Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century: A Comprehensive Guide for New Churches and Those Desiring Renewal
If the church is to thrive in the twenty-first century, it will have to take on a new form as it ministers to the 120 million unchurched people in the United States. Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century is still virtually the only available text on church planting in North America and beyond. In this third edition, readers will find material on the importance of healthy, biblical change in our churches, updated appendixes, insight on our post modern ministry context, and strategies for
The author illustrates the problem in America by quoting Win Arn: "Between 80% and 85% of all churches in America are either plateaued or are declining." What to do? "While some established churches will renew themselves and successfully make the transition, this will be too painful and too difficult for the bulk of them." In short, "the future lies with church planting". However, this having been said, the author again quotes Win Arn, that "many" planted Churches "begin a plateau and/or slow decline around their 15th-18th year". That is, they may well become what they set out to replace. I have the uneasy sense that, until one should discover the key to the renewal of established Churches, one might miss the real reasons for stagnation and decline.
The book has more than one-thousand headings through well over four hundred pages. Nevertheless, I shall try to give some brief impression. It begins on a note of excitement -- that "God is capable of doing extraordinary things". It continues by discussing "financial sources" and "financial principles". It summarises the strengths, weaknesses, and giftings that a person may bring to Church planting -- together with appropriate assessment tools and pointers. The author enters upon the importance of developing "a single, clear vision". He emphasises the role both of the leader and the congregation in ministry. He surveys important issues of culture, and outlines "the importance of worship". A highlight of the book is a section on "pursuing lost people with a passion". This represents a superb resource on evangelism.
However, the book is plainly written by Americans for Americans. It reveals an "enclosed" American (respectively Western) view. For instance, the author writes that small groups "are not limited by location". One wonders whether he considered (for example) the absence of personal transport, the danger of being out of doors, or restrictions on movement or hospitality. The use of computers is mentioned as though computers should populate every Church, not to speak of electrical outlets. The book's views on leadership would seem a classic representation of the American "can do" attitude. One misses almost any reference to weakness, dependence, or faith in this section. Finally, perspectives on evangelicalism tend to reflect the American view. Evangelicalism is often, it seems, what the West would define it to be.
However, these comments should in no way detract from the overall value of the book. Despite the criticisms, I would not consider that they significantly reduce the value of an outstanding volume. In fact I found it an inspiration -- a motivation.
I am not sure, however, that the contents of the book live up to the passion of the author. This book was recommended to me because of Malphurs' expertise in church planting, and with the title of the book I assumed it would have much to suggest to one who is involved in the planting of a new church. But as others have pointed out, the book is not entirely for new church startups. Indeed the subtitle of the book is A Comprehensive Guide for New Churches and Those Desiring Renewal. And not everything that applies to churches seeking renewal is immediately helpful to churches just starting out, or vice-versa.
The book is divided into four sections, nicely (annoyingly?) alliterated. Part 1 is entitled "The Preparation for Church Planting." Here the author deals with such basics as why there is a need for church planting and how a church plant can be supported. Part 2, "The Personnel of Church Planting," consists of two chapters dealing with the assessment of a prospective church planter. In Part 3, "The Principles of Church Planting," the reader will find discussion regarding the traditional aspects of church life such as lay involvement, worship, evangelism, and small groups. Part 4 is dedicated to "The Process of Church Planting." Here we find what we would expect to see in a book with this title--practical advice for each stage of the church planting process.
There are two reasons that I found this book to be a disappointment. First, it took me 250 pages before I got to the most helpful section of the book (Part 4). I suppose that if one knew absolutely nothing about the church or vocational ministry he might find the first three sections to be informative. But such persons are not likely to pick up this book anyway. The whole assessment process described with much ink in Part 2 is tiring and overdone, again unless you have never been through any type of assessment process. I did not find much new advice in Part 3 either. I wish I had just read Part 4 and skipped the rest. One might wish the book came in an "abridged" version for just such a purpose!
Second, Malphurs' philosophy of church planting seems dated. He appears to be heavily influenced by the Church Growth movement. I lost track of how many times he referenced Willow Creek or Saddleback as examples to emulate. Many of us are frustrated with where such ideology has led the church regardless of how many numbers megachurches like these two can report. It would be nice to hear about a fresh approach to church planting and not one that depends upon high-powered programs to bring unbelievers to our events so trained professionals can "seal the deal."
Again, one cannot deny that Malphurs has put a lot of the modern thought on church planting in writing and so this book has value so far as that approach can contribute to this activity. I'm sure there are many who might profit from the chapter questions and worksheets that are provided which are intended to help one think through specifics of the task. But for me, there just does not seem to be enough fresh thinking in this book to warrant much attention to it. I was quite disappointed with this one and can only give it 2 ½ stars.