Mission? Vision? Core Values? What’s the Difference?

Mission vs. Slogan

It is interesting how confusing the idea of mission, vision and values are in the church world or for that matter in the nonprofit world as well. Sometimes pastors or CEOs create mission or vision statements that are actually slogans. I’ve seen statements like, “A church that cares” or  “A place where you’ll find love” or “A growing church serving a growing community.”

These are fine statements, but they are neither mission or vision statements. I’ve also seen mission statements laden with core values, or “things we believe”. These kinds of mission statements typically extend for several paragraphs. While it may be appealing prose, the last thing you want is for someone to walk away wondering what the statement meant because you haven’t clearly articulated the mission.

Well then, you may be wondering, how do we tell the difference between mission, vision and core values? Or maybe you’re wondering about something closer to home. How do I create a mission, vision and core values? The answer is not as difficult as it might seem. In fact, it is pretty elementary; we ask and answer a few simple questions.


The mission statement goes straight to who you are as an organization and why you exist. In fact, the questions themselves are simply, who are you and why do you exist? The mission should not include what you believe; that’s a core value. Likewise, they don’t include statements about to what or whom you are dedicated. It’s nice information, but it’s not part of your mission. Also, by answering these simple questions, you should be able to state the mission in one or two sentences at most.


While the mission of an organization rarely changes, the vision does. When President Kennedy said we would go to the moon by the end of the decade, he was creating a vision for both NASA and the US. However, once that vision was completed, leaders had to create a new one. Also, the vision was clear, precise and measurable. Vision gives direction over a period of time, but it still answers one of two questions. What do you want to be or what do you want to become? As fundraising consultants, we like to challenge the leadership to think no more than 3-5 years, because the environment changes so rapidly these days.

Core Values

These are simply statements about the principles that guide you or the truths that you believe. I’ve found these in both mission and vision statements, but they don’t belong there. That’s why when we facilitate strategic planning, we create separate sections for mission, vision and core values. When people read these they get a real sense of who you are, why you exist, where you are headed and what you believe.

When mission, vision and core values are developed this way, they also serve as a basis for evaluating all church activity and developing strategies and action plans going forward. If it doesn’t help us achieve the mission or vision, increase donations or it’s misaligned with our core values, then we clearly shouldn’t be doing it. By planning in this way, leaders can provide direction, bring clarity and calm and build consensus around the vision, mission and core values.