What is Mission Action Planning?
Mission action planning is when all or part of a worshipping community comes together to talk about its shared direction in mission. It may result in a written plan, but the process is just as important.
A process like this has always been important for people of faith. We see it throughout the Bible (Deuteronomy 26.1-11; Nehemiah 8; Acts 1.15-26; Acts 15.6-35). When people from a worshipping community recall a shared history and speak their hope for the future, they can pull together more readily.
Such collaboration is powerful for mission. Sharing history and hope means that people will recognise how they belong together. They see that their own gifts can be part of a bigger picture. In the Church of England, it also helps incumbents and worshipping communities understand each other better.
Mission action planning can enrich every aspect of a church’s life. Even if a worshipping community feels unready for mission, this act of communal discernment is powerful for prayer and for fellowship, and it makes mission more possible than before.
This guidance is written in March 2022, when many churches are still regrouping after the Covid pandemic. Where a worshipping community is feeling tired or uncertain, it should share in small, realistic steps and avoid grand ideas, and it may wish to review its plans more often as discernment continues.
The diocesan priorities of discipleship, vocation and evangelism give rich areas to explore. They provide a distinctive, Christian framework to your planning, and connect you to the rest of the diocese, which shares a commitment to these ideas.
It is also worth considering your deanery’s Shaping for Mission vision when you begin mission action planning. That vision is shared across your deanery’s churches. If you don’t have a copy of this vision, request it from your Rural Dean. It will help you understand:
- What are nearby churches, chaplaincies, schools and fresh expressions are doing that you can benefit from;
- What are others (including ecumenical partners) are doing that you can contribute to;
- What the deanery is trying to co-ordinate, and how you can be a part of it.
For more on this, see our webpage Establishing a consistent approach.
In the process of mission action planning the church:
- recalls and learns from what has gone before;
- discerns the possibilities and challenges of the present;
- agrees a direction for what is to come, and action points which may be recorded in a plan and communicated with the church.
Like many processes, mission action planning is simple to understand, but sometimes challenging to do!
Mission action planning will result in a shared plan which will reach over 1-3 years. Once it is agreed, it should be regularly monitored and undergirded by prayer.
How to pray in Mission Action Planning
Here are some ways to prepare and pray into the process:
- When you have a dedicated mission action planning meeting, begin it with worship and punctuate it with prayer;
- Gather a prayer group to discern and write a mission prayer for the church or fresh expression. (You could adapt the diocesan vision prayer for your own setting.) Use it widely and often;
- Make the most of your church’s tradition, whether its highly liturgical or open and free, and find ways of using that to pray for your mission;
- Arrange intercessions for the mission of the church and those involved regularly in worship. Include schools and mission partners.
- Support and celebrate the missional life of the church, remembering the intentions of the mission action plan in prayer, preaching and testimony in worship.
- Home groups may provide space for ‘theological reflection’ – exploring what people are learning about their faith by living it out in mission.
Preparing for a Mission Action Planning conversation
To prepare, you will need to decide who should be involved in the conversation, and how the mission action planning session will be led.
Who should be involved?
An annual Mission Action Planning conversation could include just the church leadership team, or the PCC, or perhaps the whole church. A wider invitation is likely to create a better shared vision and commitment; a narrower invitation helps to focus. The conversation will take a while, and if you need to do more than review or tweak existing plans you should probably allow at least half a day.
Who should lead the conversation?
This discussion can be facilitated by the parish priest, an invited visitor, or a member of the church chosen for their facilitation skills.
An outside facilitator can bring energy and a fresh dynamic. You could approach your rural dean, a member of the clergy locally, or the diocesan Mission Team. You could also consider inviting an ecumenical partner to facilitate.
The facilitator must be ready to put their own ideas on one side. They will need to lead a series of reflections which could include these:
Looking Back: what has the story of this church been recently?
- What should we be celebrating?
- What should we be mourning?
If we have an existing MAP, what did we achieve, and what do we learn?
Looking Around: where are we now?
- What gifts has God given us – people, money, context, relationships, energy, habits?
- What challenges have we been presented with, inside the church or outside?
- How aware are we of our place in the diocese and the deanery, sharing a vision with others?
Looking Ahead: what hopes and concerns for the future are widely shared in this community?
- Who has the energy for them?
- Who or what will support them?
- What do we plan to do (or support others to do)?
- What accountability will be needed?
The facilitator could ground this in Bible study, or recap the diocesan priorities of discipleship, vocation and evangelism. The session should begin and end with prayer. Make use of the guidance for facilitators.
You can download a template for the mission action planning conversation.
Writing a plan
It can be helpful to focus on writing a plan as an outcome. Arriving at an agreed plan can be rewarding and encouraging. A simple, shared, well-recorded plan can help future activity, and can be used as a reminder in coming months.
However, a good plan must be achievable. It may be better to set your sights too low than too high: if you quickly tick off the tasks you set, you will gain a sense of achievement and momentum, and you will feel confident about meeting again to revise your plan.
You can download a template for a plan.
Discerning God’s will.
Many parables, particularly in Matthew’s gospel, suggest that we will be judged less on what we achieve, than on how we make use of what we’re given (Matthew 20.1-16; Matthew 25.14-30).
Instead of asking ‘what is the need?’, ask ‘what gifts has God given us, and how should we use them?’ Such gifts may be within the worshipping community: passion, energy, love, networks, or skills. They may be a matter of circumstance: location, building, money, partners. Your deanery’s Shaping for Mission vision may help you see how to share gifts with others nearby.
Many people in the worshipping community have gifts to bring. Discerning what gifts we have been given is an opportunity to be realistic and relieves us from the feeling of having to do everything. It is also a way of ‘setting free’ some of the energy within our communities!
Altogether, we are asking, ‘what is the vocation of the church community?’ What are we called by God to do? And – equally importantly - what are we called to leave alone?
Seeing it through
Mission Action Planning is an ongoing part of the life of the church. Ideally the worshipping community will:
- Plan how to communicate with the congregation(s) and partners (e.g. church school, local chaplaincies).
- Check-in regularly on the intentions listed. This could be done at PCC, leadership meeting, or in a specific gathering for the task.
- Present the results of their mission action planning to the APCM, discussing it there, and send it to the Archdeacon by email.
- The church may also share the results of their mission action planning with their deanery, and the diocesan Mission Team.
- Pray for and celebrate their participation in God’s mission.
For further assistance
For help and advice with mission action planning please email Simon Foster, Head of Mission, or phone 07496 638805.