Is planning “Old Hat” for church planting and Fresh Expressions of church?

The Mission-shaped Church report suggested that missionary lessons of today are moving us away from detailed advanced planning and focusing more on discernment in context (page 24). In referring to this at the Mission21 conference in Sheffield in March 2006, the chair of that report, Bishop Graham Cray suggested that we needed to look for a partnership between planting pioneers and spiritual directors. We view this as a most exciting possibility.

Now the background principles here (again well developed in the Mission-shaped Church report) are that missionary engagement with our diverse contexts should lead to all sorts of fresh expressions of church. And too much detailed advance planning can tend to lead us to replicate aspects of church as we know it, rather than allow authentic contextual church to emerge through an incarnation, death and resurrection process. Certainly this adventure of letting go of so many superficial assumptions about church, taking only the gospel of Jesus and a few core essentials of church requires us to focus much more on discernment in context and to learn skills associated with spiritual direction.

Many would say that this is one of the distinctives of fresh expressions – that they “just arise.” People with missionary instincts following missional engagement in a new context discover that something like church is emerging. Then they may work with this insight to intentionally develop what the Spirit is initiating.

But does this mean that planning is out? Some seem to be suggesting so and many contemporary pioneers give the impression that planning is boring and the missional adventure of church planting should be all discovery and following God’s leading.

Well… at the risk of being labelled boring or out of date, we want to put in a plea not to throw out planning as we embrace vital new lessons about discernment in context. Our repeated call in this as in so many areas is let’s do the challenging work of discovering how it’s “both:and” and not “either:or”.

Just think. As the vision for your mission initiative first comes together, there is likely to need to be a plan for communicating the vision so that a team can be drawn together. Then if your church plant is going to respect other churches in the area or context, you will need to plan how you contact and communicate with each of them to inform, seek their prayer support and ensure a complementary not competitive approach.

Or if your fresh expression is to develop a town centre cafe-style venue, there will need to be a budget prepared and a plan for the ongoing staffing. If it’s tea, craft, bible learning, prayer and praise for young children and their parents growing into church out of an existing parent and toddler group, there is still likely to need to be planning in all sorts of areas like equipment needs, child protection policy, volunteers/team as well as best venue, day and time.
Our resolution of this developing polarisation is to bring together planning and discernment in what we would describe as phased planning. We maybe don’t need detailed advanced planning, but we do need lots of short-term plans that enable us to implement effectively and responsibly the most recent insights and direction that we gain from discernment (itself drawing on both well researched information and revelation!). The following diagram seeks to illustrate how we think these two disciplines need to be held together in a dynamic missional journey.

Having established that we think there is a clear need for both planning and discernment in context, we can now ask, is there still a place for an overarching framework that gives us a shape to the whole process of beginning/planting a fresh expression of church?

Over the past 30 years a number of frameworks and metaphors have been found helpful to understand how different aspects or phases of a planting process can inter-relate. Are these all now obsolete? We don’t think so… although we do think that recent experience in planting and fresh expressions sheds important light on their strengths and weaknesses.

The best known and furthest developed analogy is that of the Life Cycle of a reproducing Church. Most of the original work for this was done by Bob Logan and his associates ( & although Bruce Patrick and the New Zealand Baptists developed a helpful adaptation which we can provide in booklet form. Then Johan Lukasse and the Belgian Evangelical Mission developed a simple nine step framework based on Paul’s mission in Acts. The Latin America SEAN training material had twelve steps and a motif of yeast cell multiplication. But one of the most recent metaphors given to us by Steve Clifford of Pioneer, is that of a tree which has lots of advantages. To these we have added an eleven step outline of how we see Jesus’ mission in the Gospels. So here are at least five different frameworks that you can choose from according to which may best fit your situation, mission project and team personality.

Most recently in the UK, the Fresh Expressions team and Church Army Sheffield Centre have developed two frameworks, one for preparation and pre-planning based on the acronym GETON and the other for the next phase of implementation (Starting a Fresh Expression) based on the two flow diagrams. They have built the structure of their online guide ‘Share’ around these models. This interactive knowledge bank for pioneers and planners is launched on 4th October 2007 at This will be your own living growing resource where best insights from practitioners can shape a much more flexible planning tool.

So here are eight frameworks and planning tools to choose from or to all inform your mission engagement. We consider all this so important that we have set up a new area of our website to give the details of these metaphors and frameworks, together with some comparative analysis and critique. This is so that those planting and pioneering fresh expressions can review them and decide which may be most helpful to them. See the section headed Frameworks and Metaphors for planning planting and fresh expressions.

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