These notes were prepared specifically to help churches follow-on from the 2020 Diocese of Worcester Open Conversations 2, but will also be applicable in many other circumstances.
Mission Action Planning (MAP) is a process designed to help churches grow in depth, impact and numbers – in other words, to grow in health and sustainability. Some churches will find this approach very helpful in prayerfully charting their way forward under God at this present time.
This short guide gives an overview of what’s involved. For a paperback guide to the subject, we recommend How to do Mission Action Planning, by Mike Chew and Mark Ireland.
MAP helps us to discern our vision under God for the future. It then helps us to choose to do a few things well, planning activities over months and years that allow us to move towards our vision. Plans developed through MAP are not set in stone, but should be subject to ongoing review, refinement and development.
The whole process of Mission Action Planning will involve lots of discussion and conversation. Here is a summary of some principles and considerations to help your conversations go well.
The Priority of Prayer
It’s vital to underpin the whole process with prayer. Pray for clarity regarding God’s will for the church, for those with links to it, and for the whole local community. Pray that you will be able to recognise what God is already doing in the area, and that you will discern areas of strength on which to build, and any areas in which changing or even stopping is appropriate. Pray for wisdom, grace, energy and guidance, as you seek to worship creatively, make disciples, share hope, and play your part in transforming your community.
The MAP Process
Four questions shape the MAP process:
Where are we now?
Review your situation
Where are we going?
Choose/discern future priorities
What’s the best way to get there?
What do we need to do now?
Act on the plans
So let’s look at each of these questions in some more detail:
1 Where are we now? (Review)
The first stage of MAP is to look openly and realistically at our current situation, with a view to building on our strengths. This includes the internal life of the church, the external context in which it is placed, and the links and relationships between the church and its communities. One really important priority is to find ways of listening to what people really think and feel, rather than relying on our own assumptions about their perspectives.
Here are some options and ideas to help us review our current situation?
Ask a broad cross-section of those involved in church life what they really appreciate, and what they’d love to see change. You could ask them these questions with respect to: worship; growing in faith; engaging with the community; helping others come to faith, what else?
Examine your church statistics from the last few years: electoral roll and attendance numbers, the financial and buildings situation, the age and social profile of the church and its community. See here for help with this.
Can you find a way of tapping into the candid opinion of the wider community? Can you set up interviews, focus group discussions, or a questionnaire? This might be about how people think and feel about the church, and about what they see as strengths, needs, and opportunities for the community. Some ideas to help with this can be found in some of the links from this webpage.
2 Where are we going? (Choose)
Taking time to understand the current context should help us to prayerfully discern the direction in which God now calls us to travel. The next stage of MAP encourages us to identify our vision, priorities and goals.
The aim of a Vision statement is to communicate the overall focus and aim of the church in the future, looking about five years ahead. It should act like a compass and a magnet – pointing the way ahead, and drawing people to work together. See if you can find a short sentence that summarises such a vision for your church, and that resonates well with all. The vision will ideally be both inspiring and realistic: it’s important that people feel able to commit to it.
It’s often a challenge to balance our ambition with our practical resources. That’s where priorities come in. If we try and progress 12 things at the same time, we may not get very far. A good vision statement should help us to focus on doing a few things well. This may include letting some things stop, as well as starting or changing other things. It’s helpful to think both in the short-term (e.g. 2-4 months) and the medium or long-term (6 months to 5 years). For most smaller or average size churches, having two main things to focus on in any given year is often plenty.
Goals help us see if we are on track to achieve what we want to see happen. If we’re not, do we need to rethink our approach? For some types of priority, it’s helpful if the goals can be SMART:
Other types of priority are more focused on the manner in which we do things. The SMART framework doesn’t fit these so well, but it’s still important to candidly review how things are going. How might you best do that?
3 What’s the best way to get there? (Plan)
Once we’ve decided our main priorities, the next stage is to work out how best to achieve them. For some priorities, it will be fairly clear what needs to be done: the challenge will be organising and doing it. For other priorities, we may have some ideas of possible approaches, or we may feel very unsure how to proceed. In such situations, sensible next steps will involve finding someone to talk to with appropriate experience. (See this guide to point you towards an appropriate person.) For some types of priority it’s best to start with a relatively simple initial step, then make decisions based on how that goes, rather than spend a long time planning something more complicated.
So, whatever type of priorities you have identified, take them one by one, and create an appropriate plan. Helpful questions may include:
Are there people whose ideas and opinions we should be seeking? Are we scratching where people itch? How can we engage people, work with them, and publicise what’s happening?
Has anybody else tried to achieve something similar – in this diocese or elsewhere? Who could we talk to?
How will we go about meeting this priority? How can we break it down into achievable steps?
What is the next step that needs to be taken? Who are the best people to be involved? When will this be done?
What resources – of people, time and money – will we need, and when?
How will we communicate this – so that people can get behind it, pray for it and encourage it?
Looking across all the priorities, are the timescales and expectations realistic? Is anyone being overloaded with responsibility? Might anybody else be able to contribute?
4 What do we need to do now? (Act)
The final stage of the MAP cycle is to
Act. Get started on putting your plans into practice.
Check. Have regular discussions on how things are going. Some priorities in particular will proceed by experiment and evolution. How is the overall workload and timescales? Adjust your plan as necessary.
Celebrate. Look out for significant milestones along the way, and take the time to give thanks – to God and to all who have contributed in any way.
Engaging in a MAP should not be seen as a one-off process. Rather, you could use it on a regular basis – perhaps every year or two – to help you keep learning and growing together.
Find appropriate ways to share what you’re doing and what you’re learning with others. This might be in the Deanery, with your Archdeacon, and/or with colleagues from the Diocesan Office.
Some of the best learning comes from informal conversation. Keep listening really well to people within your community, whatever their degree of connection with the church. Stay open to honest feedback, and see what you can learn. Chat about what’s going on, and listen attentively to how people respond.
If you’d like somebody to accompany you in the MAP process – either just in its initial planning, or more extensively - contact Roger Latham, who will help identify somebody appropriate: 01905 732815.