But many churches and parachurch organizations are in decline today because they have lost sight of their mission.
They are shedding members, their funds are dwindling, and they are rapidly losing influence. Simply said, they are dying. Chances are you know of some examples of this and perhaps you’re even a member of one of these groups clinging to life.
When any organization stops trying to fulfill its purpose and calling it begins to die, especially Christian organizations whose sole existence is tied to their mission.
I don’t just mean having a mission statement but having a real mission. Some groups have written a mission statement, hung it on the wall and then quickly forgot it. What I’m talking about today is true mission, true purpose, God’s grand assignment and every Christian organization, be it a nonprofit, a church, or a ministry has one.
Far too many churches and nonprofits exist today that serve a model of service instead of mission to service. Consider the official mission language of your own church or favorite ministry. It probably hasn’t changed much over the years. Most staff and trustees would probably use similar words and phrases to describe the mission. Undoubtedly, the official motto would be quoted.
Sometimes our actions betray our words. Institutions often quote the mission but serve a model, i.e. method, instead. What is the difference?
Mission is neither.
What we must remember is that everything has a shelf life. Everything, including methods of providing a service, reaches a point in its life that it’s longer effective – it no longer works and needs to be replaced. The mission, on the other hand, does not have an expiration date.
The mission exists until it is accomplished. But the greatest missions of all are those that can never be reached: end poverty, preach to all the world, care for every child. To come even close to maxing out any grand mission there are at least four basic requirements.
1. Mission Over Model – First the church or ministry must be sure the mission is not confused with the model. Far too many nonprofits oblige themselves to a model of service instead of a mission to service. Patrick Henry, like so many other organization wandered through the fog of mission confusion for a period of time. Here is how we lost our way.
Confusing mission with model: “to operate a children’s home”
Clarifying mission over model: “to provide homes for children”
The first is a model (way) to reach the mission (goal). The first is reachable. The second is not. The first is specific and closed-ended. The second is general and open-ended. There are many ways to provide homes for children including operating a children’s home but it could also include finding ways to keep them in their own home when possible.
The mission of Patrick Henry Family Services is “to provide a continuum of services to distressed children and families that keep families together and children safe and successful.”
This mission statement is specific and closed-ended when identifying who is helped but is general and open-ended when describing how they are helped. A continuum goes in either direction without end. It heads in one direction toward prevention and in the other direction toward treatment.
How many services do distressed children need? The question will be answered with another question; how many ways are children distressed? When we at Patrick Henry Family Services have met every need of every child who are distressed we have maxed out our mission.
Here is the miraculous part. It is the pursuit, not the destination that gives energy to the mission and drives the ministry onward. The policy of maxing out the mission infuses the organization with zeal and enthusiasm while keeping it from drift and malaise. This is why Maxing Out the Mission is now the number one strategic policy at Patrick Henry.
2. Grow to Scale – A ministry needs more than passion and desire to fulfill its mission. It must have capacity. And that is something churches and ministries don’t talk about much.
A small organization is limited. It has very few resources and therefore is severely hampered in carrying out its mission. Growing the size and strength of the organization raises the organization’s ability to max out its mission.
Growing the organization to scale is a concept used first in the businesses world. For example, in order to open a frozen yogurt store you only have to be as big as the other frozen yogurt stores in the area in order to compete. That is a relatively easy thing to do when compared with starting an airline company that is capable of competing with others in international travel. In order to do that a new company would have to start already at a certain operational size. This would require a great deal more capital and operational sophistication than opening a yogurt store.
Related to this concept is the “economy of scale.” Here the company has to grow to a certain size to be more efficient (thus helping to compete). For a non-profit running a group home ministry, three homes are more efficient than one and presumably six is better than three because the largest expense of any operation is its administrative cost. So the more homes there are the more those costs are spread out thus increasing efficiency.
Growth to scale and economy of scale can also refer to the size a nonprofit must be in order to meet a particular need. The cost and complexity of the particular need determines the minimum size an organization must be in able to even begin meeting that need.
Consider this. What size would a non-profit need to be that has a mission “to feed the hungry”? A food pantry can be operated by two volunteers from a closet in a church basement. Mission accomplished. But what size would it need to be if the mission is “to end hunger”?
Growth to scale is decided by the mission and how much desire the organization has to max out that mission. Patrick Henry Family Services has a complex and costly mission. Of course, some methods do not cost as much as others but the overall mission requires a great deal of resources. Even the ability to acquire the critical resources requires the the ministry to have certain organizational capacities. As the saying goes, “it takes money to make money.” Our effort at growing the organization serves a purpose – maxing out the mission.
3. Partnerships & Alliances – No one ever said the mission has to be done alone. In fact, the mission will never be accomplished alone. A nonprofit or a church can either grow in order to capture more territory or it can grow to meet more of the mission. Patrick Henry seeks growth as a means to max out the mission.
It’s obvious that Patrick Henry can never be as big as the need. Therefore we will look for opportunities to develop voluntary (non-binding) partnerships and alliances with like-minded agencies. We will cooperate with other ministries that will complement each other and serve the various needs on the children’s continuum of services.
There are many ways these partnerships can benefit each other. Here are a few:
- Design programs and services to fill holes in the other’s programming
- Make referrals to partner agencies
- Cross marketing and promotion
- Share resources and thereby create an economy of scale
- Collaboration, cooperation and joint planning
- Share expertise and skills
- Provide a united front on issues important to each party
Partnerships are a great idea but not easy to create right?
Groups tend to be territorial, even Christian people. It’s not just doctrine or worship preference that separates God’s people but so does ambition. We tend to fight over limited resources, or what we think are limited resources. Everytime we do we demonstrate by our deeds that we don’t believe our own statements about the Lord of resources.
The fourth ingredient necessary for maxing out the mission is 4. Code Blue Thinking – Ill use our mission at Patrick Henry again to illustrate this point.
Time is not on the side of those who work with at-risk youth and distressed families. Children grow up fast. They get only one chance to learn and development the necessary things needed to become healthy and productive adults. Miss a stage, skip a skill, interrupt the learning process and the child never gets that back.
Patrick Henry Family Service must maintain a sense of resolution in our work. The health and future success of children in our care causes us to operate under Code Blue conditions. We do not have the luxury of taking our time or being lackadaisical.
Borrowed from the way hospitals deal with life threatening emergencies, Code Blue Thinking is the natural result of the organization considering the grave importance of their mission. The mission of the church, for example, to reach those who are perishing should throw the work of the church into overdrive. Local churches are planted squarely in the midst of populations of souls whose eternal destinations are within their mission mandate.
Maxing out the mission is not just about mission maximization. It’s also about getting there as quickly as possible. But it is urgency, not speed, that is needed. Focus, not compartmental thinking, is required. Collaboration, not consensus, is the goal.
How you put that into practice in any practical way?
Code Blue Thinking consists of four parts. Let’s look at each and give an example of the decisions that need to be made if this concept is fully utilized.
Urgency – Maxing out the mission does not happen without a spirit of urgency. We have a saying at Patrick Henry Boys and Girls Home, “Impatience, in the service of a child, is not a vice.” A spirit of urgency also causes us to focus on all the opportunities we have with the children in our care. At our camp we tell the staff not to take any time with a camper for granted.
Focus – The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. To do this you have to be ready and able to say no to some very good things. Make the mission of your organization the filter by which you determine your yes and no. You will need to say no things that don't hit the bullseye of what God is calling your church or ministry to do. You have to discern between what is good and what is best. Many Christian groups are stuck on good and are missing the best.
Warning however, be prepared for people to get mad. They may leave your church or stop volunteering at your ministry. This is simply the cost of a focused mission, but make no mistake—the payoff equally high.
Don't spread yourself too thin" is a cliché for a reason. Everyone has a tendency to do it. But if you are in the habit of saying no to some really good things it will most likely free up space for you to accomplish your organization’s calling.
Collaboration – Diversity of ideas produces innovation. We can easily get stuck in group think where everyone around us sees things the same way and thinks the same way. A ministry must be purposeful about collaborating with folks outside that group in order to get fresh ideas. There is a saying, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Collaboration helps you to learn what you don’t know.
Teamwork - Sam Walton, founder of Walmart and Sams Club said, “Together we can do more than anyone of us can do alone.” Teamwork is essential and I think everyone understands that but the point thats needs to be embraced is that you must take extreme care of the team you put in place. Be sure you put the right people in the right place.
Is everyone on your team fully convinced of the mission? If not, you're simply waiting for mission drift. It’s not a matter of if but a matter of when.
I know that most leaders can't simply remove people from their team without causing huge conflict. Nuanced and difficult situations certainly demand wisdom, patience, and prayer as you handle the complexity of hiring and firing. But the mission requires it. The mission is more important than the team.
If you can't change the team, and I recognize that sometimes that is reality, at least you must be careful about who gets added to the team in the future. “Mission fit” must be at the top of the qualification list for anyone joining the team.
In Conclusion: Consider the Great Commission found in the last chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. It is that co-mission which serves as the mission of the entire Church. Simply said, we are to "go to all the world and teach everything Jesus taught". The mission of the Church is to all and everything. You cannot max out any further than all and everything.
How the Church has accomplished this mission has changed numerous times over the many centuries since giving receiving this mandate. As conditions and technology have changed so has the church changed its tactics. Sometimes slowly. But one thing hasn’t changed. Leadership. God calls leaders to max out His mission.
John Maxwell, author of 21 Indisputable Laws of Leadership says that “everything rises and falls on leadership.” That indisputable law certainly applies to accomplishing the mission of any group. With this in mind, the last point I want to make is directed to the leaders who are tasked with carrying out the mission of their churches or parachurch ministries.
Leaders, beware of personal drift. Most organizations reflect the values and personality of their leader(s). That is a scary thought isn’t it? Is there mission drift in your life. Can anyone around you diagnose this drift? You might want to ask because chances are you don’t see it.’ Is there any disconnect between the stated mission of your ministry and your life? You can’t take your church or ministry further than you are.
I know that leading any organization is hard work. I recognize that staying aligned with the core of our calling does takes continued focus. This can be exhausting at times. Remember though, in the end, Jesus will accomplish His mission, including the part He has called you and I to.
When we fear that everything is falling apart, that is the time to fall apart in prayer to the one who has called us to the mission. Faithfully pursue Him, he will provide what we need to make sure that the mission will be maxed out.