April 6th, 2014

Why Your Church is Probably Operating at Less than 50% Effectiveness

Church Mission StatementMost of you will disagree with what I am about to suggest. Nevertheless, I will try my best to share with you what I’ve learned over the last 13 years. Keep in mind that this post title is not a theory; it comes from a front row seat watching real transformation of senior pastors, their staff, their lay leaders, and eventually their entire congregation.

First, I’ll share the problem and give some quick illustrations of churches in the transformation process. Secondly, I will give two analogies to reinforce my point.


The problem is that most churches have a general sense of their mission rather than clearly defined and contextually crafted mission.  What does it mean to be working with a general sense of mission? Let’s illustrate. I just surveyed the top 10 staff at a large church (and by most standards a successful church) running over 1,000 in weekend attendance. When asked to state their mission, the answers included:

  • Extending the joy of following Christ to all people
  • To make disciples and serve the community
  • Reach people and growing disciples
  • Being God’s agent in world to make a difference in the world, everywhere we go.
  • To provide worship, small group and service opportunities

These statements of mission illustrate “leading from a general sense” for two reasons. First, they are not articulating the same words. Second, they are general re-articulations of the great commission. Any nuance among them is due to the bias and experience of the individual. One sounds operational while another sounds missional. One is a follower of John Piper, and one just read, “The Externally Focused Church.” You get the idea.

Now, some may object and suggest that these generic restatements aren’t a problem at all. Isn’t having a general orientation toward a disciple-making mission enough? I don’t think so.


In the last 4 years, I have worked with three churches all within a 10 minutes drive from one another in Dallas, Texas. All of these churches run over 1,000 in weekend attendance. Below is the new articulated mission of each church. Keep in mind that when I started working with them, the key leaders only had a general sense of mission.

Church #1: Inviting people into the unexpected joy of desperate dependence on Jesus.

Church #2: Rescuing one another from cultural Christianity to follow Jesus every day.

Church #3: Calling the Christian-ish to become passionate servants of Christ.

Each one of these churches has a mission that reflects:

  • Aspects of denominational heritage (Bible, Baptist & Methodist, respectively)
  • Clues to their corporate strengths and passion as a congregation
  • Nuances guided by their location and facility assets within Dallas
  • An outward posture based on engaging the Dallas culture

Last week I had a follow-up visit with two of the churches. Here are exact quotes from their staff:

  • “We are not the same church we used to be.”
  • “Everyone in our church ‘gets it.’  They know who we are and what we are about, and this creates powerful synergy.
  • “As a result of our focus with leaders in the body, we gave $550,000 more than we ever have to a one-time missions offering (50% increase in giving).”
  • “Our greatest challenge is a willing readiness of our people to do more!”

More energy. Greater resources. Better synergy.  Would you like to have that right now at your church? Sure you would. Would you have guessed that the first step toward this “more” is defining for the first time what your specific mission is as a church? Probably not. And that’s my point. As a result of your generic mission you are most likely operating at less than 50% of what you could be. If you don’t know your mission, you certainly don’t have a culture of mission. And if you don’t have a culture of mission, than what are people in your church really doing? Why are they there?


The first analogy is a restaurant start-up. Imagine that we were excited to start a new restaurant and believed it had the potential to be a successful franchise. To get off the ground we want to attract investors and a few talented people to join our ambitious dream. How successful do you think we would be if our mission were to “make food and serve the community?” You guessed it— not very. Why? The language of mission does nothing to differentiate us from the thousands of restaurants that already exist. Nor does it guide our thinking, synergy, planning and communication for practical next steps. We really need to decide whether we are a fast-casual Italian or fine-dining seafood? Right!?

Consider another very different example. My wife Romy is a very talented artist. Sometimes she paints a random scene or an image that inspired her. Sometime she paints with a purpose, selecting a pre-determined location for a painting with a specific objective that guides the content, color and emotion of the work. What might look like the same act to an unknowing observer—Romy painting two similar paintings—is actually very different. One painting requires no pre-thought or preparation. The other work of art is very calculated; she paints with a completely intensity and focus. Purpose changes everything!

So now it’s up to you. If this post means anything to you, conduct a litmus test: do your people know your mission? Is it meaningfully articulated based on your understanding of what your church can do better than 10,000 others? If not, then I think you are operating at a capacity less than 50% of what you should be. And that’s not an exaggeration. And, if you want to talk about it just let me know in the comments below.

If you already do run with a clear, concise, compelling and contextual mission, I would love to know about it and share it with the world. Let me know your mission in the comments section below.

Life if short and ministry is hard. So let’s lead with stunning clarity!

12 Comments on to “Why Your Church is Probably Operating at Less than 50% Effectiveness”

  • Richard says:

    “To follow Jesus in such a way that lives become fearless in their love for God and people”

    Most of our congregation gets it. It took 9 years to get this statement nailed down, and we introduced it to the church as a way to redefine why we do what we do. Now we are working on vision, and asking the question where are we going? We are peddling, just not sure of the direction.

  • We are trying to work through this process. We recently had an elder retreat to work through Lencioni’s The Advantage and came up with these:

    Reflect Church exists as a catalyst for Christ-revealing moments that lead to Christ-reflecting lives.

    Reflect Church behaves as a family of servants who believe that Jesus is always the hero and mission equals everyday life.

    Reflect Church makes disciples and plants churches to flood the city and fill the earth with the reflected light and love of Jesus.

    Reflect Church will succeed by relentlessly focusing on preaching the gospel, building missional communities, training gospel-centered disciples and encouraging, equipping and empowering the church to serve in their unique calling and vocation.

    I feel like that definitive mission is still eluding us…

    We have only begun to release these three core values (how we behave) and seen resonance, even a little bit of what you described in your blog. However, I don’t feel that it is a mission, just how we behave on mission.

    1. Jesus is the Hero
    2. Family of Servants
    3. Mission = Everyday Life

    Long story short, we are in the thick of this process, and could I could use some input. Thanks.

  • Tom Campbell says:

    Will, you don’t get it. You and visionaries like you are like the farmer who every day during the spring went out to the field to take soil samples. He takes his samples back to the lab to have them analyzed. He goes back a week later and fertilizes, then he takes another sample. He is so concerned about the condition of the soil, he forgets to plant. Don’t you realize that there are two gardens in the Bible – one in the begging and one at the end and everything in between is
    horse shit” – good ripe compost — human sin. We give our shit to God – and we plant trees and gardens and God grows them for our nourishment and his glory. Thats the vision the church needs to catch.

    Tom Campbell.

    By the way, I remember you from Willowdale Chapel

  • D.Kirk Stephens says:

    Why are our churches only operating at 50%? It’s not because our mission statement isn’t defined well enough. LOL We have a advisary. We as a people have a sin nature. Sin is easy and people are naturally bent in that direction. Making disiples, discerning God’s lead in your individual life, breaking down His word personally, and having a servants heart. The lack of these in my opinion are the reasons 50% or less is occuring. I understand this is directed to pastoral leadership and you must be focused and directional in your first steps to accomplishing your goal. But come on, I have seen leadership strain over this “nat” when really, we just need leaders to lead. Because that’s what real leaders do.

  • Will Mancini says:

    Mr Stephens, thanks for your comment. To clarify, I was not trying to explain a list or prioritized list of why the church does not operate well. Sin nature is obviously a big thing!!!. My point is that whatever else may be limiting your church, not having a defined mission will certainly cut your effectiveness in half.

  • Will Mancini says:

    Tom, Thanks for taking the time to comment. I feel your angst Tom. Like the comment I made to Mr. Stephens, this was not an attempt to deal with the dynamics of sin nature. In addition, It sounds like you are a little ticked at consultants in general. I am sorry if you have had a bad experience.

  • Will Mancini says:

    Timothy, thank you for your comment. Here are a few bits of perspective:

    1) Before we do mission articulation, we spend a few days of work on a piece we call the Kingdom Concept. This anchors are work in three things: the local predicament, collective potential and apostolic spirit. From these examples, I discern some very creative ideation—and compelling I might add— that may not have had the substance of before hand. In other words I sense the some of your passion and distinct style as a communicator through this, but don’t know if the pre-work has been done. Of course you might have andI just can’t see it from my vantage point.

    2) Use a Vision Frame so that your mission doesn’t have to communicate values and strategy, etc. Clearly some of these examples are blurring the lines. I see this as a misuse of the mission and it obscures the clarity you want the mission to have. What is the ULTIMATE thing your church is supposed to be doing.

    3) Conjunctions may reflect unprocessed thinking. When you have a conjunction you are adding additional ideas the can dilute the meaning and impact of the mission. For example is light or love more important?

    4) Metaphors may hurt clarity. We use the junior-high rule for clarity- would a 12 year old kid understand it? We are not ruling our the use of a term or idea than may require explanation. Just be sure that you WANT to design pauses in communication flow to unpack an idea and commit to doing so. Catalyst, missional, etc. Again I know what you mean and appreciate the vivid nature (in fact this is a vision-casting piece which is very different from mission articulation) but make the phrase as clear as possible.

    Advantage is a great book. Church Unique covers the same principles but brings nuanced coaching to church leaders for landing the plane on final articulation.

    Keep up the great work. I love Jesus is the Here. Boom! Praise God that he is.

  • Will Mancini says:

    Richard, I feel the “weight-load” of this statement and I love the singularity of fearless love. There is an immediate punch of biblical and theological force (perfect love casts out all fear) and a zesty, rally cry – fearless!!! Keep investing in the articulation of vision. Mission and vision are two entirely different tools! Thanks for sharing.

  • Timothy Stewart says:

    Will, thanks for the great feedback. My ideation (My strengths finder results are Intellection, ideation, input, learner and strategic) gets the best of me sometimes, and I spit out too many words or images…that is why I’m really aiming for clarity. I have your book Church Unique. I’ll start reading it after Easter.

    the city church “stole” our mission 🙂

    To show you who Jesus is

    We’ve used this “reflect Jesus well”

    Thinking about this: to enjoy and extend the glory of his grace

  • […] This Will Mancini article appeared on Will Mancini  as: Why Your Church is Probably Operating at Less than 50% Effectiveness […]

  • Stanton Cole says:

    Our Church launched with the Mission/Vision statement of “Inspiring You to trust in and live like Jesus”. With the focus of You, Family, City. So insert each one into the statement, ie. Inspiring You, Inspiring Families, Inspiring the City. This has been a great catalyst for our church and how it casts the vision of this statement. There is also a method we share to help define how this mission statement is lived out in our daily lives. We call it LIGHT, L – Learn Up, I – Invite to a meal, G – Generosity, H – Hear from God, and T – Tell your story. All of this is language that we as a church have used from the beginning of our short 2 1/2 years in existence.

    I feel like as a church we could still do a better job of casting the vision of Trusting in and living like Jesus. I really think that seems to be the gist of what Will is talking about in this article. How can we more simply and effectively cast the God inspired vision of our church to the many staff, volunteers, and attenders? Making the vision complex and not clearly defining that vision so that everyone knows, only causes confusion and muddies the water, diluting the vision. I have been taught as a leader of volunteer based ministries that clear and concise vision is the primary reason people give their time and resources, and clearly casting that vision is not a one time or even two time thing. It is something that constantly needs addressed and re-addressed otherwise that vision becomes unclear to everyone.

  • Tim Eaton says:

    Vision certainly important, however I feel frustrated by the church system which
    limits and keeps most believers as passive spectators.
    The practice of pastor, staff and board running the church is wrong.
    I prefer congregation over church. It is suppose to be about the people, instead
    every Sunday it is about the pastor and staff functioning and 80 plus percent watch the show.
    Let’s start applying 1 Corinthians 14:26, and the royal priesthood of all believers. I have more to say but not time right now

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