Mission Drift

2015 Leadership Journal

A summary from Leadership Journal of the book:

Mission Drift: The unspoken crisis facing leaders, charities, and churches (Bethany House, 2014), Peter Greer and Chris Horst, with Anna Haggard


1. The Unspoken Crisis

The authors open with a warning: “Without careful attention, faith-based organizations will inevitably drift from their founding mission.” Drift happens slowly, for reasons that make good sense at the time (why turn down a donation when the donor is only asking you to tone your Christian message a little bit?). Greer and Horst realized that their own organization (HOPE International) was on a path toward drift. But as they investigated, they “found reasons to be optimistic that drift is not inevitable.”

2. The Tale of Two Presbyterian Ministers

Comparing the stories of two organizations founded by Christian ministers (Christian Children’s Fund, which “drifted” to ChildFund International, and Compassion International, which stayed mission true), Greer and Horst note what protects organizational identity. “To remain mission true is to adapt and grow, so long as that adaptation and growth does not alter the core identity.”

3. Functional Atheism

The authors write that the “most precious asset” of mission true organizations is the gospel. The gospel’s relevance to, say, Christian humanitarian work is widely recognized. So how does it fall by the wayside for faith-based organizations? Ironically, it’s “often Christians who seem most likely to be the biggest critics of bold Christian distinctiveness in our organizations.” This “functional atheism” kills distinctiveness and sets organizations adrift.

4. Death by Minnows

The authors quote Steve Haas of World Vision: “Getting eaten by a whale or nibbled to death by minnows results in the same thing, although one demise is easier to diagnose.” Countering the slow death means hard decisions, perhaps many of them, to protect and propel the mission. Organizations must be tireless when it comes to safeguarding their Christian mission.

5. The Secret Recipe to Quaker Oats

The Crowell Trust (Quaker Oats foundation) is still mission true. Why? Built into the trust’s bylaws are rigorous course-correctors. Ways to protect against drift: Remain mindful of cultural trends. Don’t assume successors will inherit the founder’s vision.

6. You Know Why You Exist

The Young Men’s Christian Association had by 2010, “dropped everything but the ‘Y.'” Contrasted with the Inter-Varsity organization, it becomes obvious that the “why” question is the one that matters. Clarity of purpose is vital. Sometimes staying mission true requires change. But change should not alter the identity or mission.

7. Guardians of the Mission

The role of board members in keeping an organization on course is vital. Their top priority is guarding the mission and identity. If board members drift, offer no true accountability, or don’t take their role as guardians seriously, the organization’s mission is in major jeopardy.

8. True Leadership

Personal “mission creep” in the life of a leader will inevitably lead an organization off course. Staying on track requires “humbition,” a combination of humility and ambition. Predictable, focused faithfulness is a leadership essential. “Said plainly, mission true leaders remain in Jesus,” Greer and Horst observe. And surround themselves with people who do likewise.

9. Impressive Credentials Are Not Enough

When hiring, faith-based organizations need to make sure their approach is both prayerful and intentional, and that they enculturate new staff in the essential identity of the organization.

10. Follow the Money

The pull of money is a strong temptation to drift. “Donors are an accurate predictor of whether or not an organization is going to deviate off mission.” Mission true donors are clear in their expectations while donors with ulterior motives have “mission strings” attached.

11. Measuring What Matters

Metrics—the things you measure—should reflect your organization’s true mission. But the things that matter to your identity aren’t always easy to track. Yet “what’s not measured slowly becomes irrelevant.” Greer and Horst offer advice for tailoring your own set of key metrics, and even using the self-knowledge of measurement as an indicator for how you’re doing.

12. Etched in Excellence

“Mission True organizations understand the Gospel demands excellence in their work.” The message that we carry demands the highest levels of craftsmanship in our various vocations. Organizations should set the standard for professional excellence in their fields, and integrate the gospel into every aspect of their work.

13. Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

With anecdotes from standouts (Southwest Airlines, International Justice Mission, etc.) Greer and Horst show that the “little is big” in shaping culture. “Great organizations get culture,” creating shared habits that shape the people who shape the group.

14. The Language of the Chameleon Club

There’s a temptation to water down the language of gospel-centered mission. But mission true leaders know the importance of accurate mission-focused language, and are willing to use it to reinforce their identity.

15. Save the Church

“The local church is the anchor to a thriving mission.” But drift happens easily, especially for many parachurch or non-profit organizations. The church is an anchor for any Christian organization seeking to stay mission true.


“Mission Drift is the natural course for organizations, and it takes focused attention to safeguard against it.”

“The author of Proverbs says, ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.’ The heart is not only the wellspring of life; it’s also the wellspring of organizational health.”

“You cannot remain Mission True without a rigorous commitment to Christ’s body—the church.”


Key to keeping on mission is knowing your mission. How clearly can you summarize the mission and identity of your church or organization? What work do you need to do to clarify it?

“What’s not measured slowly becomes irrelevant,” write Greer and Horst. Is there anything that matters that you’re not trying to measure? What does that say about your values? What does that imply about your potential for drift? “Mission True organizations not only hold themselves to the highest of standards because of their Christian identity, but they also recognize the contributions they are able to make to the world because of the advantages of being faith-based.” How are you striving for excellence in your work and ministry while maintaining your gospel distinctives?