Evangelism and Growth Team Autumn 2020
An eight-step guide to mission
planning for churches and circuits
ission planning is a vital tool in pursuing spiritual
and numerical church growth. A mission plan is
simply a plan of action saying what the church
will do in the next year or 18 months to reach
their community with God’s love. This plan should flow out of
a conversation the church has had in which as many views as
possible have been heard. The mission plan is both a record
that the conversation has taken place and a means of holding
each other accountable.
Mission planning is not about adding lots more things to
everyone’s to-do list; it’s about deciding what few things we
will do well. Sometimes that will mean stopping good things –
or deciding not to restart them as lockdown eases – so that
other, more impor tant things can happen. It won’t necessarily
give us more to do. It will ensure that we understand exactly
why we are doing the things we are doing and what we hope
God will achieve through them.
Our Calling
The calling of the Methodist Church is to respond to the
gospel of God’s love in Christ and to live out its discipleship in
worship and mission.
The Church exists to:
increase the awareness of God’s presence and celebrate
God’s love (Worship)
help people to grow and learn as Christians, through
mutual support and care (Learning and Caring)
be a good neighbour to people in need and to challenge
injustice (Service)
make more followers of Jesus Christ (Evangelism).
Our Calling applies to every church and ever y circuit, but its
outworking will look different in different places. The shape
of God’s mission in and through a local church will depend on
lots of factors, such as the gifts and resources of the people
who make up that church and the needs of the community it
serves. Some churches are large and have lots of potential
volunteers; many churches are small and volunteers scarce.
Some circuits are mostly rural and others urban; some are rich
and some are poor. We can’t all do the same things and we
don’t need to – but we can all do something. Every church and
every circuit is an essential part of the mission of God and
has a part to play.
How to use this workbook
Mission planning is a team effort. Good consultation and
collaboration during a mission planning process is likely to
make the plan more effective. If you are working on a mission
plan for a small church, you may wish to give everyone in the
church a copy of this workbook. If your church is larger, or you
are writing a circuit mission plan, you will need to choose a
smaller group of people to take the lead on mission planning
– but you will still want to consult the local congregation/s.
Likewise, if you are writing a church mission plan, you will
need to ensure it is in harmony with the mission plan of the
circuit. Be intentional about including people of diverse ages,
ethnicities and working patterns. Consider whether you might
unintentionally exclude anyone because of the times you
choose to meet, and ensure everyone knows their input is
The group taking the lead will include your superintendent
if you are a circuit, your minister/s, church and/or circuit
stewards, any lay workers, perhaps members of the Church
Council and Circuit Leadership Team and possibly other key
volunteers leading particular ministries. Give each person in
this group a copy of this workbook.
The Mission Planning Workbook will take your church or circuit
through a mission planning process in eight stages. You can
see a summary on the opposite page. You should expect to
spend about three to six months from start to finish. This will
allow time for people to pray, reflect and process their thoughts.
2. DO A
You will need a series of conversations over a period of
several weeks in which you consult widely with all the people
involved in your mission plan. You will need a small group to
guide the process who can meet from time to time to pull
together the insights you are gathering. You will also need to
meet with the church congregation/s, and perhaps with wider
circuit representatives.
Consider how you can include people who don’t attend Sunday
worship in your conversations – your Messy Church families,
the elderly people who attend your coffee morning, community
groups who have used your building in the past, and people
from the wider community. They will also have valuable insights
and opinions to share.
With restrictions to meeting in person at the moment, think
about how you can use Zoom, email, the telephone, or
perhaps a simple questionnaire posted through letterboxes.
You might also consider a mixture of group Zooms and one-to-
one meetings. Some people won’t feel free to say what they
think in a group setting.
Some of your meetings could be set aside specifically for
prayer, as you seek God’s will together. Alternatively, you may
prefer to have a sustained time of prayer at the start of each
meeting, before moving into discussion.
You can use this table to record the conversations that will
form your mission planning process:
Date Conversation with Format
12th September Mission planning group Zoom
To write a great mission plan you need to understand the
local community to which God has called you. Consider the
people who live near your church, or in your circuit – they are
your principal mission field. You will need to figure out what
Our Calling looks like for you with them in mind.
Find out what is it like to live in your area for various different
groups of people. The conversations you planned in step 1
will be a really useful starting point. You can find out a lot by
talking with your local authority, local community groups and
charities, perhaps your local MP. Find out census data for your
area too, to complement the opinions of your conversation
partners. If you are working on a circuit mission plan, you may
well be considering a wide geographical area and will need to
get a feel for the profile of the various different communities
and sub-groups that make up the circuit.
The questions below have been designed to get you thinking
and wondering about your community. They could be the
starting point for your conversations with local community
representatives. You can record your answers to the questions
along with the other information you gather on page 6 of this
Questions to explore:
Find out:
the socio-economic profile of your area
its age profile and population density
which ethnic groups are represented in your local area;
which languages are spoken
information on how people live (eg alone, in family groups,
in rented accommodation or their own properties).
“What made you come to live here?”
Find out:
the percentage of people in your area who attend a church
the other faiths represented in your area.
“What is it about this area that makes you praise God?”
Learning and Caring
Find out:
how levels of educational attainment in your area compare
with the UK average
what learning oppor tunities are available for local people
which local community groups offer practical care and
“What was the last thing you learned?”
“In your experience, how much do people talk to their
neighbours around here?”
Find out:
what poverty looks like near you
which groups of people experience marginalisation in your
“What would you like to change about our area, if you
“What would you like the local church to be doing?”
Find out:
what people who live in your area spend their time
worrying about
what brings joy and gladness to people who live near you.
“When did you last experience hope? What happened?”
“When did you last say a quick prayer?”
Tips for listening well
Your aim is to find out about your local community rather
than to assume you already know. Furthermore, different
groups of people will experience living in your area
differently. People from ethnic minorities may have a very
different perspective than those in the ethnic majority. In
addition, COVID-19 and the accompanying lockdown may
have had all sorts of effects of which you’re not aware, and
not everyone will have been affected in the same way. You
will need to listen well.
One way of listening well is to have a conversation in a
group of three, with a listener, a talker and a timekeeper.
The listener should aim to speak only to clarify and to
reflect back to the talker what they think they have heard.
Some useful phrases might be:
“Tell me more about …”
“It sounds as if you’re saying __________. Have I
understood correctly?”
“So, to sum up, you feel that …”
Check the Mission Planning Toolkit at www.methodist.org.uk for further resources to help your church or circuit carry out
a community audit.
Write the results of your community audit here:
As well as understanding your community, you also need to
review your church/es.
Two discussion activities are offered here to get your church or
circuit reviewing its activities, strengths and weaknesses. They
cover similar areas, so you will probably wish to choose just
Activity 3.1 is taken from Our Church’s Future Story, Methodist
Publishing, 2019. It assumes that participants can meet
together in the same room. See ‘tips for facilitators’ for
suggestions about moving this to a virtual meeting.
Activity 3.2 is taken from the Appreciative Inquiry resource,
which can be found in the Mission Planning Toolkit. It has
been adapted from material produced by the Wey Valley Circuit
in the South East Methodist District and the Yorkshire Plus
region of the Learning Network. The activity is deceptively
simple – it has the potential to reveal how the Holy Spirit has
been most powerfully at work in a church.
3.2 Share your experiences
In pairs answer the following questions. Try and give each
person the time and space to answer fully without it slipping
into a conversation. Perhaps give each person five minutes
to share before swapping over:
Remembering your entire experience in this church,
when were you most alive, most motivated and excited
about your involvement?
What happened? Who was involved?
What was your part?
Describe how you felt.
What do you value most about your church?
What activities or ingredients or ways of life are most
important to you?
3.1 Getting Our Compass Bearings
Step 1. Starting the conversation
With everyone sitting in a large circle, ask each person:
Tell me about your church.
What are the best bits?
What gives you a sense of personal satisfaction?
Are there things about it which you feel less
comfortable with?
Are there things you would wish to change?
Step 2. Treasure, Trouble, Potential, Puzzle
Move the chairs to the edges of the room to allow the group
plenty of space to move about. Place four people at four
‘compass points’ in the room and give each one a sheet of
paper and some pens to make an improvised sign for one of
the following (each person is allocated a different word):
Note: signs could also be made in advance.
Step 3. Moving around the compass
Choose one of the subjects raised during step 1 and ask
the person who raised it where on the compass they would
place that issue. Is it a treasure, trouble, potential or
puzzle? Encourage them to move towards the compass point
that they feel fits best and explain why they chose it.
Then ask the others in the group to move the individual
representing that particular issue around the ‘compass’,
encouraging a debate about why they think they might be
best placed elsewhere. Make a big fuss of deliberately
moving the person in the directions suggested. When a final
compass point is chosen, repeat this exercise with another
person and subject.
Note: It is not where people eventually end up that
matters! The important thing is that, in the discussion, the
strengths and the value of the subject are highlighted, and
new approaches are generated. Negative positions are
counteracted by positive arguments.
An alternative approach: If working in a limited space, or
with people who are less mobile, this could be a table-top
activity. Use a cuddly toy or similar item, pick a subject and
then take turns to move the item towards an appropriate
compass point, marked on the table, explaining your
reasons as you do so.
Tips for facilitators
Although the activities shared in this workbook assume an in-person meeting, all of them can be run when meeting remotely
using digital technology.
Discussions can be conducted via Zoom, Microsoft Teams or other video-conferencing software. Those without computers or
smartphones can dial in to these meetings using a telephone and can hear what is said and be heard.
In order to ensure that everyone has the chance and the confidence to speak, have people use the chat function to write their
ideas (people on telephones can use pen and paper). You could agree to be silent for five minutes while people have time to
think and write. The facilitator can then see everyone’s ideas at a glance, not just the ideas of the loudest people. Then they
can ask individuals to comment on their ideas – it’s less threatening to ask someone to comment on what they have already
thought about and written than to put them on the spot.
You can use this space below to record the most important insights that come out of your church review.
Check the Mission Planning Toolkit at www.methodist.org.uk for more resources to help your church or circuit dream about
the future.
The most important insights:
When we dream about the future, we escape the limits of
our present situation and conceive of an alternative reality.
Writing a great mission plan needs to involve some dreaming
and imagination.
Activity 4.1 is offered to help your church or circuit dream
about the future. It is taken from the Appreciative Inquiry
resource mentioned previously.
4.1 SOAR – Strengths, Opportunities,
Aspirations, Resources/Results
A SOAR exercise is visionar y and also helps to identify
measures of success. Use the questions in the table below
as a guide to complete the exercise. You can draw images
or write bullet points – it’s up to you. Sometimes it helps to
complete the aspirations before the opportunities. Review
your SOAR regularly.
In our involvement with
our church, when have
we seen it flourishing or
experienced joy, growth or
effective working? When
have we seen strength?
What are the
opportunities? What are
the best things out there
for us? What can we do
differently? What new
things can we do with the
strengths that we have?
What is the best we can
imagine for ourselves?
What could be our
collective future?
are we called to be?
What are we called to do?
(can use either)
What are our resources?
What might we achieve?
What do we need to get
there? How will we know
we’ve got there?
You should already have an idea of your church’s strengths
from ‘3. Conduct a church review’ (pages 7-8). Use these
insights to fill in the top left quadrant. See the ‘Tips for
facilitators’ for a practical suggestion of how to go about filling
the other three quadrants.
Check the Mission Planning Toolkit at
www.methodist.org.uk for more resources to help your
church or circuit dream about the future.
Tips for facilitators
Rather than using one large piece of paper to complete
your SOAR, you could write each strength on a separate
piece of flipchart paper. Then have people map out the
opportunities, aspirations and resources for each strength.
If you are meeting digitally, there are various ways you could
create a mind map together. For example, you could use the
‘whiteboard’ function in Zoom. When the host shares their
screen, they simply need to select ‘whiteboard’ and then
they can produce a mind map while people are speaking
or writing in chat. To enable everyone to write on the
whiteboard, the host needs to enable ‘remote control’ in
Zoom’s basic settings.
An alternative is to create a shared Word document using
Microsoft OneDrive or Google Docs. If all your conversation
partners have the link to the document, they can add their
own thoughts and ideas, see other people’s ideas, and
insert comments. This could be used live during a video
call, added to between meetings, or a mixture of both.
You can record some of your dreams over the page. Feel free
to write, mind map, draw diagrams – whatever helps you.
Record your dreams:
What will your church/es focus on as priorities this year?
There is no point choosing too many priorities as it will scatter
your energies too much. If everything is a priority, nothing is a
Consider the four areas of Our Calling – worship, learning
and caring, service and evangelism. One priority for each
area is more than enough. You may choose to focus on
just one or two areas this year and to look at the others
next year.
Activity 5.1, which is taken from the Appreciative Inquiry
resource, may be helpful in narrowing down priorities.
5.1 Three Hopes and Dreams
Gather as many people as possible and give each person
three small pieces of paper – sticky notes work well. Invite
everyone to consider (in the light of all that has been
discovered in steps 1-4) to express what three hopes and
dreams they would like to see in their church. Don’t limit with
timescales or logistics, just allow people to hope and dream.
Once everyone has written their hopes and dreams, read
through them together and see if there are any areas of
similarity. This is not about specifics but general themes –
what categories would you use to group them? Physically
moving the pieces of paper or sticky notes can really help
this process.
Please note that this is not a voting process, but a
discernment process. Allow plenty of time therefore for
reflection and prayer about these areas of visioning. It may
be helpful to write up what hopes and dreams have been
offered and the broader categories they are been grouped
under and allowing a week or two for everyone to process.
It can be helpful to repeat the three hopes and dreams
exercise as the church continues to appreciate its value and
worth, as well as that of its people and community.
Once you have discerned some priorities, you can record them
here. Remember: when it comes to priorities, less is more.
The fewer priorities you have, the more progress you will be
able to make.
Consider also the strengths you identified in steps 3 and 4.
When considering priorities, play to your strengths, rather than
doing things you think you ought to be doing. God’s mission
through your church will include worship, learning and caring,
service and evangelism, but you will do those things in ways
that work for you.
Priorities for the coming year:
If you don’t have any children in the church, for example, and
no connections with young families, then developing worship
for children probably won’t be a priority just yet. However, let’s
say you are a church that enjoys offering people practical help
and your community audit revealed a large number of single-
parent families living in poverty near you. You won’t need a
Sunday School yet, but you may choose to prioritise exploring
ways of offering practical help to single parent families on
low incomes.
Tips for facilitators
To ensure all voices are heard as you discern priorities, you
could conduct part of the conversation in silence. Once
everyone has written down their three hopes and dreams,
you could have them sort the sticky notes into categories
without speaking, and label each category using a different-
coloured sticky note. Once you have put everyone’s dreams
into categories, you will need to narrow them down further
to choose priorities. Let’s say you have six categories and
you want three priorities – give everyone three sticky dots or
paperclips and have them vote for the categories they most
resonate with by placing the sticky dots or paperclips on the
sticky notes, again in silence.
If you are doing this activity via Zoom, you could have
people use the chat instead of sticky notes. Then the host
could share a Word document into which they copy and
paste the dreams from chat. If ‘remote control’ has been
enabled (see page 9), participants could take it in turns
to move the dreams around on the screen. Finally, instead
of sticky dots or paperclips, simply have people type their
initials against the dreams for which they want to vote on
the Word document.
These facilitation techniques allow the church to hear the
Holy Spirit speak through every church member, not just the
loudest and most confident people.
Once you have decided upon your priorities you need to
decide what you will do to develop each one, who will do it
and when. This helps you to keep each other accountable,
makes it much more likely things will get done, and ensures
the work is shared out fairly.
You don’t need to do everything all at once. Some things can
be actioned fairly quickly; others take lots of time to plan. You
may decide to spread your activities over the next 18 months,
for example. It doesn’t matter if your mission plan takes time
to implement, as long as you are taking action.
Here is an example of how a priority could be translated into
three specific actions:
Priority Activity
Explore ways of offering
practical support to local
single-parent families on
low incomes.
Contact the local authority to discuss the support that they offer to single-parent families on low
incomes and to discover where the gaps might be.
Trial a one-off activity, eg offering good-quality second-hand school uniforms in August.
Following the one-off activity, decide upon a regular rhythm of offering support that can be
sustained, eg a uniform event three times a year.
You can use the table opposite to record the priorities and
actions that you have identified. It is good practice also to
identify a person or group responsible for each action and a
timescale – eg ’in the next three months’ or ‘by October 20__’.
As well as considering what you will do, you also need to
think about what fruit you hope to see. This will probably
feel less familiar. It will probably be easier to identify
activities than to consider the hoped-for fruit of those
activities. We are used to thinking about inputs, eg what we
will do as a church. Thinking about the difference we hope
to make as a result of those inputs is something we don’t
often do.
To imagine what fruitfulness might look like, try using words
that portray the change and difference you hope to see. Words
like: increase, develop, enhance, reduce, grow, more, less,
improve, greater.
If we do the work of considering what fruit we wish to see –
with God’s help and by God’s Spirit – it will be much easier for
us to review our activities in the future. We will be able to see
what is working and what isn’t and to make strategic decisions
about how to spend our limited energy, time and money. This
is even more important in the wake of COVID-19, the lockdown
and its impact on our people and our finances.
Below you will find an example of the difference a church
might hope to make as a result of each of the three proposed
activities identified at step 6 (pages 12-13).
Activity Fruit we hope to see
Contact the local authority to discuss
the support they offer to single-parent
families on low incomes and to
discover where the gaps might be.
The church has a greater understanding of local provision for vulnerable families
and where its role in that provision might be. The church has a stronger relationship
with the local authority and becomes known as a caring and supportive community
group. The church has better lines of communication with the local authority.
Trial a one-off activity, eg offering
good-quality second-hand school
uniforms in August.
Vulnerable local families save money and/or receive better quality clothing than they
might otherwise have for their children. Vulnerable families’ wellbeing is enhanced.
Warm relationships with vulnerable families start to form.
Following the one-off activity, decide
upon a regular rhythm of offering
support that can be sustained, eg a
uniform event three times a year.
Vulnerable local families have a regular and predictable source of extra practical
support. Relationships between vulnerable families and the church grow and
develop over time.
Once you’ve completed step 7, you should have everything you
need to write up your mission plan. You can use the form on
page 14 if you wish. This form is available as an editable PDF in
the mission planning toolkit at www.methodist.org.uk
Priority Activity Person responsible Timescale
Priority Activity Person responsible Timescale Fruit we hope to see
Mission Plan for ______________________________________________________________________ Date agreed: __________________
Now you have written your mission plan, there is one final
stage – putting a date in the diary to come back to it.
You may decide to wait a year, or possibly 18 months – that’s
fine, as long as there is a date in the diary. Here are some
questions to help you reflect, once the time comes to review
your mission plan:
1. Look back at the results of the community audit
and church review you conducted before writing your
mission plan.
Are there new things you have learned about your community
and/or your church since the mission plan was written?
Have there been any significant changes to your
community or church/circuit?
2. Return to the dreaming you did as a church or circuit.
Have the dreams changed, or are they largely still the same?
In what ways have you seen them start to come true?
If you envisaged any new uses for your building/s, have
you begun to explore any of these? What has been
the outcome?
Have any new possibilities occurred to you since you
wrote the last mission plan?
3. Consider the priorities on your mission plan.
Are these still the things you believe God would have you
focus on, or have they changed?
Is there still work to do in each of these areas?
4. Reread the list of actions you planned together.
Did everyone do the things they committed to do?
If not, why not – was someone ill, perhaps, or too busy?
Could more support be put in place so that it could
be done?
If anything wasn’t done, does it need to go on the new
action plan?
5. Reflect on the fruit you have seen.
What is there to celebrate? What has been positive and
brought new life?
Did each activity achieve what you expected?
Were there additional positives that you didn’t foresee?
Was there anything you tried that didn’t work?
Will you give it some more time to see what happens?
Or will you adapt the activity and carry on?
Or will you stop doing it to make time for something else?
Be sure to celebrate what has gone well and to thank those
who have worked hard – whether or not their activity achieved
what you had all hoped.
Now it is time to rewrite your mission plan for the coming
year, based on your new insights.
© Getty Images
This workbook was written during the lockdown in spring/
summer 2020, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
During this time, everything changed. Many people died and
families and communities experienced suffering and loss.
Many others struggled with serious illness with potentially
lasting effects. Communities were profoundly impacted in all
kinds of ways. All Methodist church buildings had to close. All
members of Methodist churches had to stay at home. Lettings
ceased. Almost all Methodist church and community activities
had to be cancelled until further notice.
In the midst of the fear, grief and loneliness, there was also
much that was positive. Many food banks stayed open, albeit
with strict social distancing and hygiene measures in place.
Much food was donated. Neighbours contacted each other,
perhaps for the first time, and looked out for each other.
Worship services and prayer times were livestreamed, and
enquirers’ courses such as Alpha were held on Zoom. National
media outlets reported that more people than ever were
googling the word ’prayer’.
Memes on social media declared
many variations on the following: “The church is not closed –
the church has left the building.” This was the context in which
the Connexional Strategy for Evangelism and Growth was
brought to a digital Methodist Conference in June 2020.
One of the eight areas of the strategy is ‘Every Church a
Growing Church’, with mission planning a crucial tool in
pursuing spiritual and numerical growth. Mission planning
remains as important as it ever was in our current context
– perhaps even more so. Most circuits will have less money
and may have had to furlough some of their workers; most
churches will have fewer volunteers who are able to leave their
homes. How much more important then that we all discern
the way forward for our churches prayerfully and carefully,
taking into consideration those resources we actually have
and figuring out what is possible and sustainable, guided and
empowered by the Holy Spirit. Any plans already in place will
need to be radically revisited, if not put on hold. We will all
need to be prepared to adapt and to plan out of our changed
circumstances. We will be listening for, speaking of, and living
out good news in a profoundly changed world.
Corona-resilient churches will:
believe that God still wants to work through them
be willing to adapt, learn and grow – even in the face of
fear and uncertainty
continue to seek vision, even in difficult times
do a few things well
speak and practice hope, looking outward to God’s hurting
grow whole-life disciples who live out their faith in Jesus
Monday to Sunday
make use of digital technologies in ways that work for
Moving in the direction of growth
The diagram below has been adapted from a meme that did
the rounds on social media early in the lockdown. The original
diagram considered individuals’ reactions to lockdown.
1. www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/climate-and-people/pandemic-prompts-surge-interest-prayer-google-data-show
out over
here by
the crisis
Churches in
Discovering new
ways of connecting
Discovering the new
people who are engaging
Equipping rather than
Noticing gains
as well as losses
Finding sustainable
rhythms of worship
and service
Positive and
hopeful without
Being grateful
with new media
Finding alternatives
eg telephone
Acquiring new skills
Adapting to now
Recognising that
everyone is doing
their best in a
bad situation
Comparing your digital
output to others’
Feeling overwhelmed
Compulsive helping
“When can we go
back to normal?”
In this version we consider the journey churches have been
forced to begin as we were propelled out of the status quo and
into a bewildering new situation.
The ‘fear zone’ is where we all began, where some of us
still are, and where we will doubtless all return from time to
time. In the fear zone we feel overwhelmed, experience
intense anxiety, and just want things to return to normal.
This is a natural human reaction to change, especially
sudden change. Churches who have experienced multiple
bereavements through COVID-19, and who have not been able
to say goodbye to friends in the way they would have wished,
may find themselves in the fear zone for longer. This may
also be true of some ministers, who have borne the brunt of
pastoral care and who have had to conduct funerals under very
difficult circumstances. These churches and ministers probably
need to be kind to themselves and to each other, whether
they are lethargic and depressed or perhaps engaging in
compulsive helping activities to deal with their anxiety. District,
regional and Connexional Team staff are there to offer help
and support.
Churches which have been able to adapt, however tentatively
and unwillingly, have begun to move from the ’fear zone’ to the
’learning zone’. These are the churches who have begun to
accept the new circumstances and to tr y different ways of doing
things, such as digital church. They may be recording simple
videos with a smartphone or they may be delivering complex
livestreams – it is not the complexity of the technology but the
desire to experiment that marks this stage. Other churches may
be discovering new ways of engaging with their communities
and a renewed community spirit, both in Christians and
in unaffiliated people. They may be organizing food bank
collections or telephone lists to ensure people are cared for at
a time when so many have suffered a financial blow.
Churches that have grown in confidence as they have adapted
and tried new things have entered the growth zone. They
are likely to be feeling much more positive, recognising the
lessons that they are learning through innovation, adaptation
and experimentation. These churches are not running
themselves ragged, but discovering sustainable rhythms of
community life, prayer and missional engagement with the
people who live near their churches.
One of the main hopes for mission planning is that it will help
us be fruitful for God. As part of the Connexional Strategy for
Evangelism and Growth, it makes sense to consider the fruit
of our labour. This brief appendix offers some language and
frameworks to help determine and describe what is meant by
fruitfulness and what this might look like.
Biblical backdrop
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible has many, many
references to fruit and fruitfulness. There are varied stories,
illustrations, metaphors and life-long, life-wide applications
that can be gleaned when it comes to the subject of
fruitfulness in Scripture. There are references to sowing
seeds, harvest, pruning, gathering, watering, fruit of the
Spirit, apples, grapes, olives, to name but some. The parable
of the sower (Mark 4:1-20) is one of the most well known,
and provides interesting insights into fruitfulness. Not every
seed grows and bears fruit: in a similar way, perhaps, not
every church activity will result in deeper faith and lives
transformed. Some seed, however, falls on good soil and
brings forth grain, “growing up and increasing and yielding
thirty and sixty and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:8, NRSV).
In John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of pruning in relation to
fruitfulness: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the
He removes every branch in me that bears no
fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear
more fruit.” (John 15:1-2, NRSV) If we apply these verses to
the mission activities of churches, we might argue that we
need to stop as well as to start activities in order to increase
fruitfulness. Some activities may be good in themselves,
but may need to stop in order to release time and energy for
better things. Other activities may not be fruitful and may need
to stop for this reason. We might liken these decisions to
stop certain activities to both fruitful and unfruitful branches,
pruned for greater fruitfulness.
In terms of mission planning, what
do we mean by ‘being fruitful’?
In their service of God, churches and individual Christians want
to make a difference and to realise change for the
better. It’s determining and assessing what that change
is and the impact it has that is of interest in the mission-
planning process.
It might be helpful to think about this sense of fruitfulness
by using words that portray the change and difference we
want to make. Words like: increase, develop, enhance,
reduce, grow, more, less, improve, greater. We see this
emphasis in the Connexional Strategy for Evangelism
and Growth, which speaks of making ‘more’ disciples,
‘increasing’ awareness of God’s presence and helping
people ‘grow’ as Christians.
Being clear about the stages
in the process
In order to have clarity about what we mean by fruitfulness, it
can help to be clear about each of the stages in a plan. One
way of doing this is to differentiate between:
the organising and set-up activities undertaken to deliver
the things we provide (what some call ‘inputs’)
the services offered and numbers of people who are
involved (what some call the ‘outputs’)
identifying the short- and medium-term change occurring,
and more long-term impact as a consequence of what we
do. In other words, the difference we make (what is often
called the ‘outcomes’).
Here are a few examples:
We might put on an afternoon tea for some of our older folks
to come together in outreach and fellowship.
There is the activity element of hosting the tea. Booking a
room, preparing the food, organising some entertainment.
This is important, but not the focus of what we mean in
this context by fruitfulness.
There is the number of people who come the tea. This
might also be important, but also not what we mean by
There is the impact and results of what happens at the
tea. This is what we are concerned with when we talk
about fruitfulness. For example, we might examine the
impact, changes and difference the tea makes to those
who come: whether or not the people who came felt less
isolated; grew in their faith and discipleship; developed
community; and/or enhanced their wellbeing.
The church might facilitate an after-school club for children of
primary school age.
There is the activity of a daily club. Preparing things to do,
setting up the IT, making sure the premises are clean and
safe. Important, but not what we are assessing regarding
There is the amount of children who come each day and
their parents. These are all wonder fully made human
beings and their attendance is valued, but not solely the
focus of what we might want to be assessing in terms of
Our assessment of the fruitfulness is focused on the
changes that occur in the children as a result of the club.
For example, they may develop new skills; grow in social
confidence; participate more in healthy eating; and/or
increase their wellbeing.
Thinking wider, focusing more sharply
It might also be helpful to think about fruitfulness in wider
terms. For example, if we do mention numbers of people in
describing our activities it might be helpful to describe them
as fully as possible (without unnecessarily labelling people).
We might want to be specific about who exactly we are seeking
to engage with: their geographical location, gender, ethnicity,
age, level of ability, etc, so our plans can be sharp and
We may wish to look at the difference we are making across
a range of domains: faith development, skills gained,
volunteering levels, personal growth, community involvement,
for example.
Finally, we may seek to describe the journey travelled by those
we are serving. Things like: levels of understanding, extent
of participation, responsibility taken, contribution made and
awareness gained.
For example:
We might decide to offer digital midday prayer via Facebook
Live. Viewing figures are a blunt instrument in determining
fruitfulness, so we would be wise to be more precise.
Fruitfulness could mean not simply ‘views’ but engagement
via comments; the same people coming back again and
again over a sustained period; unaffiliated people using
midday prayer as their main act of Christian worship; under-
40s engaging with midday prayer, and so on.
Expect the unexpected
Working in these ways and according to these definitions
might seem like a bit of a straitjacket, but it is not intended
as such. A consideration of fruitfulness is offered as a helpful
tool in enabling us all to join in with God’s mission. God is God
and the Spirit moves as the Spirit wishes. We hope that God
will move profoundly and that life in the Spirit will be the norm.
This means plans might change, unexpected outcomes might
occur, and what proves to be fruitfulness will be witnessed
in all sorts of different and diverse directions and across a
wide variety of domains. We see this in the parable of the
seed growing secretly: “The kingdom of God is as if someone
would scatter seed on the ground,
and would sleep and rise
night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does
not know how” (Mark 4:26-27, NRSV). The kingdom of God
does not come by human effort in predictable ways, but is in
some ways a mystery. Considering ‘fruitfulness’ will hopefully
provide us with a focus to journey with God – realising not our
own plans, but God’s promised and preferred future.
Possibilities for changing or vacating
our building/s:
The Connexional Property Team have produced this set of
questions to help Methodist churches think about whether to
vacate their building and/or move to a new premises:
How does this church property shape and give expression
to the circuit/district mission plan(s)? (For example, does
our dream require the building/s we currently use?)
What alternative uses might be made of the property/site
as an expression of Methodist mission and ministry?
Is the site of strategic importance within the locality?
What other Christian presence remains in the locality,
particularly in rural areas?
Is this the only community space in the locality?
What are the alternative uses with the site vacated, taking
into account, amongst other things, the local authority
strategic plan – could it be redeveloped to generate
income for mission elsewhere?
What ecumenical/other partnership oppor tunities exist for
using the property?
Are alternative sites available which better enable mission?
Is there no longer potential for Methodist mission from
this property?
Reflecting on our building/s in the light of Our Calling:
Could we meet for worship elsewhere?
Do we need the building/s we currently have for our future worship dreams?
Learning and caring
How does the building meet people’s needs, both regular church attenders and occasional users?
Do we have a well-planned kitchen? Is it easy to access the toilets? Do we provide ramps and hearing aid loops?
Are our chairs comfortable?
Do we care for our environment?
Are the buildings we currently have suitable for our dreams of serving the community?
Are there community needs which could be met by using our building in a different way?
Is God calling us to plant a new church, congregation or fresh expression? Are we excited by the thought of trying
something new?
Is God calling us to release our building for others to use in church planting? Could we be released from the burden
of maintaining a building while ensuring it is used effectively for mission?
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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible,
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