How and Why to Develop a Mission Statement for Your Youth Ministry
Proverbs 29:18 says that when there is no prophetic vision, the people cast off restraint. There are a dozen different translations of that verse, but the bottom line is that when we don’t have a reason for doing what we’re doing, we’re in trouble. Put succinctly: people need purpose.
This is true in our youth ministries. Why does your ministry exist? It’s a vital question, and one that is often answered in a mission or vision statement. Which brings me to my confession.
I’m gonna be honest. I don’t know the difference between a vision statement and a mission statement. People have explained it to me a few times, and I understand it for a few hours, but then I forget again. And even though someone decided back in the 1990s that we were supposed to have both, I am giving you permission to do what I did, and just combine them into one. I’m pretty sure Jesus also got those confused too, when the consultants came in to help him figure out what his mission and vision were. (“No, Jesus, that’s your mission, remember? We talked about this. Let’s see if we can clarify that vision a little more, mmkay?”) More important to me than a mission versus a vision statement is answering the question: why does your ministry exist?
That’s the question I decided to answer for my youth ministry in the early years. It had never occurred to me until I read Doug Fields’ seminal book Purpose Driven Youth Ministry, wherein he talked about how important it is to have a mission statement (or was it a vision statement?) and how he made students memorize it and he put it on his stationery. I’m not as good as Doug Fields, so it never made it onto stationery but I did write one.
So how does one go about writing their own mission/vision/existence statement?
I would suggest doing something similar to what I did: get out a pad of paper and just start writing out as many ideas as you can. Perhaps you do it with a group of leaders or students. The point is not to make it perfect right away—and it will never be perfect. Start by asking that question: why do we exist?
When I first began to craft mine, I started broad and then narrowed it down from there. What do you care about? What are you passionate about? What are the non-negotiables? Don’t worry about the wording right away, just get the ideas down as best you can.
In my context, I worked on it some with my fellow youth pastor, and I realized that I wanted both discipleship and evangelism to be central, but in a specific way. We liked the idea that the community of students is what we’re creating (discipleship), and then that community reaches the larger community (evangelism). So that was the heart of it, but we weren’t sure if “create a community to reach a community” would make any sense, so we eschewed the pithy for the specific. We fleshed it out this way:
Creating a caring community of Christ-followers who will reach a community with the love and truth of Christ.
It’s a mouthful, and it’s not perfect, but it says what I wanted it to say, in the fewest words possible. I could spend time explaining why I chose each word, but you get the gist. Christ is at the center—we receive His righteousness and rest in the free gift of his grace. As we follow Christ, we love each other sacrificially, and then allow that caring community to become the apologetic that draws in the larger community.
But more important than getting the wording of your statement perfectly is the next question: when and how should this get used? Writing an existence statement does you no good if you talk about it once and it never sees the light of day again. Conversely, if you talk about it constantly, it will bore your students; they’ll stop hearing it.
The rhythm that works well for us is to talk about it once a year, in the fall, the two weeks before Labor Day. This is when students who have been less regular over the summer start to come back around again, and we’re gearing up for a new school year. I often divide it into two messages: one about what it means to be a caring community of Christ-followers and one to motivate them to have a heart for the community around them that’s not currently in the room.
Ok we’ve got time for some questions. Yes, go ahead.
- Can I steal a statement from another ministry?
Sure, just as long as what they’ve said also captures what is uniquely yours. For instance: “To know Christ and make him known” is fantastic, but that works for all churches and all ministries—what about yours?
- Do students need to memorize the statement?
What’s more important than rote memorization is that you feel confident that students are able to understand why your ministry exists. They don’t need to know every word, just the sentiment.
- Do I really have to do this? Feels like homework.
No, you sure don’t. But I have found it to be a helpful exercise to clarify what the purpose of your ministry is, and to communicate that to students and leaders. Knowing what we’re supposed to do is important. Knowing why is critical.
- Do I have to put it on my stationery?
No, just don’t tell Doug Fields.