The Seven Actual Marks of Mission

The Anglican Communion website tells us that the Five Marks of Mission are an “important statement on mission which expresses the Anglican Communion’s common commitment to, and understanding of, God’s holistic/integral mission”. The were first set out at an Anglican Consultative Council in 1984.

The Five Marks of Mission are:

To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
To respond to human need by loving service
To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth

And these things get rolled out at many a clergy conference and General Synod and spoken of as though they are really important.

The trouble with the Five Marks of Mission is that really they should be the Seven Marks of Mission and include Motherhood and Apple Pie. They are clearly good things. They are clearly aspirations that every church should have. The honest truth though is that I’d have been surprised if as many as 1% of the congregation at St Mary’s today would have been able to name the Five Marks of Mission without having the opportunity to look them up. Most people wouldn’t of heard of them. And unfortunately for the many people on those very many clergy conferences, the Five Marks of Mission bear little connection with what actually makes a church grow.

There’s nothing wrong whatsoever with the Five Marks of Mission but if you want to make your church grow a bit they are better descriptors of what you might expect to observe in a living vibrant congregation than actually things which will do the business for helping your congregation to grow.

And the thing is, people in the church generally would like their congregations to grow a bit. There’s not much wrong in most congregations that another couple of dozen faithful giving members couldn’t put right.

And it is my view that it isn’t beyond the boundaries of possibility that most congregations could find another couple of dozen giving members fairly easily if they sorted their lives out according the Seven Actual Marks of Mission rather than getting all hung up on the Five they are told they are supposed to be concentrating on.

The Seven Actual Marks of Mission (or Marks of How To Grow A Congregation), are these:

1 – A community that enjoys singing things
2 – Ability to deal with conflict. (And a leadership structure that allows this to be done).
3 – A sense of humour that isn’t an optional extra
4 – Life changing liturgy and preaching
5 – Being truly welcoming
6 – Confident leadership
7 – Ethos, ethos, ethos

1 – A community that enjoys singing things

There have not been many revivals of life and energy in churches that have not included singing have there? It seems to me that a good deal more attention should be spent by the churches on music.

The honest truth is that liturgical style matters far less than whether people are enjoying what they sing and feel as though they can join in.

I’ve been puzzled recently at the phenomenon of some evangelical churches going so far down the “band-led worship” pathway that the band seem to be the only ones singing whilst the congregation watch. (This is not merely my observation but a critique that I’ve seen evangelicals themselves making). Whatever your style, I’m convinced that an enjoyment of singing together is one of the primary things that makes people come to church. Furthermore, when it is obvious that the congregation is uncomfortable, grumpy about style and choice of music or just plain unsupported by those trying to lead the music from the front it is an instant turn off. Those trying out a church won’t go back if the music is miserable.

So why not make it more of a priority in mission planning and ordination training? I never understood why I was continually asked what I needed during ordination training and when I told them the answer (singing lessons) it was pooh-poohed. Everyone can learn to sing better and everyone in the church business can learn how to help a congregation sing better too.

You can’t sing as a congregation? You can’t grow as a congregation.

2 – Ability to deal with conflict. (And a leadership structure that allows this to be done).

Nobody likes conflict but here’s the thing – where two or three are gathered together, there a disagreement will break out sooner or later. Because Christians are particularly naughty? Because the devil always finds a way in? No – just because people are people. It is the way it is. There will be conflict. People will disagree.

A significant measure of a congregation’s ability to grow is the manner in which it deals with conflict.

Again, ordination training for me was characterised by conflict and there were no safe mechanisms for sorting it out. Whilst you can learn negatively from experiences it wasn’t a good start. I suspect one learns most from the ways in which conflict is dealt with by those whom one trusts.

Someone once told me that when someone gets angry with you it means they trust you with a part of themselves which is vulnerable. It was a key insight that turned around the way I see conflict and the way I try to help other people deal with it when it occurs.

And by the way, some churches have decision making structures that don’t allow conflict to be dealt with. A governance review every 10 or 20 years might not be a bad idea. We changed our constitution a few years ago and suddenly my job became a doable job after decades when I think the structures were putting all kinds of unreasonable pressure on the people who held the post I now hold. It is difficult to change a church constitution. It should be difficult. However, it shouldn’t be impossible.

3 – A sense of humour that isn’t an optional extra

I suppose you can try and grow a congregation by being po-faced but if you want a short cut, find a way at laughing at the absurd. Go further, find a way at laughing about yourself for the collection of pomposities and contradictions that makes up you isn’t to be taken entirely seriously.

Or so I’ve found.

I’ve always admired that saying which I think comes from Richard Giles to the effect that good liturgy should be such that it feels as though everyone is about to laugh.

Quite so.

4 – Life changing liturgy and preaching

If liturgy and preaching is not about changing lives then don’t get out of bed to do either. Again, liturgical style doesn’t matter nearly so much as whether what we do moves people, challenges people and celebrates people.

I can’t tell you how many times people say to me that I’m very lucky because I have all the resources of a cathedral and that makes it possible for us to have lovely worship.

Well, I’m grateful for all the wonders of my own congregation but the truth is, I don’t need any of it in order to worship God and I don’t need any of it in order to lead other people in worship that has the potential to be beautiful, moving and yes, life changing.

Here, I did have something positive from my ordination training. I didn’t go to a seminary with a lovely chapel. I didn’t spend all my time as an ordinand swanning around in vestments. Our worship when I was training had to be created from what we had around us. It was always creative and we worked hard at it.

We had a weekly meeting when I was an ordinand which was kept secret from the members of staff who were not invited. The agenda was 1) How can we improve the worship 2) Any other business.

I can’t help but wonder what the effect would be on the national church if that way of thinking was fundamental to the life of every local church. It formed me and I still wake up on a Monday morning asking myself how the worship can be better and commit myself to having the conversations that are necessary to make it so.

Yes, I am lucky to have St Mary’s and all that it means. But throw me a bag of tea-lights and sing the words after me and I can take you to heaven any time, any place, any where. That’s what I was formed to do. And in this, my training did me proud.

5 – Being truly welcoming

You just can’t make a congregation grow without people feeling welcome. The fact that people are different means that there’s room for different welcoming styles. Some people like to be hugged and gushed over and others (I’m guessing most others in the UK) don’t. But somehow or another a congregation does need to exude a sense of welcome to people who are not already its members or it is simply not going to grow at all.

Most congregations think that they are welcoming because the key players in the congregation themselves feel welcomed when they come to worship. However, that’s not enough and it isn’t really what it is all about.

I’m prepared to say now that it is almost impossible to be a welcoming congregation without good on-line engagement. That doesn’t just mean having a website now either. The danger is that congregations think that because they’ve got a website they’ve done what they need to do.

It isn’t enough.

The question is not whether your congregation has a website. The question is whether people looking on-line for a congregation to try out (who exist in every part of the country no exceptions) can get to know the personality of the congregation and having encountered that personality find it attractive.

How many times do I need to say, if the opening words of your website are: “Welcome! St Agatha’s By The Windmill is a congregation in the United Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway, one of the historic dioceses of the Scottish Episcopal Church, in full communion with the Church of England and all the Churches of the Anglican Communion! We welcome everyone. All are welcome in this place.” then you are missing the mark by quite a long way. People don’t join congregations for these reasons. They join congregations because of the people. They join because the people look spiritual. They join because the people look godly. They join because the people look as though they are having fun. They join because the people look diverse enough to find a space for them. They join because the rector looks and sounds like someone you wouldn’t mind conducting your daughter’s wedding next summer. They join because one day they might need these people to gather for their funeral. They join because they are lonely. They join because they have something to give. They very, very rarely these days join a congregation because of its physical location or its denominational affiliation.

6 – Confident leadership

Congregations need confident leadership. That means flexible leadership, collaborative leadership but fundamentally it doesn’t mean the absence of leadership. One of my great worries in recent years is that I fear that very many clergy seem to think that they are called to give only pastoral leadership. Whilst caring for a congregation is fundamental, it is a long way from being the only tool in the priestcraft toolbox. You also need to have some understanding of how systems work, some wisdom about how people work and some knowledge of how you yourself tick. Authentic leadership is about far more than just looking after people. It is also about inspiring people, setting the direction for people, saying the things that people need to hear and sometimes saying things that people wish you wouldn’t.

I went on a leadership training course last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, it did make me wonder all the way through why my own church doesn’t make any serious attempt to boost the leadership skills of its clergy. (I fear sometimes that the answer is that the desperation to DO MISSION means we’ve no energy to boost the things that would actually attract people to our churches).

7 – Ethos, ethos, ethos
This one can’t be avoided. A congregation that is to grow needs to have a conscious ethos and needs to be able to express it.

It is not uncommon for people to look at successful congregations and see particular elements of the worship (a band, a 30 minute sermon, a time for “praise and worship”, a large collection of blazing thuribles etc) and try to replicate the experience by putting those elements in a service that has not had them before. The result is more likely to generate conflict than growth. The starting point for growth is ethos. If a congregation knows why it exists then it will grow. The things that large growing churches have in abundance is a confident sense of what they are there for. If you know your purpose and everyone involved accepts what it is then you can bring more people in who want to share that vision.

If you look across the churches, it is not just big city evangelical churches which are growing. It is churches which know who they are. That’s why self-consciously Anglo-catholic churches which are a mile high up the paschal candle can do reasonably well in the current climate. The churches which seem to me to be struggling are those who rely on their geography to bring in a crowd. The parish is dead. If you want to grow a church the hard way then promote it as the church for your locality. Far easier is to find the essence of the congregation – the core reasons why people might encounter God in that place and once you’ve got that, distil it and let the world know.

Here in St Mary’s, we’re Open, Inclusive and Welcoming. Well, that’s what we hope to be. We fall short of it. We struggle with it. But it is who we are and everyone knows. That ethos brings people in.

I don’t think that any church has all the answers to how to do mission or how to grow. My own certainly doesn’t and certainly isn’t perfect in achieving the seven marks that I’ve listed above. However, when I look at the churches which do well, it is these things which I see as key elements whereby a little development can lead to a lot of growth.

Remember the Five Marks of Mission?

No, no-one else does either.


  1. This is a really helpful post in lots of ways; really like it and will be sharing it. That said, I don’t think church growth and mission are the same things. Sometimes they overlap, but even that doesn’t follow.

    I actually think the seventh of your points would better be described ‘mission’. That ‘ethos’ that you describe is downstream of mission. An organisation with a clear mission will generate an ethos, and people who are part of an organisaiton with a clear mission will reinforce and co-create that ethos. You more or less say this: ‘If a congregation knows why it exists then it will grow’.

  2. A second point: an important question facing the church right now is “Does focussing on church growth make church growth more or less likely?”.

    I think you are saying “no” to that. Psephizo’s recent post ( – seems to give a different view.

  3. Not to mention, if the leadership structures of the Anglican Communion want to go around proclaiming that challenging unjust structures in society then they might do well to first remove the beam from their own eye.

  4. Anthony Duncalf says

    I certainly agree with the idea of developing worship etc. which is in keeping with the ethos of that congregation. Sometimes new ideas can jarr irritatingly and come over as a ‘token effort’ rather that – as should be – a natural expression fo what is happening in the life of that particular church.

  5. Interesting question to Prof Kathyrn Tanner tonight after first Gifford lecture on Christianity and the spirit of capitalism viz how is church planning and development shaped by the spirit if capitalism? Given she is arguing that Christainity – indeed religion – has the power to subvert the totalising impact of capitalism maybe we could add another mark, such as the capacity to offer a radical alternative to a life enslaved by the demand to work, work and seeking profit or, more simply put, offering somewhere you want to go on a Sunday because it is better than and different from anything else you could be doing.

  6. Kelvin, is Mission about growing one’s local church?! Or about growing G*d’s commonwealth?

    • The local church isn’t the only way of doing mission.

      However, I think that the centrality of the local congregation to mission for so much of Christian history can’t just be dismissed.

      I know quite a bit about how to measure whether local churches are failing or growing. The commonwealth of God seems to me to be something we can talk about but we’ve no way of measuring.

      The current mission rhetoric so dominant in church structures at the moment seems altogether too dismissive of how to run and grow congregations and I wonder whether it is all too willing to appropriate the banal and call it the kingdom of God.

  7. John McIntosh says

    Splendid. I’m particularly drawn to point 1. Thank God someone is at last speaking constructively about these matters.

  8. Robin says

    I wish I could sing in church, but unless I have the bass part to hand I can’t do so. This is because what we sing in church is all too often pitched too high for me – and for many other men – to sing in unison. What should be joy becomes disappointment and frustration.

  9. Anne Tomlinson says

    Just for information, this coming weekend the Scottish Episcopal Institute students – ordinands and Lay Reader candidates – will be having two sessions on liturgical singing led by David Todd in a weekend given over solely to liturgical practice. And that is in addition to the opening singing practice with which every residential weekend now begins. Next year we will be able to do even more of this as the move to Common Awards allows us to shift the taught modules onto weekdays, thus freeing up Residential Weekends to address the very issues you describe.
    (And yes, tea-lights-and-scarves still figure.)

  10. Fine. Except that those principles would work equally well for a political party, or a folk club, or . . . The church might grow, but be of little practical use in the service of the Kingdom. Those growth principles have to sit alongside the Five Marks; which incidentally are anything but ‘motherhood and apple pie’. Try telling your congregation they should walk or cycle to church (not drive) and not pass on their wealth to their kids who can’t get on the housing ladder because it increases inequality. Jesus’s mission ended in mass desertion and crucifixion.

    • The other Kate says

      For me, yours is the stand out comment. The emphasis in the modern church seems to be firmly on the number of bums on pews.

      • If only the emphasis in the modern church really were bums on pews, we might be able to be more effective in addressing a few other things in the world that need sorting out.

        The modern church that I encounter seems to consider everything to be mission with the exception of worrying about how to get bums on pews.

    • Rosemary Hannah says

      M|y nearest Episcopal church is twelve miles away, and the one I attend is 25 miles away. In winter the snow can be inches deep for days and often winds are 25 miles an hour. I fear if I had to walk or cycle I would not be able to get to church. It is not quite as simple as you suppose.

  11. John-Julian says

    The problem for me is that with this overkill on MISSION, it seems that there is a confusion because cause and result.
    I have always believed that true mission is the normal and predictable product of a strong and solid spirituality/ethos in a parish/church, and I don’t think it works the other way around: one can’t be doing mission without something to “mission” ABOUT or to “mission” FOR or “mission” TO. Given the spiritual condition of most parishes I know, I suspect that bringing people into those communities might even be sinful rather than commendable.
    And it’s all very well to speak of mission as “bringing people to Jesus” but what the dickens does that mean? n’t they think they are going that in Nigeria, Uganda, and Kenya when they curse LGBTs? Don’t we need to get the home environment straight before we invite visitors? Ought not the spiritual ethos of parish life be cleaned up first?

  12. Lots of good stuff here. Thanks!

  13. Father David says

    I think this is a marvellous blog and I have asked the PCC Secretary to email it to all members of the Church Council. Thank you for these wonderfully refreshing insights into the mission of the Church. However, I do notice that in neither the “Ancient” 5 Marks oF Mission nor indeed in the “Modern” 7 is there any specific mention of Prayer. Surely for any Mission to be successful it must be rooted and grounded in prayer. I’d even go as far as to say that Prayer should be regarded as the very first Mark of Mission. In this respect let us hope for the success of Archbishop Justin’s Pentecostal wave of prayer entitled “Thy Kingdom Come”

    • I don’t think so actually.

      I don’t think praying a lot is that connected to growth.

      What I’m trying to say in the post above is that mission isn’t a collection of good things to do, worthy practises or even things we think ought to be worthy.

      There are ways of making a church grow.

      Given a choice of sorting out conflict, sorting out a website, sorting out the welcome in church or saying my prayers I’m pretty sure that prayer is least relevant to mission.

  14. Father David says

    When it comes to Mission give me the spiritual rather than the sociological, any day.

  15. Father David says

    When it comes to mission, I think we can both agree on the preferred merits of the fullness as opposed to the emptiness of the church and one way to achieve a fuller church is to have a praying, singing congregation – or, as many cathedrals have – a jolly good choir with high musical standards which seem to attract a larger congregation. One significant area of growth within the Church of England, if the statistics are correct, is in the number of people attending services of worship at our great cathedrals.

    • Now you are bring rude. Cathedrals grow through hard work and tend to do rather a lot of praying. Here at least, the choir is very much part of the congregation.

  16. Father David says

    I cannot understand why you should accuse me of being “rude” and I deeply resent such an accusation. By you yourself associating growth with cathedrals doing rather “a lot of praying” you have surely proved my original point that mission without the backing of prayer is an empty vessel.

  17. LGBT I says

    And what of the woman who was forced to endure a male puberty before her gender reassignment? She can sit during the service and nobody will guess her history. She can walk down the aisle. With hours of practice, she can probably talk in a female register. But with a voice which broke in male puberty, singing is probably beyond her. Some lucky few with years of vocal exercises can; most (over 95%) cannot.

    She can mime hymns. She will be made to feel vulnerable and excluded, but if hymns are part of the service that’s a damaging compromise she can make. But if any responses or any parts of the liturgy are sung, her choice is heartbreaking. Does she reveal her history or does she accept exclusion from the liturgy?

    Revealing her history isn’t just personally agonising, it opens her up to discrimination and prejudice. Worse, the Church of England ensures that if her history becomes known they can deny her marriage in church. Not just same sex marriage, she can be denied ANY marriage at all.

    Kevin, you can walk into any church and participate fully in the service. Women who have been through gender reassignment are denied that. Walking into a new church is agonising. Will participation be possible or not? To then hear congregational singing described as mission heaps insult on indignity. First and foremost mission is ensuring that a service doesn’t marginalise and exclude vulnerable people.

    • Er, you know that we have 9 regular services at St Mary’s a week and that six of them are entirely spoken and have no music, right?

      I know that as a cis white male I’ve got quite a lot of privilege running in my direction and I’m guessing that I’m not even half aware of quite how much privilege I’ve already got a hold of.

      But, you know that if I were to get married I’d lose my job and home, right?

      You know, if you’ve been reading along at all, that I’m hardly a defender of the Church of England, right?

      You know I can’t participate in just any church I want because in some parts of the world I’d be at risk of violence and that I’m barred or blocked from just about every job in the church I might fancy apart from the one I’m in, right?

      You know I’ve offered to marry a couple where one half of the couple has a gender identity which isn’t that which they were born with and that that’s OK within the rules of the Scottish Episcopal Church, right?

      I’m guessing you know that in services in church where there’s singing, there’s always, every single time, at least some people who don’t sing either for physical health reasons, psychological reasons, because they think they can’t sing or because they just don’t want to. My hunch is that not every one of those people wants everyone else’s voices to be silenced.

      You probably don’t know that I’ve engaged with people on trans journeys in every congregation and chaplaincy I’ve worked in. Or that I’ve had conversations about singing and music with some of those people, some of whom would be very defensive of the musical experience that is on offer in churches like mine. I don’t expect you to know any of that, though I think it is not unreasonable for any of us to presume that there might be a variety of opinion on what inclusion means in this regard.

      I’m always interested in hearing different opinions and thank you for challenging what I wrote.

      However, if your plan is to silence cis people’s singing for the cause of trans inclusion, my suspicion is it is bound to fail and you are not in fact going to have every trans person lined up behind you.

      I happen to think that inclusion is of paramount importance. However, I don’t happen to think that’s what mission actually is.

      Oh, and by the way, you didn’t stop to get my name right – it is Kelvin.

  18. LGBT I says

    My apologies first for the typo of your name.

    Other churches may have only one or two services a week. If they follow your writing, a vulnerable group of people could be, or feel, excluded from worship. That’s the thing about social media for Christians isn’t it? Our human egos hope people listen to what we say, but we sometimes overlook that we are responsible for any inadvertent effects too.

    You critique evangelical band-led worship (which is the modern replacement of the choir singing anthems) without the congregation singing. The thing is, that’s the more inclusive style of worship because no minority is excluded. I suggest St Mary’s reflects on whether inclusion really is the essence of St Mary’s because I think you are really about wide (not full) participation which is somewhat different to inclusion. Full inclusion can also ONLY mean that same sex couples can marry at St Mary’s regardless of national policy.

    I will leave it there.

    • And by what legal mechanism do you think I can marry same-sex couples in St Mary’s without the national church agreeing that I can do so?

  19. LGBT I says

    Kelvin, you have Apostolic authority to marry +any+ couple. A parallel civil ceremony can tidy up civil law.

    National church policy only comes into it if you choose to let it.

    • I’d be breaking the law if I pretended that any ceremony I did was a marriage ceremony when it wasn’t.

      I bless couples who get hitched, presiding over exchanges of rings, bible readings, promises and all the works.

      I’ve also said I won’t conduct actual legal ceremonies for straight couples until same-sex couples can have the same thing and I’m sticking to that.

      What more can I do?

      I’m at a bit of a loss to comprehend your disapproval.

  20. I’ve read some pretty arrogant stuff in my life – written a lot too – but this? Well, you win.

  21. Rosemary Hannah says

    For what it is worth, as a cis female, it so happens because of changes to my voice at puberty (it can happen and it does) the only register I can reliably reach is something like baritone. I say something like because I can’t hold a tune in a bucket, and there is no note I can ever be sure of hitting totally true. It is sad, it is a real sorrow to me. But I do love to be surrounded by lovely singing for all that.

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