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Purpose, Values, Vision & Mission

September 30, 2009 by

2009_09_30_Moon.jpgIf you’re like me, whenever you hear words like “vision,” “values,” “purpose” and “mission,” your eyes start to glaze over. Then your ears start ringing with all of the vision/mission/purpose/values statements you’ve heard. And finally, the books you’ve read about these topics become even more confusing because you can’t remember who said what, what comes first, and why exactly it all matters in the first place. For what it’s worth, I think the reason these words/concepts are so abundant is directly connected to the significance these hold for our life and the organizations we serve.

In an effort to sort through all of the noise, here is how I define these often ominous terms, taking them from wall art in the conference room to tangible realities.

I believe there are two categories we should be thinking in. The first is purpose and values. The second is vision and mission.

Purpose and Values
Purpose and values should never change. They are with you from the beginning of your organization’s existence and they should be with you until the end. They don’t contextualize or change with culture. They should always remain. Jim Collins’ research shows that a relentless commitment to purpose and values is the one and only difference between organizations that are built to last and those that are not. It’s not vision, mission, strategy, inventions or money in the bank that makes organizations last, it’s a relentless commitment to purpose and values.

Purpose is the reason why you exist. It’s not your vision or mission, or the values that guide you. It’s the big idea for why you do what you do. For church communities, I’ve found this often comes directly from Scripture. It’s the reason you’re regularly bringing everybody together. It’s not how you bring them together or what you’re doing when you’re together or how often you come together. It’s why you come together. And again, purpose should never change.

Values should guide everything you do. They are the glue that hold everything together. Words like “integrity,” “honesty,” and “humility” are often found in value statements. Values should inform every decision, every strategy, every employee hire and fire, every marketing campaign and every relationship with a vendor. And again, values should never change.


Vision and Mission
Contrary to popular opinion, vision and mission will change. They will evolve over time, they will change culture and they will change with culture. If your vision and mission have not changed since the beginning, it may be one of the reasons you’re stalled, stuck or stymied. Many of the bigger/older companies we know today did not start out doing what they’re doing today. And if they did today what they started out doing, they’d probably be out of business. This is because vision and mission are dynamic.

Vision is what we see. It’s where we’re headed. President John F. Kennedy gave us vision when he said we choose to go to the moon by the end of the decade. Martin Luther King Jr. gave us vision when he told us his dream. Vision gives us a picture of an unrealized future. It may be five years out, ten years out, maybe 50 years away. The bigger the vision, the more it will cost to see it realized.

Mission is how we get to the vision. The Apollo missions are how we got to the moon. The peace marches, the desegregation laws and a host of other “missions” are how Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision came true (and is coming true). It’s also possible for multiple missions to exist within one organization. You may have a macro mission for the whole organization which consists of micro missions for various ministry components.

Once you have a clear understanding of what your purpose and values are, you need a vision that everyone gets and says “yes, that’s where we’re headed!” Once people see the vision, the mission to get there will follow.

The order on these is crucial. Without a clearly defined purpose and set of values, your vision and mission will have nothing to guide them. And without a vision, you have no criteria for what kind of mission you should be on. Do I need a bike, a bus or a spaceship for my mission? I don’t know, where are you headed (vision) and when do you need to get there?

Purpose > Values > Vision > Mission

Further Reading: Although his language is slightly different from what I’ve defined above, Jim Collins has some of the best stuff on purpose, values, vision and mission that I’ve read. His Vision Framework (PDF, 244 KB) exercise is excellent and includes lots of examples.

As a follow-up to offer a specific example, let’s explore the purpose of the Center for Church Communication (the nonprofit parent of Church Marketing Sucks).

Post By:

Brad Abare


Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it. He and his wife Jamaica live in Los Angeles with their daughter, Miró.
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7 Responses to “Purpose, Values, Vision & Mission”

  • Jeremy young
    September 30, 2009

    Great post.
    I love the scripture, where there is no vision the people perish.
    It is so very true.
    I am currently witnessing a very sad state of affairs where a church I used to attend is falling apart because of (this is only my opinion by the way) no vision.
    From my own experience as a business owner if I can’t or don’t instill some kinda vision into my employees I don’t get the best out of them, Vision is the starting point, without it there is no mission we just wonder around aimlessly until something worthwile pops up.


  • Crull Chambless
    October 1, 2009

    The best model or frame for churches along this line that I’ve seen, read, experienced, etc (and can’t imagine why it’s not listed as additional “further reading” on this topic) is Leadership Network’s Church Unique by Will Mancini (www.churchunique.com). Church Unique doesn’t stop by providing a model, but is a process primer of how to actually help clarify the topics discussed here.


  • Tim Ellens
    October 8, 2009

    I agree with Crull. I’ve incorporated the Church Unique Vision Pathway process into how we help churches reach vision clarity. It’s well thought out, efficient and leaves a church with a manageable Vision Frame to help create internal alignment around a compelling story.


  • Ted Vail
    October 29, 2009

    One of the more freeing and simplistic things I’ve heard about vision: Vision is visual. When you close your eyes and prayerfully think about your city, what do you see?
    So many leaders focus on writing it down (which is, of course Biblical), but the compelling vision is seen. God’s seems to give more of us pictures than paragraphs.


  • Jeff Goins
    January 14, 2010

    Simple and practical. Excellent stuff. Well said, Brade.


  • Rob Apgar-Taylor
    December 31, 2010

    Wow. Great way to wade through what has traditionally been dry material. I am just beginning a church plant in the United Church of Christ and this is exactly what I needed to help the launch team think in terms that help us get a good firm footing as a new faith community. Thanks.


  • Jonathan Bennett
    March 23, 2011

    I’ve read this through a few times & think it’s really helpful. But I currently started applying it in practice & my question is… For a Christian organisation/church, at what level does a ‘statement of faith’ or ‘doctrinal basis’ come? Does it somehow fit into purpose & values? Or is it the foundation upon which everything else is built (and therefore an additional category)?



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