(aka “What to Do When You Can’t Remember Your Own Wordy, Jargon-y, Run-On Sentence of a Mission Statement”)
We all sense that mission statements are important. Most spiritual communities have one tucked away in a treasure box in the attic. It gets dusted off for annual meetings, or perhaps aired out each week on the Sunday bulletin.
Although you may dutifully read it up on the big screen every Sunday morning, it comes across as rote. It’s not alive. It’s a nice sentence filled with pretty words. But it’s not a real mission.
Is this you? Here’s how you find out (be honest!): How many Sundays does it take for a newcomer to know your mission statement by heart and experience it impacting their life?
I visited with a board president recently from a large Unity ministry and asked him if he could tell me the community’s mission. He stumbled through his memory of it, forgot a few bits, and eventually pulled out his phone to search for the complete statement online.
Afterward, he shared with me that he had been reciting this mission every Sunday for the past three years. He saw it in the bulletin every week. He had served on the committee that had created the mission statement. Yet, he still had trouble remembering it.
Their mission was a showpiece, but not a driver, within the community.
Getting to the Heart of the Mission
So how do you work with a wordy, jargon-y or otherwise ineffective mission statement? The good news is, you don’t always need to go back to the drawing board. In fact, in many cases, a punchy and powerful mission statement hides among all that wordiness.
The secret is to find where the power lurks, and to experiment with new ways of bringing your mission to life.
Here’s a few tips for working with what you have as you find the perfect words to express the heart and soul of your spiritual work together:
1) Find your verbs. A mission statement is about what you are here to do together. Take your existing mission statement and underline all the active verbs. As a reminder, active verbs are words like transform, inspire, and connect. Passive verbs are words like be, is, and are.
By the way, if you’re wondering why people in your congregation are passive about volunteering, giving and serving, dare to look at your current mission statement. Does it begin with a passive verb? Powerful missions are active missions!
Practice: Write out your mission statement and identify all your active verbs. Here’s an example of a current mission statement:
“We pray, meditate, educate, serve, and celebrate as we awaken to Spirit’s empowering presence in our lives, our community, and our world.”
Underline all the active verbs: pray, meditate, educate, serve, celebrate, awaken, empower (modified from “empowering,” but it’s in there!).
2) Identify the “driver verb.” Too many active verbs will scatter the focus of your ministry. Your “driver verb” is the one that best reflects that purpose of your organization. If you were to choose one word to serve as your mission statement, this would be the one.
Practice: In the example above, the strongest verbs are awaken and empower with the other verbs being more strategic in terms of how awakening or empowerment happen within the ministry.
(I typically coach ministries to keep these secondary active verbs like pray, meditate, educate and serve handy. They often express core values.)
Pick the “driver verb” that best expresses what you feel your ministry is here to do.
3) Add a noun. Once you’ve chosen your “driver verb,” determine who or what is impacted by that verb. For example, you might say, “Awakening hearts,” or “Empowering people.”
4) Add a purpose or objective. You can often find this in your original mission statement.
Practice: In the example above, you could add, “Our mission is to empower people to awaken.”
Testing It Out
That’s it. Stop there. Now, put it to the test:
1) Is it short? The example above is 8 words. Keep it under 10 if you can.
2) Is it memorable? Try it out for a couple of Sundays. Communicate it from the platform. If you talk about it for a couple of weeks, will it stick in the minds of your congregation?
3) Is it relate-able? Don’t add flowery words. Don’t add words that don’t make sense to someone who has never heard of New Thought. “Christ-consciousness?” What’s that?
4) Is it accurate? If your mission is “to awaken the world,” it’s important to consider if your ministry is truly dedicated to global projects? Is there energy for this in your congregation?
Many ministries serve best by focusing on their local communities. Avoid the temptation to sound grandiose. Every word in your mission statement should influence the projects and strategies you implement.
5) Is it actionable? Is it something you can do? If so, what are you already doing as an example of your mission? For example, you could easily communicate that your classes, small groups or prayer ministries serve to empower people to awaken.
6) Is it measurable? Could you take a poll of your congregation and find out how many people have experienced your mission? For example, “How many of you have been empowered through the activities of your spiritual community?”
7) Is it teachable? Are you able to easily and succinctly train someone to “fulfill the mission”? If you can’t teach someone to step into a leadership role in delivering the mission, it’s difficult to scale your ministry beyond the capacity of the senior minister.
If you find yourself with an ineffective mission statement, you don’t have to create a committee and invest a year to build a new one. Keep what you have as you experiment with clearer, more succinct ways to communicate its essence. In time, your congregation may choose to formally adopt the more memorable version.
Either way, by “piloting” new ways of communicating your mission, you are able to measure its effectiveness based on practical, measurable results. Align your activities and priorities to what you are now communicating and watch your mission come to life like never before!