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Mission Drift Part I: The Danger By Becca Spradlin

It Takes Commitment to Stay on Mission

What you do today can help your organization stay on mission for generations to come.

Reality of Mission drift

Consider why your organization exists. What are its Christ-centered ambitions? How are they lived out each day? These elements make up your capital “M” Mission. It often goes beyond an organization’s mission statement. It includes core identity statements, the culture, and ethos of the organization as it seeks to advance the Kingdom of God.

With this in mind, look ahead 5, 10, or 50 years. Who will be leading your organization? What will its core activities be? Will its “why” have changed?

Whether your organization has been around for 10 years or 110, the reality is the same: Mission drift is only a matter of time without on-going effort and accountability.

Drift in the Midst of Growth

One large, global non-profit realized that though it was founded by the church, it was starting to drift from its roots. 

“We were on our way to becoming a good humanitarian organization,” shared the executive director. However, there was a growing concern that it was increasingly distant from its faith foundation. After years of dialogue with stakeholders to “turn the ship around,” they began to re-establish the organization’s connection with its founding church denominations and its Christian convictions.

The authors of Engine of Impact write that “mission creep” is “pervasive” in the nonprofit sector. In Mission Drift, the authors share many cases of drift, noting that, “Mission drift is the natural course for organizations.”  Dr. Tony Dale, founder of The Karis Group, adds that,

“Every single one of us is prone to drift. It creeps on you so slowly and imperceptibly that if you don’t plan for it, you will have drifted before you realize what’s gone on.”

As its name implies, drift is inherently subtle and difficult to detect. It often starts in the details with small shifts in language or process that seem inconsequential. Over time, however, the impact can take an organization off course.

In the case of the humanitarian organization, the leader shared that they noticed the “first language” of the organization, the language about its Primary Purpose of sharing the love of God was spoken less and less. The “second language” about its programming and other aspects of its work was becoming the only language spoken.

Defining it

As we seek to live lives and lead organizations that have an eternal impact, we define Mission drift as moving away from the Kingdom Purpose God has called you to.

This will look different for each individual or team as God gives unique callings and giftings to advance His Kingdom. Defining the Mission is critical as there is no one-size-fits all standard.

Discernment Process

With all the priorities leaders face, how can they take steps to avoid Mission drift? Here are a few factors to consider as you discern how urgent this issue is for your organization.

  1. The Mission. Our organization desires to stay focused for years to come. The needs we seek to address still exist and we plan to continue operations beyond the current generation of leaders.
  2. Leadership transitions. Our organization has a leadership change coming in the next five years and/or desires to be prepared for unforeseen leadership changes.
  3. Varying perspectives. Our organization’s senior leadership team and/or board may have significantly varying perspectives and passion for the organization’s Kingdom ambitions.
  4. Growth. Our organization is experiencing significant growth and expansion of its work. We are hiring new staff and/or engaging with a number of new partners to carry out the Mission.
  5. Policies & practices. Our organization does not have well-defined policies and practices that reinforce its Mission in its culture.
  6. Legal documentation. Our bylaws and/or articles of incorporation do not adequately capture our Mission.

If you respond “yes” to two or more these statements, begin to elevate this conversation with your board and senior leadership team.

If you serve as a board member, being attuned to drift is part of your on-going responsibility to guard against it. This should always be something you are watching for as new policies, programming, and staffing changes are elevated to your attention.

Cultivating the Right Culture

While drift continues to affect all organizations, there is good news. There are practical steps that leaders can take to avoid drifting and maximize their eternal impact.

In collaboration with the authors of Mission Drift,  we’ve compiled our learnings into the Mission True Workbook. This free e-book helps teams take practical steps to preserve and advance what matters most in light of eternity.

Learn More

Connect and learn more through Christian Leadership Alliance. As this work and research continues, we invite you to connect and share your experience. You may connect with the author via Linked In or email becca@onmissionadvisors.com.

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Becca Spradlin is the founder of On Mission Advisors, a distinctively Christ-centered consulting practice that helps leaders define, protect, and champion what matters most to maximize their organization’s eternal impact for generations to come. She co-authored The Mission True Workbook with the authors of Mission Drift to equip leaders with practical steps to keep their organizations from drifting.


Don’t Miss the Last Early Registration Deadline on January 31, 2023.

 Join us for the Outcomes Conference 2023

Becca Spradlin will be serving as faculty at the Outcomes Conference 2023.  Her session at the conference will be on Strategies to Avoid Mission Drift.

Becca will be teaching on Thursday, March 28 at 2:00 PM in Rosemont A

Mark your calendar!

REGISTER TODAY!

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