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Mission Action Planning and the CofE

A photo of General Synod in York

It’s July which, in Church of England terms, means that most of the great and the good are in York for the regular General Synod Group of Sessions. Not much to excite the newspapers this time around but some journalists have made some mileage out of the CofE being threatened with extinction within a Private Member’s motion (PDF file) from the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.

The motion pushes for a national ‘Mission Action Plan’ to go alongside various efforts made at diocesan level and at parish level (and at deanery level for that matter) to use Mission Action Plans in stimulating strategic thought for the future.

Slightly disappointly, there is a attached note in the papers (PDF file) for the same debate from the Mission & Public Affairs Council quashing the idea because MAPs are not really viable at national level and they should be left alone to get on with their national mission initiatives (they don’t say that, but that’s what I think they mean).

Although I’m being cheeky and disparaging, I think the Mission & Public Affairs Council do have a point. MAP is about local level listening and researching, then responding. It’s hard to see how MAP as a system would be workable in a national context.

However, on the other hand, I think we’re missing a trick here that just reveals, again, the sluggishness with which we move and understand the world we live in. When the Mission & Public Affairs Council make statements like:

“Do the mission contexts, and mission opportunities, of the whole country have enough in common to enable a National MAP to be effective? Such a plan would have to speak with equal clarity to North and South, to rural, urban and suburban communities, and to places where the history of the community may promote or frustrate the reception of Christian witness.” GS1835B, paragraph 9

I wonder what a newspaper editor would make of a statement like this? Or Richard Branson? Or Marks & Spencer? Not a good time to be a tabloid editor I know, but to use them as an example, would they countenance an argument in which they had nothing to say to north and south, rural, urban and suburban all at the same time just because they might be a bit different from each other? Of course not.

Of course, the gospel isn’t a newspaper or a department store. I understand it’s different but, for certain things and at certain times, it really isn’t that different. If our Mission & Public Affairs Council can’t see that there’s a place for a national mission voice, we’re in trouble.

But of course, they can see that. They go on to say that there’s a place for national mission later in their briefing note, so I can’t quite fail to see how their contradictory argument is supposed to hold water. But anyway, their note says that they are involved in National Mission Initiatives (like the truly excellent Weddings Project) and that they should be allowed the freedom and room to just get on with that.

So I do sympathise. I think the Mission & Public Affairs Council are broadly right in what they say as it applies to MAP but, at times like this, I also want to plead that they lift their eyes and see an even bigger vision. The Weddings Project and things like it are excellent and yes please to more of the same, but the Mission & Public Affairs Council ought to have bigger fish to fry… even bigger than these admittedly big projects.

Time and time again on this blog, I’ve argued that the Communications Unit ought to be given great resources for mission and the same applies to MPA (and yes, I know Comms and MPA are different departments but there ought to be serious and significant crossover in their operations). I wonder if we asked them to set budgets according to dreams rather than what they can cut and still function without, how interesting and creative they might be?

Here is a list of just some of the recent-ish things I’ve mentioned before where bigger budgets, manpower and effort would have been helpful:

  • The Royal Wedding and engagement with the TV companies. Link
  • Decent quality, aspirational and inspirational video and tv adverts and viral pieces. Link
  • The horrifically under-resourced national website. Link

We ought to be more in the Alpha league when it comes to national media and advertising but we’re not even close. Personally, I would rather we aimed our sites even higher than Alpha’s level of recognition and media-savvy but at least it would be a start.

The recent revelations about politicians and tabloids brings the taste of sick to my mouth, but it should at least tell us that the politicians understand how our world works and how media, in all its forms, is absolutely vital to the communication of a message. I know that marketing, or the media, or top-down approaches to mission, might all sound like dancing with the devil to some within the church but it really doesn’t have to be and they all have something really positive to contribute.

The recent experience of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the New Statesman shows that, not only do many people want and need the Church of England to have a voice, but the very fabric of English society is the better for it.

(p.s. For a great, recent interview with Archbishop Rowan about that and other things see this great piece from the Guardian this weekend.)



By way of update, the Synod agreed an amendment to the call for a national Mission Action Plan that effectively removed the references to MAP and instead asked that the Synod:

“call on the Archbishops’ Council to work with the House of Bishops to develop the priorities identified in Challenges for the New Quinquennium (GS 1815) and further outlined in Challenges for the New Quinquennium – Next Steps (GS Misc 995) into a national mission strategy that will support dioceses, deaneries and parishes in their own church growth and mission planning.”

The reference to a National Mission Strategy is possibly more than the MPA were hoping for. Don’t think we’ve ever had a ‘National Mission Strategy’ before.

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