Mission Statements vs. Lifestyle Centric Understanding of Church – Contrasting Examples

To get the back story on this post click here and then here.

After yesterday’s post I’m feeling the opening line of Eminem’s Love the Way You Lie, “I can’t tell you what it really is, I can only tell you what it feels like…”  So maybe sharing some of my experiences with mission statements and statements created out of a Lifestyle Centric Understanding of church will help get my thoughts across.

Building and Using a Mission Statement

While on staff at one church a few years back I was commissioned to redesign the church’s small group system.  The church had a small group system already.  The groups were creeping along, but they were clunky and unfocused (I had helped create that system as well, so this attempt was a redo).  We, the staff team, were frustrated by the current Purpose Driven system we had been living and needed a change.  Recently we had stumbled upon  North Point’s foyer, living room, kitchen model and felt it was a perfect fit.  Our Sunday morning worship service was rocking awesome – fantastic worship, strong-relevant-personal messages, solid setting; but we needed a good living rooms and kitchen’s to back it up.

So I called together a bunch of leaders and potential leaders and we got to work.  We combed through scripture together.  We looked at other models else where.  We brainstormed at 6am over coffee and donuts.  We debated, white boarded ideas, laughed, and argued some more until finally we landed on a system of discipleship that we believed would begin to build intimacy and empower group members to grow.  At the center of the system was a great mission statement – We will provide opportunities for discipleship through environments that foster accountability, community, and time with God (A.C.T).

Once the theoretical system had passed through the staff team for tweaking, we were off to the races of implementation.  We began training the existing groups in how to practice ACT.  We did a huge sign up campaign and launched new groups.  We developed a new tracking and reporting system (a very cool excel sheet that took in weekly ACT scores, attendance, and visitors from each group and pumped out an estimation of group health…that was a cool toy built by Ben Piccone, the Excel Ninja).  We recruited coaches that would continuously provide the small group leaders with support.  And finally we trimmed the fat.  Everything not focused on ACT either had to change or it was allowed to die off.   The by product of all this effort was a great growing small group system that involved over 85% of the congregation.

Every mission statement / system redesign I’ve been a part of, whether it was at a ministry level or a whole church level, has followed this pattern – build the statement, implement in the activities, people practice.

Building and Using a Lifestyle Centric Understanding Statement

As I said before, this is very new for me.  I’m only on round two right now with Valley (my first go was with the Thingy) and the Thingy is only a year and a half into practice; but I can already see some core stuff that distinguishes this practice from the formation and application of a mission statement.

With the Thingy, again, as with it was with building a mission statement, a team of leaders and potential leaders were assembled.  (All Thingy members reading this are now wondering if they were a leader or a potential leader and that makes me laugh.)  We too combed through scripture.  We too looked at existing models.  We tpp brainstormed, white boarded, debated, compromised, etc…  But what we landed on was not a system of discipleship.  Rather it was a pattern of life.

Of course the statement defining that lifestyle looked very much like a mission statement, “We will love God and love people by living in a way defined by humility, forgiveness, service, worship wonder, and surrender.”   And if we were planning to use it as a mission statement, at this point we would have then built activity around it.  Conversations like, “A, B, and C activities help us practice humility and give us an opportunity to serve so they are cool.  Activities D and E don’t encourage any part of the mission statement so they are out…”  We then would have taken the good activities and figured out how to work them into a cohesive flow so that they harmonized rather than compete with one another.

By accident, we weren’t smart enough to do this on purpose, we went a different route.  Instead of focusing on activities that encouraged the lifestyle, we started living it out in our communities.  Each one of us took the lifestyle statement and translated it into our existing world.  How one person lived it at their restaurant was completely different than how Wendy and I lived it at our school.  The statement was open sourced.  We gave it to one another to struggle with.

Activities came.  We do gather.  But the content and structure of those activities are not built off the Lifestyle statement.  Rather we constantly ask each other, what do you need right now to keep yourself refreshed and keep the lifestyle going.  Sometimes the answer has been worship.  Sometimes it has been teaching.  Right now it seems to be prayer and scripture discovery.  Living as missionaries in our communities, struggling with this common style is what hold us together.  Not the stuff we do.

So is living out of a lifestyle centric understanding of church the same is centering what we do around a mission statement?  I don’t think so.

Some of you have been on teams with me that both built a mission statement and are now are part of the Thingy.  What do you think?

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Mission Statements vs. Lifestyle Centric Understanding of Church – Contrasting Examples

6 thoughts on “Mission Statements vs. Lifestyle Centric Understanding of Church – Contrasting Examples

  1. It’s great that you get to practice this in the two, very different settings. Something that might be helpful is highlighting the pros and cons of how it’s working in both settings. Like, how is evangelism going in both settings? How about discipleship? How about worship? All of that is hard to measure, and they’re not exactly apples to apples (the Thingy was started fresh from scratch and Valley has a lot of history and tradition). But, it would still be cool to learn from both. Maybe the Thingy is doing some things much better than Valley, or vice-versa.

    1. jeffandwendy says:

      The honest truth is I’m not sure what this will look like at Valley. We are just beginning the process there. I can say it is a lot slower. With the Thingy we had a group of people who were desperate for something new. They wanted to start with a white board and rethink everything. At Valley people love some things about the institution. They don’t want to rethink everything…some don’t want to rethink anything they just want the things they love to work like they used to. What is similar in both places is the life change – a here Valley may actually be moving faster. It is really true that people are changed on the mission field. Both groups have found amazing life change from starting to see their worlds as the place they are sent to. We will have to get four or five years from now though before we can really say how things played out. I think both groups are amazing. It’s a real privilege to be where I am right now and get to see what I’m seeing.

  2. Bob Scott says:

    With regard to the small groups…
    After talking with someone in New Zealand who was part of a house church there and hearing how theirs was run, I thought of a variant of their group for the institutional church. The idea is that each church small group is “loosely coupled” to the church. (As opposed to being “tightely coupled” as many of them currently are.) Being tightely coupled means that the church has tight reigns on the activities of all the groups. Most of the time they set the leaders for the groups, the agenda/activities. The result is that the small groups are really just another version of “serving the church” except at someone’s house.
    My idea was that while the groups would definitely share the doctrine of the church and be accountable to the church, they would be more autonomous. The “leader” would actually SERVE those members of the group in helping them pursue God’s will for their lives whatever that was. Also, the rest of the group would also be support for the couple or individual. The groups would be encouraged to be “outward” oriented in service to others such as Habitat or soup kitchens or whatever. There is more but that’s the basic idea. Anyway, don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this concept but thought I’d throw it out there.

    1. jeffandwendy says:

      I was part of a church that tried that loose coupling when I was in college. The model was fantastic on paper but they could never fully get it to work because the college students (who made up a large portion of the congregation) wanted a large group Sunday morning experience. Carl George wrote about it in Preparing Your Church for the Future. He called it the Meta-Church model. I would love to study someone who is pulling it off well. Any one know any body doing it well?

  3. Chuck Beem says:

    As I read Bob Scott’s post, it brought to my mind how our international missionaries function among unreached peoples. They live in a different culture, learn the culture, and then meet the needs and share the gospel in a way that is relevant to the culture of the people they are working to reach. Nobody tells them how they must do it because nobody knows the culture better than they do. In this sense, our missionaries are like loosely coupled small groups. If someone tried to dictate to them how to carry out their work, it would be wrong because it would be from outside the culture.
    What I really appreciate about the Thingy is that it seems like those involved are being prepared and sent as true missionaries–nobody is telling them how to do church in the culture they are reaching. They are learning the culture in which they have been placed and meeting needs and sharing the gospel in a way that reaches the people there.

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