Mission-Shaped Church 1: Summary

Mission-Shaped Church: Church Planting and Fresh Expressions in a Changing Context is a rare example of a denominational report written by a committee that actually has gained a wider audience and affected considerable change.  First published in 2004, this report was written to address the challenges facing the Church of England in a changing context.  This post reconstructs the report’s the major argument in the terms of a practical theological project, and a follow up engages critically with a central theme with significant implications: what the report dubs “the incarnational principle.”

Summary: Mission-shaped Church as Practical Theology 
According to Richard Osmer, practical theology is an approach which has four tasks, each of which pursues answers to a particular question: The descriptive-empirical task asks “What is going on?”  The interpretive task asks “Why is this going on?”  The normative task asks, “What ought to be going on?”  The pragmatic task questions “How might we respond?”  These four tasks and questions fit loosely with the structure and movements of Mission-shaped Church, which flows from contextual and descriptive analysis, through theological themes, to constructive proposals.  In this perspective, Mission-shaped Church can be seen as a practical theological report on the practice of church planting in 21st century England.

Chapters one and two of Mission-shaped Church describe recent shifts in English society, as well as historical developments and ecclesial experiments.  In chapter one, the council seeks to describe changes in the context in which the Church of England is engaged in mission and ministry.  Several social trends are identified, including more and smaller households, more women in the workforce, longer work hours, increased mobility, increases in divorce and singleness, and the dominance of television among leisure activities.  Of great importance, also is a shift in the nature of community, away from a structure of relationships based on geography toward a network-based one.  For community in a network society, place is secondary and relational connections through leisure and work are primary.  Mission-Shaped Church goes on to describe the prevalence of consumer culture and the arrival of post-Christendom as key characteristics of early twenty-first century England.

Chapter two continues to answer “What is going on?” by providing some historical background on English church planting since 1978.  This descriptive work notes the humble beginnings of the practice, a hey day around 1990, and an explosion of diversity thereafter.  The chapter evaluates some of the positions of Breaking New Ground, a denominational report in 1991, concluding that it was primarily permission-giving rather than future-looking given its parish-centric assumptions.

Developments in the wider church are also noted, including: a diocesan survey, bold church planting goals by a UK-wide congress, and national church reports from Scotland and Wales titled A Church Without Walls and Good News in Wales.  Together, the description of social change and historical developments related to church planting satisfy the first task of practical theological interpretation and pave the way for movement into interpretive and normative work.

The third chapter of Mission-shaped Church ventures into the interpretive task, by intersecting these changes and developments with present day questions of the mission task in England, and the role of church planting in fulfilling it, and the nature of the church.  One of the more substantive sections of the chapter offers an interpretive approach to the decline of the Church by identifying five types of relationship to the Church, and their percentages in English society: regular attenders (10%), fringe attenders (10%), open de-churched (20%), closed de-churched (20%), and non-churched (40%). 

Chapter four returns to descriptive work, this time focusing on the variety of fresh expressions of church present.  Twelve types are described and defined generally, and with each a story of a living-breathing community is told.  Across this diversity of expressions, several common features are identified: the importance of small groups for discipleship and mission, eschewing Sunday meetings, focus on relational networks not geographical areas, post-denominational identity and connections to resourcing networks.  The final pages of the chapter poses the “Why?” question of interpretation and concludes that the diversity of expressions of church is the Church of England’s response to “the variety of diverse cultures and networks that are part of contemporary life.”

Chapter five fulfills the normative task of practical theological interpretation, by offering a thoughtful theology for a missionary church.  It begins by asserting God’s triune relationality and missionary nature.  The Church is thus seen as both the fruit of God’s mission and the agent of his mission.   As such, church planting ought not to be directed at institutional aims, but rather concern itself with the mission of God, which is cosmic in scope and aims at the restoration of all creation, the establishment of shalom, the redemption of fallen humanity, not just the building of the Church.   Christ is as a missionary whose incarnation and death are emblematic of the way and cost of mission, a way that the church must take.  In addition, Christ in his resurrection is the first fruit of new life, just as the church is to be the firstfruits of God’s future world.   The Spirit is God’s gift from the future.  The nature of the church is described as designed for reproduction, whose identity is linked with God’s intention for humanity, his covenant with Abraham, the boundary-breaking kingdom and an eschatological mission.  Missional dimensions are highlighted in the classic formulation of the church as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic and a connection is made to distinctly Anglican ecclesiological principles.

The final three chapters of Mission-shaped Church complete the final task of practical theological interpretation, proposing answers to the question “How might we respond?”  Chapter six offers constructive methodologies such as double-listening (attending to both the culture and tradition) under the assumption that the context should shape the church.  One of the clearest recommendations is that the church undertake church planting efforts to networks (specific cultural groups), not simply neighborhoods.   Three basic questions are proposed for consideration: who is the plant for? who is the plant by? and who is the plant with?  The report suggests the historic three-self principles for church maturity, and urges that church plants become self-propagating, self-financing and self-governing full-members in the ecclesiastical community.  Chapter seven proposes a “framework” for fresh expressions to thrive within extant denominational parameters.  Chapter eight summarizes implications of the report by making plain the committee’s recommendations, some of which are of a legislative nature.

Here is my assessment and review of this book. 

Archbishop’s Council on Mission and Public Affairs. Mission-Shaped Church: Church Planting and Fresh Expressions in a Changing Context. Church Publishing, Inc., 2010.

[1] Archbishop’s Council on Mission and Public Affairs. Mission-shaped Church: Church Planting and Fresh Expressions in a Changing Context. Seabury Books, 2009, p. 19.
[1] ibid, 39.
[1] ibid, 80.
[1] ibid, 85.
[1] ibid, 85.
[1] ibid, 89.
[1] ibid, 106-109.

1 comment:

  1. Dag Heward-Mills has some fantastic books related to building the church, namely:

    Church Growth, It is possible
    Church planting
    and Loyalty and Disloyalty

    The above books are great for starting and building a Church, especially as a missionary. You can find them on Amazon, or on the following web link:


    There are great ministerial tools that will catalyze your church to tremendous growth! Be blessed!