Every year about this time, I get calls from lay and clergy leaders who want help writing a mission statement. They hope that with a clearer sense of mission, their congregations will stop reliving yesterday and start building tomorrow. I think they’re on the right track, and once upon a time I would have joined them in the mission-writing process. But today I usually suggest starting instead with a vision statement.
Some churches grow, and others shrink. Most oscillate for decades around a size that it finds comfortable. When a church gets too small for its own comfort, it plugs newcomers into spots left vacant by those who have departed. When it grows too big, it lets newcomers know they are not needed. This oscillation can go on for decades, till it is disrupted by strong outside forces such as a growth-oriented pastor, a sudden run of deaths, or an influx of unusually determined visitors.
Most congregations say they want to grow in membership and mission—a goal that feels more urgent as the members age. In worship, a person aged 65 is likely to see mostly older people. It’s a good way to feel young at age 65! However, it is not a great sign for the congregation’s future. If they fail to attract new and younger members, many congregations will soon cease to exist.