 10 years old. They went so far as to name them. So they named the couple, Mark and Maria. It doesn’t rhyme with their church name, by the way. They just kind of picked those names…

Amy (24:03):

Don’t do that actually.

Tony (24:04):

Yeah, don’t do that. That’s a little hokey, a little bit cheesy, But they named them Mark and Maria, they named their two kids, Baker and Sophia. I love those two names by the way. They gave them jobs. They tried to describe the persona of these people in their mission field. In other words, they really gave an identity to the person that they’re trying to reach within their mission field. And then they took a step further and they had a graphic artist actually create a picture of the family, and they framed that picture for every staff person at the church so that every staff person can have that family kind of in front of them as they’re engaging day to day ministry. It’s a constant reminder of who lives around their church, keeping in mind their ministry is really focused on reaching these young adults who are navigating all the struggles of having a young family in today’s day and age. And Pastor Brad said this related to this process: “It keeps us focused on our core mission and the people God has called us to reach. And we think of ourselves like missionaries who God has sent to the Mark and Marias of our community. Putting it on every office desk helps us make sure we don’t drift in our commitment to this young family, and helps us to process every decision through the lens of how it will impact Mark and Maria. And it’s a very powerful tool for us, because it really just keeps that mission in front of us.” And really, it’s no surprise then that with that focus of who they’re trying to reach, it’s helping to drive the growth that Anthem Church is experiencing in this last year. So, I mean, just kudos to Anthem, to Pastor Brad, but it’s one specific example of a church that really got focused on their mission field and then who specifically they’re trying to reach within their mission field. And now they’re thinking about how they engage their ministry strategy with that person in mind.

Amy (26:10):

Yeah, I would guess it just prompts them to bring Mark and Maria’s needs into every conversation, because in church world, the only people we really hear from are people already connected to our church. So what a great visual reminder to keep Mark and Maria in mind. Well, Tony, thanks for all that today. Any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (26:29):

Well, again, this is right in our wheelhouse. This is the core of what we do at The Unstuck Group to help churches get unstuck. And so if you need help getting clarity about the mission field around your church and specifically who you’re trying to reach in that mission field, please reach out to us, and you can do that at theunstuckgroup.com.

Sean (26:50):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. Before we wrap up today, I want to invite you to join us for a free webinar October 20th at 1:00 PM Eastern on “Finding Momentum Again in Your Church.” In this one hour event, Tony and Amy will teach you how to kickstart momentum and healthy growth by defining or redefining your mission field, creating a reach and spiritual formation strategy, and defining and measuring the wins for the future. You’ll leave this event equipped and committed to clarifying and communicating a new strategic direction for growth in 2023, both where your church is going and how you’re gonna get there. Again, join us October 20th at 1:00 PM Eastern for “Finding Momentum Again.” Next week we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, have a great week.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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