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.

Is Strategic Planning Actually Biblical?

  • “I don’t plan; it gets in the way of the Holy Spirit.”
  • “I rely on the Spirit to give me direction, why should I plan?”
  • “God is blessing our church now, so why is planning necessary?”

During my career, I’ve heard plenty of reasons why pastors don’t plan, or at least not in a formal way. But are they correct? Is it in their best interest not to plan?

Biblical support for planning

If you care to address these questions, you do well to consider Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision the people perish.” I realize theologians will argue that this verse has nothing to do with strategic planning. However, I’ve experienced many instances where a lack of planning has left the church and its leaders faltering.

Declining church attendance

A 2014 Barna report on church growth trends revealed that church attendance has declined nationwide for more than a decade. At least part of that decline is due to a lack of planning on the part of pastors.

In a recent article on church health, Tom Rainer estimated that 9 out of 10 churches are either growing at a slower pace than their communities or they are not growing at all. As an antidote he offers 4 ways to address this problem:

  • Create a plan
  • Create buy-in from the congregation
  • Create a culture of disciple making
  • Stay faithful to the plan

Write it down

Then there are pastors who’ve told me, “I have a plan, but it’s not formal. It’s pretty much in my head.” But if it’s in the pastor’s head, it may be difficult to build consensus around it. That brings me to another verse in Habakuk 2:2, “And the Lord answered me, write the vision, make it plain on tablets, so they may run who read it.”

Engage others in the plan

I don’t think it’s just about vision, particularly if those who read it are to run by it. Effective plans also include goals, strategies and action plans developed by church leadership. That group includes lay leaders, pastors and staff. As Proverbs 15:2 reminds us, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.”  If the plan is primarily the pastor’s, it misses the opportunity to motivate church members to engage their talents and experience.

Planning equals good stewardship

Ultimately, pastors have a stewardship responsibility for the health and wellbeing of the church God has placed in their care. Planning is certainly not a panacea for all church ills. Instead it’s a good place to start moving the church forward in a healthy direction.

God set the example for planning

And now that I think of it, God really gave us the idea for planning when He said in Jeremiah 29:11-13, “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”

You mean God has a plan for me? Absolutely! You see, seeking God with all our heart involves praying and studying His word, but it also involves planning. And, that happens best with an ear towards the Holy Spirit and help from “many Godly advisors” so that the plans don’t fail.

Strategic Planning That Sets the Bar High and Makes a Difference

Usually, people desire to make a difference in just about every area of life. That is particularly true in church life, a place where making a difference really matters. The only problem is that in my church leadership consulting I find that many churches don’t expect to achieve much and they also don’t know how to get more out of their people. George Barna seems to have a good grasp of the problem in an article he wrote recently.

“The challenge to church leaders is to stop pandering for popularity and set the bar higher. People live up to the expectations set for them. When the expectations are that people show up, play nicely together and keep the system going, the potential for having life-changing experiences that characterized the early Church are limited. If churches believe in the power of the gospel and the Holy Spirit, they must hold people to a higher and more challenging standard.“

However, that is difficult to do without taking some time to plan. In the next few paragraphs I will tell you how strategic planning can help you both set the bar high and also make a difference. Consider these steps:

Be bold and committed to excellence

How do you pursue excellence? What will it look like when we achieve it? How will we hold ourselves accountable for excellence? All of these questions can be answered through an effective planning process. Coach Wooden told me once that mediocrity is greatness to the mediocre.

Care what others in the church think

People want to be valued, particularly in church. Yet, pastors often go about their work routine as if they are the only ones who have anything important to say. That’s why when we facilitate a planning process, we also include a member survey so we can hear from others and motivate church members to become involved in the process.

Involve others in your quest

My pastor used to say that if he was six inches ahead of people he could lead them, but if he was six feet ahead of them he was a target. If you want people to own something you have to bring them along and involve them. In a church the more you empower people through involvement the more engaged they become and church growth will result. Conversely, the more you try to control them, the more they will disengage from the church.

Create a vision that will make a difference

As I said earlier, most people want to make a difference, but often when I begin to help churches create a vision they are reluctant to be bold and imaginative.

Be methodical in your processes

This is certainly true for planning, but it should be true for all that you do. Excellence demands discipline, and if you desire to be disciplined you also have to be methodical in everything you do. That doesn’t mean rigid, but if you decide to do something, you need to plan to do it well. (Col. 3:23-24)

Finally, finish the course and perform beyond expectations

Not only is planning important, but it is equally important to commit to the plan and see it to fruition. That doesn’t mean components of the plan won’t change. Undoubtedly they will, but if you are committed to the vision and goals of the plan and manage to them, you will be surprised how often you will also perform well beyond expectations.





A Strategic Planning Process That Works

“OK, The planning process is done; let’s put it on the shelf and get back to work.” I’ve heard such comments many times. Worse yet, I’ve also heard staff talk about spending an inordinate amount of time on the program of the month. While it might be gratifying to the CEO, it signifies a lack of solid planning. Essentially when you finish a planning process, that plan should be able to lead you into the future. If you are lacking such a plan, then all you have left is a bunch of activities that you do continuously without much thought.

So how can you avoid this, move forward and engage people rather than bore or offend them? There are some simple steps you can take to ensure that your planning makes sense, your people are engaged and you’re positioned for nonprofit or church growth.

Find a facilitator

Pure and simple, a facilitator helps ensure that you stay on track and that your planning process is solid. You have to do your due diligence to find one, but if the facilitator knows what he or she is doing, you’re already on your way to success.

Be teachable; get out of the way

Competent facilitators have been doing this for a while. Rely on their experience and knowledge. Our company provides consultation for fundraising and particularly capital campaigns. We’ve never had a church campaign fail to achieve its goal. That’s a pretty good track record. Yet, despite our experience and success, it amazes me when a pastor pays us a fee to help them and then disregards our counsel.

Engage a broader audience

The worst way to build a plan is to have a few people in a small room putting the plan together. The plans need to be informed by the congregation. We usually start by sending out an e-mail or letter from the pastor outlining some possible directions for the church. Then the pastor asks people to share their opinions on the church, its various ministries, and the directions the pastor has outlined. The e-mail also contains a link to an online survey. We use the data we collect to help us identify the critical planning issues. True, when you invite opinions, feedback and involvement, you give up some control. However, when you are willing to give up some control, you will likely motivate church members to engage in the process!

Have a solid process

There are lots of planning processes on the market. Your challenge will be to find one that works effectively and expediently. When I worked in higher education we had a planning process that lasted over a year. That just doesn’t work. If the church is focused, it can take a lot less time. Our process takes from 2-3 months maximum and that is about the right amount of time.

Involve the right people

You’ll need a core planning team of both key staff and key volunteers. It might include elders, deacons, parish council, ministry leaders and then some key members. Usually that amounts to about 25-30 people who will be invited to participate in a retreat. A competent facilitator will be able to handle that sized group. If you follow these points, your planning will be successful.




How Your Church Benefits from Strategic Planning

In deciding whether or not to plan, there are often questions pastors have but seldom ask, at least not out loud. Do I really want to plan? Will a strategic planning process actually do any good? Do I want to spend all that energy in planning? My answer to all of those questions is a resounding yes! Why?  Well, the benefits of planning far outweigh the alternative of not planning. Consider just a few :

Clarifies mission and core values

A successful process allows you to clarify your church’s mission, vision and core values. This then gives direction to the planning, operations and decision making of the church leadership. It also gives you a means by which you can evaluate current and new activities and build a plan for the future.

Identifies Priorities

Planning is not a process of prioritizing according to the tyranny of the urgent. Nor is it a random scheme of trying the latest best thing a pastor or elder read in a book. Certainly books can be helpful, but every church is different. What works in one setting may be far from appropriate in another setting. Through our process of due diligence, we work with churches to help clarify the critical planning issues and then begin to identify priorities. This helps to focus the staff and guide the planning process. In this way the eventual plans that come from the process fit the culture and are by no means random.

Establishes clear direction

Initially, we try to help the church create or clarify its mission, vision, critical issues and core values. This allows the church to move quickly through a process that establishes future direction by developing a road map of goals, strategies, action plans, timelines and budgets. I have had pastors and staff members complain about lay leaders inserting themselves into church operations. One of the great antidotes for this is to have a plan that the governing body has helped develop and ratify. Then if it’s not in the plan, you are not obliged to do it. Of course, if it’s a good idea that makes sense to most people, then you are also at liberty to revisit it. But having the plan gives you that flexibility.

Focuses decision making

Establishing goals, strategies and action plans allows the pastor along with the leadership team also to focus decision-making. That includes decision making not only for operations but also for important activities like ministry expansion, resource allocation, fundraising and church growth.

Enhances communication and teamwork

Once you have completed a planning process and are committed to implementing the plans, communication improves and teamwork grows. However, you have to be committed to the goals and manage to the plan. It’s not unusual during our planning processes with churches, to hear people share something like, “ I didn’t know you were doing that. I’m doing that as well!” Initially it’s funny, but the duplication of effort can also be quite costly.

Increases success

Ultimately, you want a process that leaves you with a plan that produces an increased level of success. Certainly that success can be measured in a variety of ways. However, the increased efficiency, effectiveness and commitment our process helps produce are primary factors that contribute to that success.  Maybe our online products can help you.





Why Strategic Planning is Not a Waste of Time for Churches

Some people in the church world think that strategic planning is a waste of time. Maybe you fall into this category. In the paragraphs that follow, I’m going to try and convince you otherwise. I understand the complaints:

  • The plans are too long
  • There is often no accountability associated with them
  • There is too much detail and they are often all over the proverbial map

No justification to stop

While these observations speak to serious process problems, it does not provide justification simply to stop planning. In fact, that kind of thinking represents a sharp contrast with the thinking of one of the great leaders I interviewed for my book, Leadership is a Covenant. I’m talking about the late John Wooden who said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Lessons from Coach Wooden

Of course, Benjamin Franklin first made the comment, but Coach Wooden’s teams clearly approached planning perfection. The Coach told me that he and his assistants planned everything, from offensive and defensive execution to living accommodations and uniform fittings for each player. He explained that he didn’t want his players to have any excuse not to play well.

The coaches also executed and sometimes adapted those plans at daily practice, so that when they got to the games they were clearly well prepared. Based on the results – with 10 national championships in eleven years – it’s pretty clear that their planning proved to be fruitful.

Giving account through effective planning

The point that churches really need to understand is that the success of church ministry, church growth, stewardship and much more are all related to effective planning. Among other responsibilities, the church is compelled to be a good steward. Romans, chapter 14 tells us, “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” As church leaders, we cannot afford to neglect our stewardship responsibility for the resources (financial, material and human) in our care. That is best achieved through an effective planning process.

Use the right process and be serious about it

Now, I’m biased, but I believe our fundraising consulting organization has built a process that actually yields results. It is relatively short and we have dozens of thankful clients who have a reliable, useful, and action oriented strategic plan. But they were serious about both the planning process and the implementation of the plan.

I do agree with one thing: many strategic plans are not well built and fewer still are well implemented. However, that does not mean the plan itself was a bad idea. Often, we just need to commit ourselves to actually doing what we say we will do.

So, my suggestion: have a plan! But, if and when you have one, be sure you’re committed to working it. Don’t allow your planning to be wasted. Instead, be an effectual doer, not a hearer only.


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