Churches up and down the country are increasingly turning to the use of mission action plans and other related resources as a way of helping them discern where God is calling them in mission and ministry.
The variety of names they come under – mission action plans, growth plans, mission audits, healthy church surveys – reflects the range of possible approaches. While there is no single ‘correct method’ for developing a mission strategy, there are a number of common processes that have been found to be effective in helping to sharpen up the mission and ministry of the local church.
Together they provide a toolbox of ideas that have been tried and tested as helpful ways of discerning where God is calling the local church and then turning that vision into action.
An excellent ‘must read’ book introducing the whole area is
How to do Mission Action Planning: a vision-centered approach
(SPCK, 2009 – £9.99) by Mike Chew and Mark Ireland.
The Diocese of London was one of the first to pioneer the comprehensive use of mission action plans but they have since been used in a variety of rural as well as more urban contexts. Drawing on a range of approaches the following processes have been found to be helpful:
- Parish Review: Describe as many aspects of your church as possible such as: styles of worship; a profile of the people who come; church resources; activities within the church. You may want to use Healthy Church material as part of this review (See The Healthy Churches Handbook by Robert Warren). What do you want to grow, to start – or to stop?
- Community Audit: Compile a profile of your neighbourhood. Include information about local organisations and amenities. Use Census data to profile the population. Plot the demography of your parish on a map. How does it relate to your current patterns of ministry and mission? Are there new housing or business developments that need to be taken account of?
- Envisioning Exercise: in response to the review and audit, brainstorm with as many people as possible to come up with new ideas and ventures. Be bold – don’t worry about practicalities at this stage. What is the core vision and passion that directs your church?
- SWOT Analysis: Take the ideas from the envisioning exercise and consider the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats for each one. This will help you to think realistically about what might be possible. Remember to include financial and buildings considerations in the process.
- Resources and Gifting: Consider what people and skills will be needed to accomplish your objectives. Will local partners need to be involved? Who in the church community might take this forward? What else might be needed? Do your plans relate to the gifts people have? What financial resources are needed?
- Prioritise: Divide your ideas into three categories – ‘Quick Wins’: things that can be introduced fairly easily and make an impact quickly. ‘Medium range’: things that will require preparation. ‘Long range’: things which will need an investment of significant time and resources.
- SMART Checklist: Make sure all your objectives are Specific and Stretching, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Realistic as well as Time bound and Timely.
- Plan: Prepare a mission plan which draws together your parish priorities and how you intend to achieve them. Be sure this is a collaborative activity so that the whole congregation has ‘ownership’ of them.
- Launch: Celebrate and communicate your vision with your community; both churchgoers and those groups and people who have links with your church.
- Monitor: Once prepared and underway, it is vital that your plans are monitored both for what goes right and what goes wrong. Review your plans regularly. Make sure that subject areas within it are placed on PCC agendas for discussion. Give regular feedback to church members and arrange an occasion when the whole congregation can review the plan once a year and agree any modifications.
- ABOVE ALL – Pray: However the mission and ministry of the local church is developed it is vital that it is undergirded with prayer remembering that we are called to share in God’s mission: we are not inviting God to share in ours.
In addition to How to do Mission Action Planning other helpful handbooks to assist the process include (all Church House Publishing):
The Healthy Churches’ Handbook by Robert Warren
Mission-Shaped Church and Moving on in a Mission-shaped Church
The Road to Growth by Bob Jackson
Other resources for use in mission action planning include:
The Five Marks of Mission – formally agreed by the Anglican Communion, they can be used as a brief checklist for reviewing the life of the local church.
Where is the Church? – produced by the Diocese of Gloucester in connection with the Parish Giving Scheme, this encourages a review of church life under the four headings of worshipping together, sharing faith and values, serving the community and valuing the building.