Mission Statements, Strategic Planning and Spirituality

 Our Jesuit parish in San Francisco is renewing and re-writing its mission statement. Our present mission statement is way too long ( over two pages) and mingles, without clarity, actual and operative goals and what are still just aspirations. Even though the mission statement is found on our web page, few have ever read it or could quickly summarize what it proclaims. It is also over ten years old. Janel Rathke, in an essay entitled, " How to Write a Mission Statement", notes that if a mission statement " is more than five years old, now is probably a good time to review and, if necessary, fine tune or even re-write. All too often an organization's mission statement which has been handed down over the years loses relevance and ceases to speak to staff, board members or supporters."

A mission statement should resonate with the people working in the organization and to the different constituencies ( for a parish: parishioners, visitors, potential parishioners who are shopping for a parish, the neighborhood, the city) which interact with the organization. There are three questions any mission statement should address: (1) What are the opportunities or needs that we exist to address ? ( the purpose of the organization); (2) What are we doing to address these needs and the' business' of the organization ?; ( 3) What principles or beliefs or foundational values guide our work ? A mission statement is more than mere window dressing. It should address the following qualities: ( A) It should express the organization's purpose in a way that inspires support and ongoing commitment; (B) Express what is unique about the organization; (C) Motivate those connected to the organization; ( D) Be articulate in a way that is convincing and easy to grasp; ( E) Be free of jargon; ( F) Be short enough that anyone connected to the organization can easily repeat it.


A friend who heads an educational department in a university put it pithily: The mission statement should be concise enough ( one or at most two paragraphs) that I could explain it to someone on an elevator. I have been commissioned to write a draft of such a mission statement for our parish. It is not an easy task. A succinct paragraph or two have the virtues of clarity but they can leave much that is true and part of the mission of the parish. We are a Jesuit parish which must include, somehow, the various goals of all Jesuit works which the Jesuit Superior Generals have denominated as: (1) Ignatian spirituality; ( 2) Ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue; (3) The intellectual apostolate--which in a parish means adult faith formation and an address to the world we live in. It means a critical, non-apologetic, embrace of the rich Catholic intelletual tradition and ( 4) The faith that does justice.

 Our parish is quite diverse and draws from something like 74 different zip codes around the San Francisco Bay area ( we have people who come from the East Bay and from Marin and San Mateo Counties, looking for quality preaching, good music and liturgies, thoughtful counseling) We are also, although a parish, located on the campus of the University of San Francisco. So campus ministry uses our facilites for masses and other spiritual events and we run the RCIA program for its students. We desire to serve a diverse population--including returnees, seekers and those shopping for a church. We can not easily assume that people will know what we are talking about when we use the various slogans, such as' Ignatian spirituality' ( including the Spiritual Exercises, daily prayer of an examination of consciousness, 19th annotation retreats in the midst of daily life etc.). Nor is the formula, so beloved of Jesuits, of the " faith that does justice" always so clear to people. Does it include advocacy to change structures as well as outreach to the poor and disadvantaged?

To be sure, we have a large panoply of social justice outreach programs: providing shelter meals for the homeless; Habitat for Humanity building of low cost housing for those who need it; prison ministry; ' Get on the Bus' which takes children of incarerated parents to visit their mothers and fathers in prison; a sister parish in El Salvador,outreach to women in substance abuse recovery programs. But we do not have much yet in the way of clear advocacy or clarity of how to do that without seeming too narrowly political.

When you try to expand the population giving input into a mission statement, the danger is that the priorities multiply, the statement of goals increase such that the statement beccomes entirely too broad in scope and no one knows which of the many priorities really does drive the purpose, business and values. If, however, you look for something snappy and short it may also neglect some important aspects of the mission.At their best, mission statements of any organization drive strategic planning and choices of where to put money, time and talent. Or short statements may seem vague and innocuous. Again, a mission statement not only locates the organization with similar such organizations ( in our case, parishes), it should also lift up what is unique ( in our case, a Jesuit parish driven by the apostolic priorities for all Jesuit works).

At the Jesuit General Congregation 34, which I attended as an elected delegate in 1995, the congregation came up with a decree about Jesuit parishes. It said the following: " A parish is Jesuit if, while being committed to the pastoral goals and policies of the local church, it participates in the apostolic priorities of the Society, according to " our way of proceeding". Central to its life, the parish gathers as a community to celebrate its joys, struggles and hope in the Eucharist, in the Word and in the other sacraments, all in well planned, creative ways. It becomes an evangelized and evagelizing community committed to ' justice and reconciliation'.

A Jesuit parish is engaged in Ignatian spirituality, expecially through the Spiritual Exercises and by individual and community discernment. It tries to have well-developed programs in catechesis and formation for both individuals and families, and provides opportunies for both spiritual direction and pastoral counseling. It helps individuals to discern their vocation in life. The parish opens itself progressively to ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue and reaches out to alienated Christians as well as non-believers. It grows into a participative church which promotes lay participation and leadership.

In its service of the faith, a Jesuit parish is called upon to develop strategies to promote local and global justice by means of both personal conversion and structural  cnange and advocacy. It opposes all forms of discrimination and contributes to a genuine culture of solidarity which transcends parish boundaries."

How to translate this into two paragraphs and a short list of five core values, simply stated without further explanation, is a difficult task. Ideally, the mission statement will appear on the parish bulletin. I heard of a parish which translated its mission statement into a prayer which all recite every Sunday. Jack Welch, the C.E.O. of General Electtric, once heard some employees grumbling that over and over again they heard G.E/'s mission statement. " Good", he said, " so if it is so hammered into their heads they will know and imbibe it.". Best too if some catchy slogan captures its depth and drift. Moreover, as a spiritual exercise, parishioners are being asked to write a short statement of their own personal mission and belief. Once a month one of our parishioners is asked to write a " This I Believe" statement for our parish bulletin, expressing their faith and their own personal covenant.

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David Smith
6 years 7 months ago
It sounds as though you want to include everybody's favorite priorities. You can't possibly keep it to under a few pages if you do that. And even then, you'll have to leave a lot far from perfectly clear.

I belong to a Jesuit campus parish, and I admit I have no idea what our mission statement is. However, I have no interest in finding out. What is, is clear; what ''should be'', belongs to the past. Even yesterday is the past. Why does there have to be a mission statement? Because everyone else has one?

If there must be such a thing, though, perhaps one thing you might aim for is to keep politics out of it. There's far too much conflating politics with religion in America at the moment. Aim higher, where the air is purer.


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