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.)