What Is the Difference between a Church Vision Statement and Mission Statement?

Someone asks this question to our team at Church Answers about once a week. I get it. It is confusing and, often, contradictory. We have been looking at church vision statements and mission statements for years. These brief explanations may bring some clarity to the confusion.

  • There is no consistent definition to either statement. Okay, that should make you feel better. If you lack clarity, it is because there is no clarity.
  • Some older definitions are still being used. I still hear these two definitions or those with similar wording: A mission statement is God’s purpose for all churches. A vision statement is God’s specific purpose for a specific church in a specific context. By these two definitions, every church would have similar mission statements, but vastly different vision statements.
  • Some church leaders don’t like either statement. The common complaint is that mission and vision statements come from the corporate world and not the Bible. There is truth to that criticism. But I prefer to think of either statement as a way to plan for the future of the church as a good steward of time and funding.
  • Very few churches try to have two statements over any extended period of time. A number of churches have tried to have a mission statement and a vision statement. The former states the biblical purpose of all congregations. The latter provides specificity for their local church. Most leaders have trouble getting their members to remember one statement, much less two. Such attempts usually get abandoned after a short while.
  • The memorable statements, whether they are called vision statements or mission statements, are succinct. I suggested to some church leaders at a retreat that it is often a futile effort to expect members to remember a long statement. The executive pastor of the church pushed back. He told me that their vision statement is long because every word is critical. I asked him to look me in the eye and repeat the statement in its entirety. He couldn’t do it.
  • Mission statements or vision statements should reflect an awareness of the community. Such is the reason I encourage church leaders first to start with the Bible, and then do a thorough study of your community (We have a tool at Church Answers called “Know Your Community” for this purpose: https://churchanswers.com/solutions/tools/kyc/know-your-community/)
  • The most commonly used statements today move members toward desired actions. Such was the thesis of the book I wrote with Eric Geiger, Simple Church. We suggested that a very basic vision statement could demonstrate a process of discipleship with just a few words. For example, a vision statement of “Gather. Grow. Go. Give.” could set expectations that members are to gather for worship, grow spiritually in small groups, go and do ministry in the church and the community, and give faithfully. That simplicity is the reason Simple Church vision statements are fast becoming ubiquitous.
  • If a vision or mission statement is not based on biblical foundations, it should be tossed. It then becomes a corporate or secular statement for sure. I still like these statements, but I insist they begin with the word of God.

Does your church have a vision or mission statement? How effective do you believe it is? I would love to hear from you to add this conversation.

Posted on May 3, 2021

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Mark Snead says on

    Our Church has had a few different vision statements over the last 27 years. We are continually trying to develop statements which reflect our call and ministry, in a succinct way. Thanks for the teaching, it will help us refine what we want to say.

  • Thom, I love this article. You have elicited a whole bevy of thoughts that revolve around concepts and teachings that I received when I first attended Bible College in the early 1980’s. Mission Statements and Vision Statements were being advocated at the school I attended in California. There were professors who advocated the use of both statements and others who claimed that the statements were one and the same, just iterations of the desire to describe the ministry in a succinct manner.
    It is interesting to see that the confusion still exists between the two entities and that a cohesive understanding has not been universally achieved. I also find it compelling to see that there is still some reticence in using a statement that articulates the essence of a church or ministry that can be used for marketing purposes today. Attitudinal prejudices against marketing and ministry run deep.
    On a personal note, I have found it beneficial to use both statements in the context of ministry. Our current Mission Statement was devised in 1996 and has followed me through three different churches, which fits my personal sense of the mission statements purpose. To me, any mission statement is reflective of the leaders purpose and internet, knowing that ministry revolves around the strengths and weaknesses of the primary leader and leadership philosophy.
    The Mission Statement can reflect a more collaborative approach based on the leadership structure of a ministry, but the more focused and comprehensive the statement, the better. Too many cooks dilute the stew. When too many ideas and interests are compiled into a statement, the purpose can easily be lost or lack ease of understanding.
    Punchy, succinct statements work best, especially when they are easily conveyed. Our Mission Statement is:
    Passion For God’s Presence;
    Purpose For God’s People.
    The statement conveys the ministry philosophy that I endeavor to build into any ministry I lead, and it is reflective of the principles I am passionate about in ministry. It is easy to remember, easy to use, and easy to communicate. I call it the 4 P’s and God.
    Our Vision Statement is more general in its conveyance of information. The intent of the Vision Statement is to disseminate the overall perspective of the ministry regardless of who is in charge, making it a more universal choice of wording for thought conveyance. It is also simple yet compelling in its ability to elicit emotion and acceptance of direction.
    When asked what our Vision Statement is or what is our vision for the church, the answer is always “To Have A Healthy Church.” The message is broad enough to conjure up ANY vision an individual may have on a personal level and “see” it through the eyes of faith as a desire within the church itself.
    It is my belief our vision and Vision Statement must be as inclusive as possible with limitations only in the biblically accepted perimeters of behavior. A Vision Statement when crafted effectively allows for paradigm shifts to occur, where the erstwhile participant can visualize making a personal and positive impact on the organization.
    In my opinion, the Mission Statement is the more personal expression of the leader, whereas the Vision Statement is the corporate expression of the organization. Both need to be simple and succinct to be effective. Both are tremendous marketing tools when used effectively. And both are needed. Thanks for this thoughtful article.

  • Our statement is this:
    The purpose of Christ United Methodist Church is
    to introduce people to Jesus Christ,
    to help them become faithful followers of Him,
    and to equip them to share His love with others.

    We help people get their minds around this by further boiling it down to this: Know, Grow, Go

  • I like to think of it on 4 levels.
    Manifesto – is the combination of the Vision, Mission and Values. Think Jesus teaching in the synagogue – Luke 4:14-21
    Mission – is the purpose for which the church exists in culturally relevant language. This is probably the most generic and similar to most other churches. Most churches are fairly cooky cutter with this. Worship, Service, Discipleship, Etc.
    Values – are how we behave and what we commit to as a church family. They should be non-negotiables and timeless. When they are articulated, people should see the evidence of this outworked. We are going on a journey together, and as we do, this is how we will behave. Think Sermon on the Mount.
    Vision – is how we (want to) look as a church. I describe it as the jigsaw box lid that keeps us aligned to what God’s wants us to look like. It should be the most distinctive thing for that church. Will it involve a sports ministry, residential care, multi-generational combined services. This is where it gets fleshed out so that people joining the church can say – Oh, so that is where you are heading or your focus.

  • Mark Armstrong says on

    In my world, catchy vision statements tend to get recycled by churches because they are just that, “catchy”. In our church revitalisation, we were looking for a fresh statement of action, and so we morphed Tit. 1:1 into our statement, “Enabling faith – Knowing the truth – Pursuing godliness” i.e. evangelism, learning the gospel and holiness. If it was good enough for Paul, then it must be good enough for us 🙂

  • Good afternoon.

    Our vision statement at ConneXion Church of Savannah, GA is “Connecting the Disconnected To Jesus Christ”

    Our mission statement is “Rebuilding Lives One at a Time.”

    Pastor Culbreth

  • Vision is inspirational, Mission is purposeful.

  • Tom Larocca says on

    Thank you for clarification on church statements. Well explained from both favorable and opposition parties.

  • A tricky question indeed, but wat u shared has being truly helpful,one outta to find out more

  • Jared Hay says on

    In Parish ministry, I did find these terms confusing, of course. The more I thought about them, the more I could see that they could be interpreted differently and serve two different and useful purposes.
    Vision statement – tells people what you are aiming to become

    Mission statement – tells people you think you can get there

  • Robin G Jordan says on

    For my online startup I use a mission statement that I shameless borrowed from Ed Stetzer–“to show and share the love of Jesus.” It is short, succinct, and easy-to-remember. It covers both the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. It can worked into sermons, talks, podcasts, and so forth. I have been involved in a number of startups and other churches over the years and I found their mission statements long, wordy, intended to impress, but impractical and unhelpful. The church adopted one because someone thought the church should have a mission statement. A vision statement, on the other hand, if done properly, sets out some attainable, measurable goals and a plan or strategy for reaching those goals. It is not cast in stone and may be changed as it becomes clear that some goals are not attainable and some plans or strategies are not going to work in the particular circumstances of the church. My original vision for All Hallows Murray was to gather a core group and start a weekly worship gathering, not very imaginative but not an uncommon way new churches are launched. However, I was unsuccessful in finding a meeting place and my efforts to gather a core group were far from stellar. The COVID-19 pandemic killed that vision. I launched a weekly Zoom service for the members of an existing church where I on occasion preached since the church had temporarily suspended its services at the governor’s recommendations. Zoom services have drawbacks when some church members do not have internet access, do not have the web cams and mikes, and lack the computer savvy to navigate Zoom, not uncommon in older congregations. I also lost my congregation when the church decided to return to the building. In place of the Zoom services, I launched weekly asynchronous services–pretty low tech–music videos and Scripture readings, a homily, and prayers which the viewers read themselves, targeted at people who for various reasons are not ready to return to the building. I have a following that averages from 15 to 30 people, depending upon the time of the week. It meets a need. and it shows and shares the love of Jesus.