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Thinking Like a Great Small Church (Seminar) – Part 4

September 22, 2014

For the past few weeks I have been posting—section by section—the transcript of a seminar I had the privilege to present at the National Association of Free Will Baptists annual convention. That seminar was titled “Thinking Like a Great Small Church”. I have introduced the topic (Part 1), presented some statistics (Part 2), and addressed some realities of leading in a small church context (Part 3). In the next three sections (Parts 4-6) I will offer practical suggestions that I believe will help as you begin to think like a great small church. Part 7 will conclude with some resources that have been particularly helpful to me. I am sure you will find them encouraging as well. The footnotes are from the original paper and the links were added for this post. As always, I pray this is a help and an encouragement to you. Please use the comment section below to offer any feedback, positive or negative.


Barn Targets

Ready, Fire, Aim!

There was a man traveling down a country road when he saw another man with a bow shooting arrows into the side of his barn. The man traveling was curious, so he stopped. When he saw the arrows in the side of the barn, he was amazed. Every arrow was in the very center of a bulls-eye! He asked the man how he was able to hit those bulls-eyes so consistently. He replied, “Come with me.” Together, they walked around to the other side of the barn. The man with the bow pulled out and fired five arrows at random into the side of the barn. Then he took his paint and brush and painted a bulls-eye around each arrow.

A number of years ago, it was all the rage in church leadership circles to develop mission statements and try to implement them. What most churches wound up with was some generic statement that included bringing glory to God, believers together, and the lost to salvation. They found clever, catchy, clichéd ways to say this, but that describes most of them. What they did not include, for the most part, was any reflection of the character, culture, or calling of that individual church. For most churches this effort into mission statement madness appears to have made no discernible difference. For many this exercise was a failure that discouraged and set back the pastor and the church.

There are a couple of common views regarding mission statements. One of those could be summed up as: Without a concise mission statement your church will probably fail and die. The other is that the mission of the local church should be self-evident. Pastor and author Mike McKinley likens it to a major league baseball team.[1] No one expects the New York Yankees to have a mission or vision statement. Everyone knows what their mission is: Win!

I have chosen what I see as a sort of middle ground. I think mission statements are helpful, but not necessary. They are a tool. They help us to stay focused on the task at hand. Just like individuals have a call, gifting, and purpose, so do churches; and a church’s mission statement has to reflect that call, gifting, and purpose. Rather than write a mission statement and then try to conform the church to it, perhaps we should examine our church and write a mission statement that reflects it. I think there are three steps to this process:

1) Values:[2] Every church has things or traits it values. These are the things that make your church different from mine. Start by making a list of your church’s values. These are not the values you wish your church had. These are the actual things your church actually values. Over time you can try to grow this list to include the values you want, but start with the actual reality. I will illustrate with some (not all) of the things I observe that the church I pastor values: a casual atmosphere, a somewhat unstructured worship service, relationships in the church, a come-as-you-are welcome, caring for one another’s physical needs, biblical preaching that teaches, and a racially diverse attendance/membership. In time I would like for generosity toward the community to increase in value, along with other things I believe are important.

What does your church value? Maybe your church’s values include concern for the poor, a fun environment, missions, engaging corporate worship, of social justice issues. No single church can value every good thing. Sit down and make a list of several items. Recruit your leadership to do the same. Compare your lists and talk about the items. Try to build a fairly comprehensive list of your church’s values. There will likely be a fair amount of overlap between some of the items. You can use the larger list to try to synthesize a shorter list of a few things that you value most highly as a church. If you don’t know what is important to your congregation, it will be difficult to move them forward on mission.

2) Mission: This is your biblical mission accomplished through the lens of your values. There are certain things every church ought o be about doing. The Great Commission is the responsibility of every church. But does every church go about accomplishing it in the same way? Of course not!

Some churches are more creative and use music, art, and drama to introduce people to Jesus and lead them toward discipleship. Some are more academically oriented. Still others are very relational by nature. Some churches are highly formal and speak more easily to those who place a high value on tradition. Others are more informal and often appeal to those from a low-income or unchurched background. Neither is more important. Both can be Great Commission churches. A biblical church will accomplish their mission through the things they value. As you discern your values, you will figure out your mission.

3) Vision: By this, I am referring to a specific vision for the future of your church. What good is a sense of mission if it doesn’t translate into action? Vision is where the action is at!

Vision could be defined as goals or a plan. Many churches consider their vision to be the same as their mission, but the mission is a little vague by its very nature. Your church’s vision must be fairly specific. In order to be effective, it must be measurable and definable. It might take the form of a 1-year vision, a 5-year vision, or even a 10-year vision. The vision is where your mission takes on feet.

So you have spent time and energy working through your values, mission, and vision. You are hard at work in your church for the kingdom. You are in a small church, so small changes in your attendance lead to significant changes in your church. What happens if over time your values as a church begin to change? The answer is pretty easy. So does your mission and vision. All three of these need to be reviewed and reassessed on a regular basis. Your church is a living body; just like any living body, it will change over time.

[1] Mike McKinley, Church Planting is for Wimps (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2010) 60.

[2] Jim Powell, Dirt Matters (Bloomington, Ind.: Westbow Press) Chapter 2: “Misplaced Priorities” does an excellent job of defining and describing what is meant and not meant by “Values”.


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