The old adage ‘aim at nothing and you’re sure to hit it’ has always been true in my experience and there is good reason to think that churches drift because of a lack of vision.
Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Church makes a strong appeal for churches to have and hold on to clear biblical vision. Here are some edited highlights from chapter 4: The Foundation for a Healthy Church.
The need for a clear purpose
Nothing precedes purpose. The starting point for every church should be the question, “Why do we exist?” Until you know what your church exists for, you have no foundation, no motivation, and no direction for ministry. If you are helping a new church get started, your first task is to define your purpose. It’s far easier to set the right foundation at the start of a new church than it is to reset it after a church has existed for years.
However if you serve in an existing church that has plateaued, is declining, or is simply discouraged, your most important task is to redefine your purpose. Forget everything else until you have established it in the minds of your members. Recapture a clear vision of what God wants to do in and through your church family. Absolutely nothing will revitalize a discouraged church faster than rediscovering its purpose.
Unless the driving force behind a church is biblical, the health and growth of the church will never be what God intended. Strong churches are not built on programs, personalities, or gimmicks. They are built on the eternal purposes of God.
The benefits of a clear purpose
Warren suggests at least five.
1. A clear purpose builds morale
People working together for a great purpose don’t have time to argue over trivial issues. When you’re helping to row the boat, you don’t have time to rock it.
I believe it is also true that where there is no vision, people leave for another parish! Many churches are barely surviving because they have no vision.
2. A clear purpose reduces frustration
A purpose statement reduces frustration because it allows us to forget about things that don’t really matter.
A clear purpose not only defines what we do, it defines what we do not do.
The secret of effectiveness is to know what really counts, then do what really counts, and not to worry about all the rest.
How do we respond to all of those suggestions that come our way as leaders as to how to improve church?
The filter must always be: Does this activity fulfil one of the purposes for which God established the church?
When a church forgets its purpose, it has a difficult time deciding what’s important. It will vacillate between priorities, purposes and programs.
3. A clear purpose allows concentration
One of the common temptations I see many churches falling for today is the trap of majoring in the minors. They become distracted by good, but less important agendas, crusades, and purposes. The energy of the church is diffused and dissipated; the power is lost.
In my opinion, most churches try to do too much. This is one of the most overlooked barriers to building a healthy church: We wear people out.
The older a church gets, the truer this becomes. Programs and events continue to be added to the agenda without ever cutting anything out. Remember, no program is meant to last forever. A good question to keep in mind when dealing with programs in your church is, “Would we begin this today if we were not already doing it?”
Being efficient is not the same as being effective. Peter Drucker says, ‘Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.’
God wants churches to be effective. Those few churches that are really effective concentrate on their purpose.
4. A clear purpose attracts cooperation
People want to join a church that knows where it’s going. When a church clearly communicates its destination, people are eager to get on board.
Tell people up front where your church is headed, and it will attract cooperation. Spell out your church’s purposes and priorities in a membership class. Clearly explain your strategy and structure. This will keep people from joining the membership with false assumptions.
5. A clear purpose assists evaluation
How does a church evaluate itself? Not by comparing itself to other churches, but by asking, “Are we doing what God intends for us to do?” and “How well are we doing it?”
The important issue is this: Your church will be stronger and healthier by being purpose driven.
How do you get there?
First, you must define your purposes. Next, you must communicate those purposes to everyone in your church – on a regular basis. Third, you must organize your church around your purposes. Finally, you must apply your purposes to every part of your church.
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