Published on 4/9/2013
by Warren Bird
By adopting a simple verse of Scripture as a vision statement—and more importantly, strategically imbedding that mission into everything it focuses on—Mission Community Church in Gilbert, AZ, is experiencing momentum that “you couldn’t stop, even if you wanted to,” according to Lead Pastor Mark Connelly.
“We pour ourselves into three things—doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God—that’s our vision,” says Mark. “As we have celebrated that vision and poured our resources into it, it gets our true focus, energy and resource.
“Everything revolves around it. Everything we do bleeds the vision, and I don’t think you move from vision to movement without doing that.”
You probably recognize Mission Community’s three-fold vision from the Old Testament verse of Micah 6:8. In Mark’s mind, that’s one of the reasons the vision has become so powerful in moving the church into worldwide impact.
“It shouldn’t really be that innovative for a church, but I think it is innovative that the vision is directly from Scripture,” Mark says. “It wasn’t 10 people in a room that dreamed up this thing. It was something on the heart of God—what He said he requires—and He’s blessing it.”
Hills to Dance On
That blessing is easy for Mark and his leaders to quantify, as the church establishes “hills to take” in those three areas, and celebrates—“dances on those hills”—when short-term stretch goals are achieved.
In December 2012, Mission Community Church raised $541,000 in one month to feed and provide clean drinking water for over 8,000 AIDs orphans and their families in Africa—all without preaching one sermon on the topic.
Already in 2013, Mission set a goal in the “walk humbly” area of spiritual formation to raise 100 new leaders so that 1,000 new people could join Community Groups. Mark preached a weekend sermon series on leadership, and by the end of the month, 300 new leaders had signed up for training.
On top of that, Mission Community Church has become the largest food provider to the hungry in its community. The church is also working to wipe out a foster care crisis in its state, and more than 500 people have either fostered or adopted a child.
“Every month we put something before them we’re trying to achieve that moves the vision to action, and then we dance on that hill when we take it,” Mark says. “When you stay centered on your vision and people have danced on so many hills over the years, now every time we tell them we’re going to take another hill, everybody in the church believes, ‘We’re totally going to take that hill.’
“We’ve never failed to take one, and they fully believe they can do anything we put before them.”
(Above) Mark Connelly, and his wife Kay, of Mission Community Church.
Straight from Scripture
When Mark led the church to change its name in 2009, he reluctantly saw it as the time to explore a new vision statement. “I’ve always been resistant to a vision statement, because my experience has been that not much comes from them,” says Mark, who has seen Mission’s weekend attendance grow from 600 to 7,000. “The church went for a decade with a mission statement that wasn’t really functioning.”
Mark and his leaders looked for the areas where God was already working (“love mercy” was strong with recovery ministries), but found the church lacking in meeting the greatest needs in its community. “At that time, there wasn’t a dollar of budget going outside of the church,” Mark says. “So pretty quickly in my heart and mind, doing justice became a thing we wanted to pursue.”
With those two pieces in place, Micah 6:8 spoke loud and clear in one of Mark’s daily times in Scripture, and the church had a new vision to pursue. “That’s about as clear as it can be,” Mark adds. “And the best thing is, it’s very hard to argue with Scripture.”
From “Top Down” to Movement
Mark says Mission68, as the church calls its vision, has progressed through four stages of development:
1) Agreement about the vision among a handful of leaders—“It’s initially pretty top down in how it will be carried out,” Mark says;
2) A majority of the church agreed with the statement—“This is something that ought to be true of us, and people are glad to be part of a church that believes in those things,” he says.
3) A growing number of people “owned” the vision—“It’s not just the vision of their church, but it becomes their personal vision,” Mark says. “They see themselves as part of this greater story and using their gifts, skills and abilities to move that vision forward.
4) “Movement” stage—the rarified air a church reaches when the direction has been so clear and consistent, and the wins so numerous and celebrated that people realize “we’re really going to be heading in this direction for the long haul and I am fully in this. And they actually begin to lead the way,” Mark says.
Before a church reaches movement status, paid staff is still the primary direction-setters and defines “all the hills we’re going to take this year,” Mark says. “When it becomes a movement, they’re actually defining the hills and they’re taking the hills. And as a leadership team, we’re hearing about it and celebrating it.”
Avoiding Vision Drift
Mark says Mission Community leaders have worked tirelessly to “imbed” the vision into every area of the church. The congregation’s budget, leadership structure, organizational chart, sermons, website and member onboarding process all reflect Mission68.
“When we started with this vision, we believed that every church, every ministry, every person has only a certain amount of bandwidth—energy, resource, people, budget,” Mark says. “And we decided we were going to focus our resources on a narrow set of things, and pour our energy into those things.”
Keeping the church laser-focused—even with all of its Mission68 success—continues to be where Mark expends his energy. “The more we grow, the harder we have to work on being simple and clear in our vision,” he says. “With that growth comes all kinds of resource and new ideas that could be spread out.”
Mission Community even moves away from viable ministries that have netted amazing results in the past, so the church can avoid “vision drift.”
“We are constantly fighting against vision drift, and bringing everybody back to the direction of our vision,” Mark says. “We have to say no to a lot of good things that God has used in this place where hundreds of people have been impacted. But it’s sideways energy, so we’re pretty disciplined about not drifting in our vision.”