July 14, 2017 by: Laura Lincoln

Crafting Mission and Vision Statements can be excruciating. Most people know that their congregation should have them, but they aren’t sure why. It feels a bit foreign, as though “business-speak” has crept into the vocabulary of faith.  And connecting building projects to mission statements and vision statements may seem to be totally irrelevant.  But in reality these connections are important in dealing with church conflict.

First, it helps to have some basic definitions.  Simply put, a Mission Statement tells everyone why you exist.  A Vision Statement tells everyone where your energy is directed.  If your congregation isn’t clear about these basic identity statements, it may be that you are already dealing with some level of church conflict. Congregations stuck in maintenance will be unlikely to successfully navigate a major building project.

Watercolor Dealing With Church Conflict - Building Projects and Mission Statements

Why? Well, do you need showers for helping out the homeless population in your area? Do you need a commercial kitchen or ten conference rooms? How many do you need to seat in the worship area, and how much parking will you need? A congregation whose primary focus is providing a place of prayer will have very different facilities needs from a congregation dedicated to hosting after-school programs and providing an afternoon snack for those children. You need to know who you are and what you want to accomplish.  And you will need to share this with your members and perhaps many others outside of the congregation.  

The act of engaging with one another is crucial in order to get everyone, eventually, rowing in the same direction. Here’s how...

  1. Talk to each other about WHY. People come and go weekly, but they often are so focused on getting tasks done that they never have time to talk about why they are participating. Why do you come here? Why are you part of this religious tradition? Why do you keep coming back?
  2. Honor the differences. Congregations tend to be fairly homogeneous in race, culture, and economic status, so you might think that everyone is motivated by the same things. Not so. Some people come out of duty, others hope for help in difficult times. Others come for the music, and some are just plain lonely. Still others are hoping to use that back plot to start a community garden someday soon.
  3. Try to get past habits and piety. It can be difficult to get a completely honest answer from people when it comes to their religious self-understanding. Many of the faithful have been around long enough to think that there’s a “right” answer out there that everyone should know.  In order to break through the hesitancy to be frank with each other, you need to establish a climate of trust. Leaders must act from a place of inclusion and support, rather than conformity, if they really want to hear honest answers.
  4. Tap into a wealth of experience. Lay people far outnumber clergy. Their experiences and ideas are varied. They collectively are experts in many arenas that could spark new energy and new ministries for your congregation.  Listen well.
  5. Asset Mapping - Take stock of what you have. It’s great to want to run a soup kitchen, but if you don’t have the space or the money or the staff or the know-how, you may need to shift gears. Find out what you have working for you currently in terms of people, supplies, space, expertise and finances. When you gather people for a conversation and begin to align all that you have, you may find that new possibilities spring up that you never thought of before.
  6. Do some imagining. Once you’ve gotten a realistic idea of what you have going for you, brainstorm. It is easy for congregations to get into a rut, so even just going through the exercise of realizing how much potential there is can bring new energy and excitement to the group.
  7. Focus. You don’t have to reach for the wildest idea in order for revitalization to happen. You do, however, need to get moving on getting something accomplished.  So focus on a realizable vision. Not following up with action makes all of the work you asked people to do before a waste of time.  That inevitably will generate a loss of trust in the leadership and a collective depression that will be tough to break.
  8. Make those statements public. Mission and Vision statements are no good if only the in-crowd know them. Get the word out, and be accountable to your vision!

Download the entire resource "Managing Church Change and Conflict" and let us know if we can help you on your next building project:

Managing Church Change and Conflict


Guest blogger Laura Lincoln, an expert in managing church change will be contributing a series of blogs over the next several weeks dealing with early issues of conflict in planning for a major building program.

-- Laura Lincoln, MA, MS

Laura Lincoln, MA, MS is a theologian and organizational psychologist who has served as an intentional transitional minister, organizational development consultant, professor of Christian Worship, and campus minister. She has worked as a consultant for churches of various denominations in both the United States and England, is the former Executive Director of the Texas Conference of Churches, and the current Director of People and Organization at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Austin, Texas.

Laura studied at/has degrees from Walden University, Yale University Divinity School, St. John's School of Theology (Collegeville, MN), Gettysburg Seminary, and the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest.

Design Process/ Master Planning/ Church Change