I have had the privilege to work with churches in different geographic locations and varied demographic/socioeconomic contexts - all with unique ministry challenges and needs. Despite their differences, they all have approached me with the same question/concern: “What can we do to grow?” That is a great question for a church to be asking! Any church with a heart for the gospel and for people should be asking that question. My response to that question goes something like this: "That’s a great question and I’m glad you asked me. I promise we can answer that question, but that question can’t be our starting point. There is another question that we have to answer before we discuss that.”
We need to know the why before the what and the how.
The best definition of a church’s mission is the answer this question:
“Why does our church exist?”
When I say church, I’m not talking about the Church universal, your denomination, religion, or even Christianity as a whole. Why does your specific, local church exist?
Another question to ask that helps clarify the answer to the first is this:
“Why did God send your church to your community?”
I think it is helpful to think like a missionary. If you were a missionary to a foreign country, you would have been sent with a specific purpose:
- To spread the gospel to a tribe in Uganda.
- To minister to refugees in Iraq.
- To care for children in an orphanage in Vietnam.
Thinking of your church’s mission through the lens of a missionary is helpful. It also doesn’t hurt that the word mission is the root of the word missionary! A missionary has been sent by God to an area with a purpose. Why did God send your church to your community?
Most churches do a poor job of talking about their mission. Maybe they have lost their sense of mission. Maybe they never had a sense of mission. Maybe they are focused on going through the motions of church life. Maybe the mission is there, but the passion for it is missing. Whatever the reason, the fact that churches lack a focused mission is unfortunate as it is the cornerstone to growth and movement in a church. It is essential because it brings clarity to all that you do.
Imagine a football game being played where the players didn’t know that the objective of the game was to score more points than their opponents. What would that game look like? I can see 22 players on a field each doing their own thing not necessarily related to scoring points. The quarterback showing off his arm by launching the ball as far as he could regardless of who was there to catch it. A running back running sprints on the side of the field to show his speed. A linebacker hitting players in the head with his helmet without regard to penalties because that what linebackers do!
I know many churches with many people pursuing different objectives. You do too. A clear mission is essential to defining the objective of your ministry - why your church exists.
I love fishing. I love fishing because it is fun for me. To put my love for fishing in mission language, the reason I fish is to have fun. There are reasons that others may enjoy fishing: to catch fish, to eat fish, to enjoy the scenery, or to relax. Those are great motivations for some people, they are why some people love fishing. I just think it’s fun, that’s why I fish.
Your church needs to find its “why”. Why has God placed your church in your community? Why does your church exist?
Would your community miss your church if it were gone?