Methods: Planning consistently happens in three areas, personal, ministry and organization and on three levels, strategic, tactical and operational

“It’s The Mission, Stupid!”

“It’s the economy, stupid” is an often-quoted phrase that was coined by James Carvil in 1992. Carville was a strategist in Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign against incumbent George W. Bush. His phrase was directed at the campaign’s workers and intended as one for them to focus on in order to keep the campaign on message. Clinton’s campaign advantageously used the prevailing recession in the United States as one of the campaign’s means to successfully unseat George W. Bush.  Although the message was intended for an internal audience of campaign workers, the phrase became a slogan for the Clinton election campaign.

In the following years the phrase has become a cliché repeated often in American culture, usually starting with the word “it’s” and with commentators using a different word in place of “economy”. Examples include “It’s the deficit, stupid!” and “Keep it simple, stupid!” and “It’s the mission, stupid.” The reason the phrase is so applicable to an organization’s mission is because of something known as “mission drift” or “mission creep.” Let’s take a look at what mission creep is, the problems it creates and its causes.

What Is Mission Creep?

Mission creep is defined as “the gradual broadening of the original objectives of the original mission of an organization.” It is referred to as “creep” because it happens slowly and usually goes unnoticed. It is a phenomenon that can affect any type of organization. Churches are especially vulnerable to mission creep. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a church that has not been subject to mission creep at some point. Some typical examples include adding a school, becoming politically active, building ball fields, scheduling Holy Land Trips and establishing a counseling center. None of these are in and of themselves a bad thing. And maybe adding such programs and facilities doesn’t appear concerning to you, but it should because they can contribute to mission creep.

How Mission Creep Can Negatively Impact Your Church

Your church’s mission is important because it provides strategic focus and informs your vision. It defines the purpose of the church, the reason the church exists. When your mission loses center stage, the church loses effectiveness and efficiency. When a church starts working on strategies outside of its core mission a variety of draining influences can occur, such as:

  • Increased complexity.
  • Complicated communication.
  • Confusion about priorities.
  • Staff and lay leaders being spread too thin.
  • Disagreement on resource allocation.
  • Frustration and discontent.
  • Loss of focus.

But the biggest concern with mission creep is the negative impact it has on human, financial and facility resources. Adding new goals, programs, and facilities requires expanding your strategic focus. They require new planning, new processes and systems, new tactics, new training and adds new responsibilities to staff and lay leaders. Ultimately, they take a toll on your budget as well. With most churches already operating on razor thin budgets, mission creep can leave you with too few resources spread across too many programs and initiatives.

What Causes Mission Creep?

Mission creep occurs under a variety of circumstances, including:

  • Too quick decision making.
  • Response to a crisis.
  • A desire to meet too many needs.
  • A desire to please a variety of competing interests.
  • Too many ideas and opportunities.
  • Influential donor demands.
  • A sudden influx of donations.
  • Adding new staff.

Avoiding mission creep boils down to a simple concept: maintain focus on your mission. That’s easier said than done. In our next post we will look at some concrete actions you can take to avoid mission creep.


Posted on August 1, 2023

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

More About Jim

“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5