What's the Difference Between Mission and Vision?

When reading on leadership, you very quickly come across references to “mission” and “vision.” Unfortunately, the meaning of those terms, and the difference between them, is not often made clear.

So, here’s the difference.

Mission: The ultimate purpose of the organization; it’s reason for existence. It’s why you do what you do. A mission is never “finished,” so a good mission is one that you would still be able to affirm 100 years from now.

Vision: Used in multiple ways. It is sometimes used just to mean a vivid description of what it will look like when you are fulfilling your mission in all the ways you want. More precisely, though, it is typically a large goal, usually 5-10 years out, that represents the chief focus and state of affairs you are seeking to bring about during that time period. Hence, it has a finish point and can be completed — but it is a stretch.   A good vision derives from and is aligned with the mission.

Here’s an example for a church:

Mission: To glorify God as a loving community of Christ-centered people.

Vision: To have a vibrant worshipping community of 1,000 people, from all age groups, who are active in the city for justice and mercy and loving one another, being built up by solid preaching, and meeting in regular fellowship groups.

Note, of course, that if you are a church you don’t need to make numbers central to your vision. I just did that here to help keep the example clear. A good vision is quantifiable in some way; but numerical growth doesn’t need to be central to how you define success for your church. (On the other hand, I don’t think it’s bad to care about numerical growth, either; in fact, I would argue we have a mandate to care about it in some sense, because every person matters.)

  • Davis

    While I can appreciate the leadership philosophy behind such categories, I cannot appreciate the biblical philosophy behind each since neither is taught is Scripture regarding mandates for the Church to implement. The “mission statement” of the church is laid out explicitly in Matthew 28:18-20: “All authority in heaven and on earth is given to Me (Jesus), therefore go make disciples of all nations…” and then He even gives us the “vision” by prescribing the methods: preaching, baptizing, and teaching. That’s pretty clear. Nothing about every church deciding its own “mission” or “vision.” Those are purely byproducts of American consumerism/marketing not biblical theology. Moreover, in my experience I have seen pastors use these terms as weapons against those who disagree with them which proves my earlier point that Jesus never intended for churches to decide for themselves what their “mission/vision” is–to avoid that very problem of pastors wielding too much power!

    The church’s objective is universal, its methods are universal, and its means are universal. Please show me how you would defend either from Scripture.

  • http://www.whatsbestnext.com/ Matt Perman


    There’s much that could be said in response to your comments regarding the church. However, the most important thing to recognize first is that I’m talking about these categories generally — not chiefly in relation to the church. I use a church in my illustration, because I believe these things do apply to churches, and that’s just the first illustration that came to mind. But don’t let that throw you off. If you don’t like the concept of “mission” and “vision” in relation to churches, recognize that these are true and valid leadership categories in general, which apply to leadership in our communities, non-profits, businesses, and even families. That’s the first and most important point of the post.

    In relation to churches: I do think that these categories continue to apply. I would actually agree with you that a church does not set it’s own mission — that’s given to us by Jesus. To acknowledge “mission” as a legitimate category is not the same as saying that _we_ define our own mission. At the same time, each church also has distinct characteristics, and the way a church states its mission can and should reflect that. When it comes to the level of vision, I do think churches have leeway in defining their vision. I would differ from your point that preaching, baptizing, and teaching are the “vision” of the church. Those are means by which the Great Commission is carried out, but “vision” is a large intermediate goal, about 5-10 years out. I would just say that you are making a category confusion there. So a local church might, for example, make reaching the majority of their community with a gospel presentation a 5 year vision, for example; not saying whether that’s a good vision or not, but that’s simply what it’s called when a church, or any organization, sets a large overarching goal.