Part of my role in the District over the last few years has included working with local churches as they consider their growth/end of life plans, or as they think about Mission Statements and strategies for outreach.
In the last month I’ve had several conversations with ministers about how they might best lead their congregations in doing some mission planning as we come out of lockdown and as we tentatively re-enter our buildings.
Those who know me well will appreciate how important I think it is for local churches to engage in this sort of work. To discern and act upon what they believe God is calling them to do as we all engage in God’s mission. So it might come as a surprise that my main response is,
‘don’t do mission planning’…at least not yet.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like they’re travelling without a map at the moment and with that in mind I suggest it would be more helpful to re-orientate ourselves first.
Some local churches didn’t open buildings last summer, others have been unable to meet online. Many churches have had a mix of people – some engaging well online whilst some have not, for a variety of reasons. When our congregations come back together we will need time and space to get to know each other again. None of us are unchanged…for a start we will all be over a year older! Our experiences will have varied hugely and those experiences may have been life changing. Some of us will return deeply scarred whilst others may never return.
Opportunities to share, grieve, reunite and come back together will be important and we need to be both patient and kind as we learn together how to navigate this new way of living.
In many ways we’ve been scattered church communities since March 2020. So when we do come back into the familiar spaces, let’s take plenty of time to hear from each other. I can’t help but think of the sending out of the 72 disciples (Luke 10). When they returned into fellowship with one another I imagine they wanted to hear each other’s stories and share their experiences. In listening to one another let’s also hear each other’s stories of mission. It’s worth celebrating how we worked out how to tell the story of Jesus outside our buildings using our gardens, our streets, and online.
An important part of Mission Planning is having a good understanding about who we are as a local church and what your community is like. Both of these may have changed substantially over the last year. Our Mission Plans don’t necessarily change…but how we fulfil them must change and adapt to our context.
I believe that one of the most attractive things about being church is how we function together and how we demonstrate our love for one another. Jesus says, ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ John 13:35
We want the church to grow as new people come to know Jesus and respond to the Good News. New believers are not going to settle in communities that are fractured. But our wounds, when honestly acknowledged, can be missional and attractive to those who are seeking a deeper meaning in life.
So whilst I may not be in a hurry to help with any Mission Planning, I do offer these thoughts and the following discussion starting questions in the hope that they may just help as we re-orientate to our new way of being and as we discern who God is calling us to be as loving Christian communities.
- What has our journey been like?
- What sadness to we carry?
- What have we each learnt during lockdown? What have we learnt about church/God/worship/mission and evangelism?
- What treasures have we discovered during the last year?
- What experiences and new understanding must travel with us into the future?
- What will we need to be in order to meet the needs of our communities post COVID?
- What have you NOT missed as a church? What things do we no longer think of as essential – what might God be leading us let go of?
- What should we stop, what should we start?
- What is God calling us to be as a local Christian community?
District Evangelism Enabler
Newcastle upon Tyne Methodist District