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Church Mission Statements

Earlier this year (2010) our minister found out no one had memorized the church mission statement. Surprise, surprise! Our church mission statement is half description, half wishful thinking. It is on the back of the order of service every week, where people can ignore it easily. Our web committee has not insisted we put it on the church web site, a fact I am enormously thankful for. In my opinion anyone who needs to read a mission statement to know what a church does also needs labels on his fork, so he knows which end to hold and which end to stick into his food.

This elaborates my opinion, in two parts. The first is something I sent to the UUA "Websters" mailing list in 1999. "Websters" is a mailing list for web masters, web mistresses, web weavers, and any other title the person who maintains the church web site fancies. We had a thread about putting the mission statement on the web site. Note again this was 1999, before our church had a mission statement.

Our little church has managed to get along for 40 years without a mission statement. Some of the bigger ones in the east have been around for five times that long. What did they do before mission statements? Wander around aimlessly, wondering what a church did, like thickly padded children in the woods on a foggy day, bumping their heads on trees?

Or did they champion abolition, women's suffrage and civil rights? Encourage independent thinking, embrace different views, study the works of great religious and moral leaders? Did their members think "Well, that sounds interesting, but it's not in the mission statement", then sit home watching re-runs instead of joining the march, attending the lecture, writing the book, volunteering in the soup kitchen? Susan B. Anthony and Theodore Parker each had a mission, but did they have a mission statement?

Our web site has the beliefs and principles, a link to the page called "100 Questions about Unitarian Universalism" on the Nashua, NH congregation's site, a catalog of adult Religious Education courses, four to six sermon topics, and a "Members" page. Anyone who can't figure out what we do from that needs more help than he or she would get from a mission statement.

On the "Members" page I asked everyone to brag a little. We have members who helped start the local chapters of the Sierra Club and NOW; former chairs of the local chapters of the ACLU, AAUW, Amnesty International and the Audubon Society; six former Peace Corps Volunteers, and, for contrast, a former Marine Corps pilot. I asked all 140 members to make a short list of the things they did outside the church that would give non- members an idea of what we were like. Only 14 did, but we got a nice variety of interests and achievements. The theory behind the page is that actions speak louder than words.

In my humble opinion, there are other ways to tell the public what your church does and why. Mission statements are just another passing fad, another bandwagon on to which we do not have to hop.

The second is an editorial comment on our Children's page:

There's a young man in our little town who was born with a rare bone defect. His legs are withered and twisted. They slow him down, but he doesn't let small things stop him. For years he was on our town swim team. He entered the 50-yard freestyle race at every meet. He would roll his wheel chair to the starting block and clamber up; then, when the buzzer went off, jump in and flail away with his arms alone. He always finished last.

To a man, woman and child we considered the first three words of that sentence - "he always finished" - to be 412 times more important than the word "last". No one ever had to put DNF (Did Not Finish) next to his name. They never had to mark him ATT (Afraid To Try), either. I think of him whenever someone on a committee mentions writing a mission statement. Keep your head above water, do the best you can with what you have and never, never, never give up; there's a mission statement for you!

[Historic note: I'm no longer web master for my church, and the web site no longer contains the pages I mentioned.]

Covenant of Right Relations

Mission statements come up again in July 2010. Back in the 1980ís, you recall, people who didnít know what a church was supposed to do wrote mission statements to explain that they taught religion, comforted the sick, cheered up the sad, and tried to help their fellow persons. Mission statements were mostly harmless, and they gave people who liked to go to meetings to argue over semi-colons something to do. Not everyone likes to spend his evenings reading detective novels while sitting in a comfortable chair with an aged, slightly flatulent cat on their lap.

Today these same people - the semi-colon arguers, not the detective novel ones - think every church needs a "Covenant of Right Relations". Some CoRRs are for all members, some are just for committees and boards. They explain that people should listen without interrupting, act for the good of the whole community, and avoid personal attacks on those whose opinions are different from their own.

In July 2010 the web master for a church (name hidden to protect the guilty) sent a message to the list, asking for advice. I looked at their site and saw that they had not only written a CoRR for their board, they put it at the very top of their page devoted to the Board of Trustees. I wrote:

You certainly waste a lot of space telling the world your board is supposed to act like mature adults in your "Board Covenant of Right Relations". I can see having it if other congregations had messages saying "Our board gets together once a month to bicker, backbite, arm wrestle, tell dirty jokes, smoke cheap cigars and drink sour mash whiskey". None do. It looks like a waste of space to me.

Even worse, if you had poster on the back of every pew telling people what to do if rabid weasels invade the sanctuary during services, a wild-eyed, chittering furry horde as thick as lemmings but out for blood, a casual reader might assume you had had problems with them in the past. By the same token, since you go to great lengths to reassure the world that your board now listens carefully and puts personal issues aside, the casual reader might assume that your previous board meetings were real doozies. Did anyone threaten to hold their breath until they turned blue?

The line about the weasels had me chuckling for weeks, even if the spell checker in MS Word balked at the word "chittering", but I'm easily amused.

The Salvation Army's Mission Statement

I'm on a crew at my church. We have prepared dinner for 100 - 150 homeless people once a month, November - April, since 2005. The Salvation Army runs the shelter and relies on the churches in the county to help. One of their soldiers, a major, came to speak at our church. He related this story:

Towards the end of his life, someone asked William Booth if the Salvation Army would continue after his death. He replied:

That depends on the Salvation Army! If the Salvation Army continues to preach the Gospel to the lost, feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless and give hope the hopeless, then even the devil himself cannot prevent it from continuing.

If the Salvation Army does not continue to preach the Gospel to the lost, feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless and give hope the hopeless, then it does not deserve to continue.

You'll notce two things. First, Winston Churchill wasn't the only Englishman who could speak eloquently with just one and two syllable words. Second, a million committee members working for a million years couldn't come up with a mission statement better than

   Preach the Gospel to the lost, feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless and give hope the hopeless.

Had General Booth given that as a charge to a graduating class of shiny new Salvation Army lieutenants, they would have been on their feet cheering their hearts out, eyes damp.

This, however, is the mission statement of the Salvation Army, USA, as of March 2012:

The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the Universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.

[Written July 2010]

[This is one of my Miscellaneous Essays. There are more; you may enjoy another section of my web site, too:]

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This page updated: March 11, 2018