Mission-Shaped Church: A Critical Commentary and Analysis

1.6 Some Methodologies For A Missionary Church

This Chapter contains a summary of good practice in church planting. Some of the content is theological but much of it is basic good practice in organisational and human resource management dressed up as theology and, on that basis, only points of theological significance are explored here.

The most important precondition for effective mission is listening; in this case "Double listening", to the culture where the church might be planted and to the inherited tradition of the Gospel.

Context Should Shape The Church. This has three  dimensions: Who is the plant for? Who is the plant by? and who is the plant with?

a) 1st Dimension - Who is the plant for? Any proposal to begin a church plant or fresh expression of church should start by identifying its mission goals. Is the fresh  expression of church neighbourhood or network, for the de-churched or unchurched, is it for a specific cultural group? Can we justify planting a church for only one sort of people? This homogeneous unit principle (HUP) is deeply controversial and the Report covers the issues clearly and in detail, concluding its discussion: "Some think that the Church of England's broad failure to express church within the culture of the urban poor is the chief reason why the Anglican Church has seldom effectively reached them. Good news for the poor is only truly good news when it empowers the poor or marginalized (sic) to form their own communities of faith, in which indigenous people work together for change and renewal” but: "... other aspects (of theology) challenge us to build bridges of unity and reconciliation"(109). This question is then given an extra and contemporaneously piquant form in the question: is mission about widening choice or increasing access? The Report, having posed the question so acutely, then says that it can be either as long as the goal is missionary. The authors could scarcely have imagined how these questions have been given such additional currency because of the twin debates on multi culturalism and the structure of educational provision.

b) Second Dimension - Who Is The Plant By? In this dimension, is the proposed plant pioneer or progression?  Progression looks easier, not least because it usually involves the churched going out to the churched or the de-churched whereas pioneer planting is usually more difficult and undertaken by smaller groups - because it is difficult to find recruits and because a sense of 'invasion' must be avoided - working with the unchurched.

Another question is whether the plant will be cell or congregational. This depends on the available planting team and the needs of those with whom it wishes to work. A largely de-churched group, for example, is likely not to be receptive to anything with congregational overtones.

Strangely at this point, after all the agonising over horticultural exactness, the Report assumes that growing an existing entity through a deliberate missionary strategy is "Planting"; and, after an unremitting attempt to create 'clear blue water' between traditional and fresh expressions of church, it equates planting with a multiple congregational strategy such as a Parish provides through different services on Sunday.

c) Third Dimension - Who Is The Plant With? This relates both to catholicity and to the partners of those who are sent. Inevitably, although the Report shows every sign of being somewhat weary over this matter, it implies that this third dimension takes up far more space and generates far more controversy than it ought because of the traditional parochial structure.

The Report then reverts to its horticultural analogy, discussing runners, grafts, transplants and seeds which are all aspects of an appropriate methodological approach which are not central to a theological reflection. It is important, however, to note one salient point: "Those who start with questions about the relationship to the existing church have already made the most common and the most dangerous mistake. Start with the Church and the mission will probably get lost. Start with mission and it is likely that the Church will be found”(116). This kind of rhetorically attractive antithesis is dangerous because it can say more than the authors actually mean. In this instance, is the Report so pessimistic about Church as we know it that even in abandoning its traditional model it will necessarily be a contaminant? And is it also saying that, given the commonality of mission in all expressions of church, traditional and fresh, the latter are intrinsically superior to the former? If the authors simply mean that fresh expressions should not be encumbered by historical 'baggage' other than that defined as the minimum necessary, then that is what they should have said. This is yet one more instance of the heartfelt desire for a radical renewal in the post Christian wilderness leading to both an implicit rejection of traditional church and an implicit, almost uncritical, approbation for fresh expressions.

The way to judge how far these implications are rhetorical or real is to analyse the Report's attitude to worship. If plants are to bear an Anglican family likeness then that will be evident in corporate worship. After noting the inadequacy (in the politest possible way) of Common Worship (which has taken two decades to compile), the authors continue: "This Report affirms the importance of a culturally appropriate Anglicanism emerging 'from below'.” However, as with previous instances of heterodoxical daring the Report then resorts to a more conventional line, managing, as did Labour Party Conferences of old, simultaneously to pass conflicting resolutions: "... balance between loyalty to our liturgical inheritance (together with the doctrinal safeguarding of key texts like Eucharistic Prayers) and appropriateness to cultural context expresses in microcosm the challenge of cross-cultural church planting, and the tension between relevance and syncretism. The 'common core' strategy underlying Common Worship is helpful” (117).

After some sympathetic commentary on the particular problems of fresh expressions in rural areas faced by the twin phenomena of multi-Parish benefices and the heritage deficit of old buildings, the Report then goes on to discuss the practical issues relating to maturity before noting the three phenomena of "Self": self-governing, self-propagating and self-financing. The first two make perfect sense, the third would make many PCCs wince. All fresh expressions should be legally constituted but not Parishes.

All these aspects require a recognisable framework which can form a baseline for evaluation; and these are the subject of Chapter 7.