Mission Plans

I’ve written (and lots of people have commented) on previous mission and ministry plans, policies and plots – here and here.

We now have a new Provincial Whole Church Mission and Ministry Policy to absorb. It is fourteen pages long and has some good things in it. Like lots of long documents, it also has some things that don’t seem quite so good and some things which are not easy to understand.

I balked at the idea that what we need to do is move further towards emphasizing individual dioceses rather than the whole Scottish Episcopal Church in our mission and ministry planning. It seems to me that although some dioceses do well in that world (Edinburgh is doing conspicuously well at the moment) the news for the whole church is very different. The faster we move resources and decision making away from the Province and towards the dioceses, the faster, it seems to me on reading the annual statistics, the decline progresses.

Quite often our mission plans emphasise the things that we are not particularly good at and aim to improve them. That’s really quite a tall order and the very opposite of what someone in a business would try to do. Lots of our churches are not particularly great at working with children for example, but do much better with different constituencies – thirtysomethings or early-retireds or mobile professionals or whatever. Yet most mission plans make working with children a touchstone of success. Working well with children is something that is of great importance and in places which can do it well, needs to be resourced and supported to the highest degree. However, for other churches in the Scottish Episcopal Church, work with children and young people is a bit of a fetish. Something we think we need at all costs but which simply might not be what God (or the world around us) is calling everyone to excel at.

Here in Glasgow and Galloway, we are supposed to be working on

  • prayer and spirituality
  • learning and discipleship
  • missional leadership
  • numerical growth, welcome and integration
  • children and young people
  • imaginative outreach into local communities

Those are not bad things, indeed they are good things. Are they the things that we can achieve enough change with to start the turn around the statistics though? At that point, I’m not quite so sure.

Someone said to me that if I have other ideas on what might stem the decline from our churches, I ought to be up front and say what they are.

Well, that’s a fair request.

Here goes.

I think that very many of our churches would attract more people if the preaching were just a bit better, the singing were just a bit more fun and the congregational (not, for heaven’s sake the diocesan) website were a bit better too. That’s three things that I would make big priorities which I don’t really see reflected in current diocesan or provincial thinking. They are three things we think about quite a lot here and things that can always be improved. What’s more, they are things that can be improved without spending an enormous amount of money.

So, those would be my priorities over three years:

  • preaching
  • singing
  • websites & social media

That’s for stemming decline. If we want to grow then we need to plant some new congregations and use the resources from closing congregations to do so.

What do you think? Are those things as important as I suspect they are at this stage of our common life?


  1. Rosemary Hannah says

    Having as you all know, had to find a new church following a move, I would heartily agree with the first two, agree with them as diagnosis for reasons for growth or non-growth of congregations. I would add: offering a hand of friendship to those who arrive at a service. Ignoring people, being cold to them, failing to get their details usually persuades them to leave promptly. It is blindingly obvious. It is too too frequently omitted.

    But – mission is not really about getting people into churches is it? That should be, I think, the side effect of mission.

    • You are quite right, Rosemary that getting people into church is not what mission is about, but generally mission is the language that church folk talk when they want to get people into church.

      I’m not too squeamish about consciously wanting to get more people into church myself. That, however, is very far from an end in itself.

  2. Rosemary Hannah says

    Well, I’m very happy, too, to talk about getting people into church – I get unhappy when that becomes ‘mission’. I get unhappy because that devalues mission. Because it limits it. I think being aware of the difference will actually strengthen both.

    I think a rich exciting variety of worship will attract people to church services/membership. I know that that also feeds those who, like me, know they are called to other kinds of preaching/mission – and I am sure we are all called to some kind of that. None of us can do it on an empty tank. So good worship is important in more than one way – more than several, actually.

    But I also think that those engaged in mission probably need more help and support that JUST good worship and looking at mission simply as church filling does not enable the wider task of mission as well as it might. I think until we can genuinely look at our world and care about mission for the world’s sake, and not ours alone, we are not going to find the real blessing to do it. I think Jesus will only really bless us when we seek to serve others for the sake of the others. It is only by looking in the right places that we will see how to communicate the love of God and how to serve others really effectively.

    (Let me add that when recounting our last Pentecost to somebody they said wistfully: ‘Your church does sound FUN’. I that does indeed attract people to come and join in. I think it is also tremendously helpful that it is easy to demonstrate that we are inclusive – just look at the splendid set of clergy we boast. I think all these things get people into church.)

  3. Yes; oh yes; yes! And if that sounds like something most people might think more exciting than church, then that in itself should tell us something.

  4. Alison Peden says

    I’d also add making church the place where people can gain confidence in speaking about their faith and their journey – e.g. in a sermon slot with those sitting next to them. The best mission combines deeds and words.

  5. Thanks for an interesting post Kelvin. Having done a few diocesan and church websites for the SEC, some tentative thoughts:

    My impression is that you are absolutely right that church sites are more useful than diocesan sites. Diocesan sites are useful, for sure, for providing a means of publicising diocesan-wide news and events, and directories of the charges within their boundaries.

    But I get the impression that the three sites I’ve done for Episcoapl churches, http://www.osp.org.uk, http://www.stternansbanchory.org.uk, and http://www.holytrinitymelrose.org.uk, have been particularly worthwhile. All three churches have done a great job of keeping them up-to-date, and the feedback I’ve got is that they’ve helped to bring a few people into each church. The simple virtue of having a decent online presence, it seems, is not to be underestimated: the web is the first place where many people look these days when investigating churches. One of the sites has helped the church in question reduce the number of printed publications it produces. There’s still an occasional magazine for those unable to access the web, and for features and reflective pieces, but the website has become the main source of news and events.

    There is of course the issue of cost. Expectations can be high, and budgets are typically very low. Understandably churches don’t want identikit sites: they want something that reflects their particular character. But crafting unique designs and functionality takes time, and in most cases professional designers simply cannot afford to do what’s being asked for within the budget that the church had in mind.

    I’d say your suggestion at Synod to develop a set of standardised but adaptable templates as a theme for a free CMS like WordPress or Concrete5 is the right one: a designer could customise and set those up for a church for a few hundred pounds a time. Everyone would have to understand, though, that it would limit what could be done in terms of design and functionality. The price of an affordable site is some degree of uniformity, but surely better that than no website at all, or an amateur one done by a volunteer within the congregation who has since left or has no longer the time to maintain and develop it.

    Anyway, my tuppenceworth.

  6. Martin Ritchie says

    It’s great to hear the church talking up mission rather than just presiding over a graceful decline! I’ve been particularly impressed by what I’ve heard about the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney since Bishop Gillies arrived, and having heard him preach encouragingly and inspiringly to a revitalised rural congregation I can understand why things are looking up in that diocese.

    I think that it’s also really important for congreagtions to be outward-looking. That’s reflected in the new policy I think, and also in the title of the Diocese of St Andrews’ “Casting the net” programme.

    I agree that your three points are also important Kelvin, and would observe that places like St Mary’s are good sources of ideas, and act as role models for clergy and music directors in finding and using stimulating congregational material well.

  7. ISTM that the child-focus comes about from the erroneous idea that the SEC has to make its own next generation, and that that generation starts from kids. In practice, kids move away from their home churches more often than not, and people join in their late 20s+30s. (And maybe move away again, too.)

    I’ve been fortunate that the preaching in all ‘piskie churches I’ve been to has been of high quality. Very fortunate and very high, actually. I, for one, value the feeling that a sermon has been thought through and researched studiously first and foremost.

    There’s a chunk of potential audience that isn’t going to know (or care) what diocese they’re in: what are the chances that a visiting tourist or newcomer to an area is going to search for `Diocese of Glasgow and where-the-heck-am-I? church ~episcopal’ or just `map church anglican near here’? Thus getting individual churches’ websites on the map is a priority. I also suggest church websites be encouraged to look beyond “front-of-house” static placeholders and offer functionality. (Quite what that might be is a different matter.)

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