The Difference Between Purpose and Mission and Why Your Church Needs Both

It's all about the vision.

You need to clarify your purpose.

You need a mission statement.

After a while, it all sounds like blah, blah, blah with a bunch of exclamation points at the end to underscore the need for something everyone says is important but doesn't seem to make much of a daily difference for you.

It's because the terms have become buzzwords – everyone talks about them but very few people can define in a way that make sense.  And in a way that is actually useful.  It's easy to understand why some leaders just throw up their hands and choose to do “real ministry” rather than argue about terminology.

I want to make things simple, practical, and useful for you.

Why every church needs a purpose statement.

Your purpose is the reason your church exists. It’s why you’re here. It’s long-term and it’s BIG.  

In Start With Why, by Simon Sinek, is one of the best leadership books you could read with your team.  He says it’s a huge mistake to start talking about strategy and products before you clarify the why. He says you’ve got to nail down that big purpose. Your church needs that deep sense of why and you should be able to communicate it in one sentence. This is your purpose statement.

Take a look at some examples…

  • “To make disciples of all nations.” – Christ Fellowship Miami
  • “To see those far from God raised to new life in Christ.” – Elevation Church
  • “Helping people find their way back to God.” – Community Christian Church
  • “To be a New Testament church existing for the supremacy of the name and purpose of Jesus Christ.” – Austin Stone
  • “Making more and stronger disciples of Jesus, who make more and stronger disciples of Jesus.” – Faithbridge UMC

Do you see how those are really big ideas?  They are grounding statements, and come straight from the pages of Scripture.

But that purpose statement isn’t enough and here’s why.

Your purpose is never going to be accomplished.  Because it's so big and so grand, you're never going to be done with it.  It's always going to be there driving you forward, but you're never going to finish the work.

You’re not going to get the leaders together one Monday morning and say, “Well everyone, guess what? We’ve gone into all the world and everyone is a disciple.”  

You’ll always strive for it. It will always guide you, but you’re never going to be done accomplishing the task. For some people (I think it’s as many as half your church), your purpose statement sounds ethereal and philosophical, too big for them to grasp. It’s important, but it’s tough for people to relate.

That’s why you need a second statement. One that’s more about this current season of ministry. One that’s just as inspiring, but much more now oriented.  

Why every church needs a mission statement.

Your mission is always in service to your purpose, but they are different.

You’re going to accomplish it.
Your mission is about what’s now. In the next few years. If you’re always shooting for your mission, then your vision is what that looks like in this season of ministry.

If your purpose is always pushing you forward, your mission is about the next big step you need to take.  

Think about it like this…

NASA's purpose is to explore space.
NASA's mission is to go to Mars.

Their mission is specific.  They can create a budget for it.  They can recruit astronauts.  They can update everyone on specific progress.

And when they are done with it they will say “mission accomplished” and ask “what's next?”

You actually CAN call that Monday morning meeting and pull your leaders together and say, “Well, guess what? We’ve accomplished our mission and we need to figure out what’s next.” Your mission statement should answer this question: What specifically do you want to see God do in your church in this next season?

  • Another campus or another service?
  • Reach a certain number of people?
  • Pay off a big debt to free up money for ministry?
  • See 100 more volunteers step into serving opportunities this year?
  • Increase attendance by 20%?
  • Give away 10% of your budget to missions and church planting?
  • Start a second campus by 2018?
  • Connect 60% of adults into small groups or classes?

Purpose is about forever. Mission is about what’s current.  

Here are some examples of good mission statements.

  • “We will put a man on the moon and safely return him by the end of the decade.” – President John F. Kennedy.
  • “Impacting 100,000 Phoenix residents by 2020.” – Christ’s Church of the Valley

See how both of those can be measured and accomplished by a certain date? If NASA’s purpose was to explore space, their mission was to put a man on the moon. If CCV’s purpose was to honor God, reaching 100,000 residents by the end of this decade is what it looks like now.

You must communicate both purpose AND mission.

For your church to grow in a healthy way, you have to communicate both eternal purpose and short-term mission. Everyone in your church isn’t a big picture thinker and a lot of people in your church are wired the exact opposite. So when you communicate purpose and mission, you speak to both groups of people. Generosity is an important example.

Some people give to “big picture” purpose.

They need to hear what is at stake and that compelling ”why”.  If you’re always talking about short-term projects, you’re not engaging a large group of potential donors in your church.

But others give to “right now” needs.

Not everyone is motivated to give because of a long-term reason. They want to know what you are doing now and want to give to a specific goal or outcome. If you’re talking about purpose all of the time, you’re forgetting about these people. Volunteerism is another example where it’s important to communicate the why but also the now.

Some people serve because they believe in what you’re doing.

Others volunteer because they see a “right now” need.  It's important to speak to both.

If you don’t have a clear, compelling, and crisp mission statement, spend some time in prayer and ask God want He wants to do in your church and in your community. And if you don’t have a specific vision, then spend some time in prayer to ask God what He wants to do in your church in this next season of ministry.

You’ve got to communicate both because both really matter.

Creating Your Church's Mission & Purpose Statements

Feel like your church should be growing, but it's not? From someone who used to be a pastor and church planter, I know it can be frustrating.

Ultimately, church growth is up to God. But are we doing everything we can to ensure our church is healthy? How do we overcome the barriers we feel are in front of us?

We know you care deeply about leading a healthy growing church because it means leading more people to Jesus. As a result, we created a free guide to breaking barriers that will bring clarity and help begin to alleviate your frustrations.

Get your FREE copy of the Senior Pastor's Guide to Breaking Barriers today.