Has Your Church Discovered Its DNA?

Church missions committees everywhere seem to be struggling. That is, if the number of requests Joe and I get from church missions committees asking for coaching help are any indication. That may sound bad unless we consider the possibility that the up-side is that churches are recognizing their need for help. I find that exciting.

Each of these churches tells us a strikingly similar story. Here’s how that narrative might look: In the past, perhaps many years ago, the typical church began to acquire missions commitments. Perhaps the church decided to support “Joe in Kenya” because he was the cousin of a member of the missions committee. Or it was determined that the “orphanage in Guatemala” should be supported because “compassion requires it.” Or “maybe we should pick up the local Christian camp because a number of our kids were saved there.”

But now, years later, perhaps decades after the decisions were made, very few in the church remain who were around when those decisions were made. Even worse, very few people in the church may personally know these missionaries, have any contact with them, or show much interest in their ministries.

Now I’m not questioning if each of these missions commitments is worthy. They may all be doing a good work. Nor am I proposing that these worthy ministries be abruptly dropped from the roster of church missions relationships. But this “shotgun” method for a church to devise a missions responsibility is lacking in two very important ingredients: strategy and focus.

After all, there are literally thousands of missionaries and ministries worthy of a church’s support. But each church has limited resources. So how do we make a decision as to what our involvement should be?

Joe and I have had a great time doing a seminar called “Design Your Impact” with churches. This seminar concentrates a church’s thinking on asking the question: “How can we focus our thinking, energy, and resources to get the most impact for achieving the Great Commission?”

I remember when I finally figured out who I was, what my gifts were, and how I could best focus my resources for the advance of the Kingdom. In scientific language, we might say I discovered my DNA. And just as every individual has a unique DNA configuration, we have come to believe that each church has its own unique DNA.

For congregations, the acronym “SPACE” is helpful to remember the 5 parts of a church’s DNA: “Strengths, passions, assets, context, experience.” Figuring out your church’s unique DNA can be a fun, agonizing, fruitful journey. But it can prove incredibly helpful in developing a strategy that works for your church’s DNA. And it can enable you to develop a focus that will give your congregation a rallying point.

In the quest to be able to identify the “missions-minded” church, the question of a church’s identity is highly relevant. Let us know if you would like to go deeper into your church’s DNA so you can “Design Your Impact” as a congregation.

Dave Shive

3 Replies to “Has Your Church Discovered Its DNA?”

  1. Dave – this has been a fascinating topic to me as you know I’ve been in the midst of this at our local church. I’d like to humbly push back a tad if I could.

    A few things come to mind:
    1 – Sometimes we deal with a scarcity mindset – ‘our church only has so many resources.’ It’s the mindset of an institution, whereas maybe we need to think in terms of movement. The opposite of this, like Seth Godin likes to claim, is that we actually live in a connection economy today. That’s a big thing to unpack and I’ve been pondering that for a few months.

    2 – I’m convinced that churches that really want to be involved in global missions must grow missionaries. It’s the same issue we have with leaders. We want to find missionaries or find leaders – the reality is that we will never have enough. We need to grow them.

    3 – Related to #2, I think churches that define focus sometimes do that at the expense of #2. Certainly there needs to be some structure and focus but if you are going to grow some missionaries, they will push your boundaries. That might be a good thing or it might not. But if you are really growing missionaries, the truly apostolic, it will be a real balancing act between the two. But it’s a good tension.

    Good stuff!

  2. tony: Thanks for the response. I can’t find anything in your comments to disagree with. It’s easy to misdefine or misuse the concept of focus, and I will be the first to resist any pursuit of focus that does so at the expense of other priorities (such as growing missionaries from within). You are doing a great job of that, by the way. “Tension” is a good word to decide the tightrope we walk. Thanks for your thoughts. – dave

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