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"The Mission or Purpose of My Congregation Makes Me Feel My Participation Is Important."

by Albert L. Winseman, D. Min.
Religion and Social Trends Editor

This is the eighth in a series of articles exploring the 12 items that best measure congregational engagement.

Congregations, by their very nature, should be mission driven. Because of their spiritual underpinnings, faith communities have more at stake than the financial bottom line or next year's market share projections. While these are worthy goals for businesses, faith communities have broader, more eternal goals that deal with the innate human need to be a part of something bigger than mere existence. That "something bigger" is a sense of mission, and should impact everything a congregation does.

According to recent Gallup research*, only a little more than half (52%) of members of congregations strongly agree with the statement, "The mission or purpose of my congregation makes me feel my participation is important." This finding indicates a strong need for congregations to better clarify and communicate their mission to their members.

Every congregation needs a mission statement -- a brief, yet comprehensive statement that concisely sums up why the congregation exists. Many congregations have such statements, but many of them are ineffective because they are too long. The mission statement must be short enough to be easily memorized by every congregation member.

Another problem is that many faith communities create mission statements and then do nothing with them. Mission statements are of no use if they are adopted and then forgotten. Effective congregations organize their governing structure around their mission; measure everything they do by it; educate their current and new members about it; and communicate about it so often that that every member has it memorized. For these congregations, the mission represents the guiding force for all they do.

Developing a mission statement is only part of the solution. The challenge is finding a way for each member to connect with the mission. All members, either consciously or unconsciously, ask themselves, "What is the purpose of this faith community? Does this congregation and the people within it look at the world in the same way I do?" They all want to know if they fit, and because each one of them looks at the world in a slightly different way, they each come up with different answers. One of the key tasks of a congregation's spiritual leader is to bring the congregation's mission down to size so individuals can find some connection between the congregation's values and their own.

Key Points for Spiritual Leaders

1. Clarify the mission of your faith community.

The critical question is, "What does this congregation hold to be important?" Whatever the congregation's priorities, you, as the spiritual leader, have to be clear about them.

2. Help members find the link between their own values and the values of the congregation.

Every member has different values. Some value family, others value service, others value personal growth. Whatever their value system, it is your job to translate the congregation's mission into language that everyone can understand. This way they will be able to see the relationship between their values and the congregation's, and they will also be able to make clear choices when those values come into conflict.

3. Do not confuse strategy with mission.

Mission is constant. It is the heartbeat of the faith community, providing power and guidance. It seldom changes. Strategy, on the other hand, describes "how we get where we are going." It does change. In fact, congregations constantly devise new strategies as they try to find the most efficient and effective path toward their goals. If yours is the kind of congregation that changes strategy regularly, it does not necessarily mean that you lack a clear mission. As the organization's spiritual leader, you must keep the distinction clear in each member's mind.

The SE25 are protected by copyright of The Gallup Organization, Princeton, NJ, 2001.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 729 adult members of a church, synagogue, or other religious faith community, aged 18 and older, conducted October through November 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3.6%.


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