Church planting is essential for the North American church to remain viable. Despite North American already being “reached” for the gospel, there are about one-third as many churches per-capita in 2011 than in 1900. Church planting—building a new church by evangelizing an area—has never been a greater need.

When planting a church, the first thing to decide is what kind of church you want to build: who are you trying to reach and what contextualization of the gospel will speak to them best. Next, you need to decide on the structure of the church. Will you be a traditional, multisite, simple, incarnational, etc. church. What is your leadership structure? How are small groups organized? What will your children’s ministry eventually look like? How will you be funded?

The next step is to gather a launch team. You will work with this team to develop leaders and deploy them on launch Sunday. It is helpful to set a timeframe of commitment; somewhere from six months to a year is a reasonable length. Also, it is important to realize that a large percentage of your launch team is likely to leave within a few years after launch. Pre-launch, they had a lot of access to you personally, but after launch, “things are just not the same,” because your time will be spread out over more things. Speaking of time, Stetzer and Im provide a sample recommendation for how many hours a planter spends doing what. Key on this list is meeting people, evangelizing, and following up—after all it is not a church plant in the biblical model if it does not have a substantial percentage of new believers.

Leadership development, both pre- and post-launch, is key to the growth of the church. The goal here is to develop structures that develop people. This is something most pastors are not good at, which means that their churches plateau when they reach the maximum size they can effectively minister to. It also important to fill roles with the right person—someone who is spiritually qualified—and not just any warm body; warm bodies in leadership will set you up for a bumpy road later on.

The authors give several options for building, but they recommend renting for as long as possible. While this does require a setup and teardown team, it saves money and it also gives time for growth to happen and plateau at wherever it plateaus before building a building. A building is expensive, and building it too early can result in a building that is too small for the church. Western Christianity tends to equate “church” with a building, but ultimately a building is just a tool. Don’t get too attached to the idea of a building.

After launch day comes the task of discipling the new Christians, continuing to develop leaders, and and putting flesh on the church structure. The authors talk a lot about the children’s program here—parents will want a full program, but you will probably not have the manpower to do more than infants at the beginning. As you develop leaders you can expand the programs. Be eager to use laypeople in leadership; the most effective church-multiplication movements use consistently use lay leaders, even as church planters. The large numbers of non-Christians will probably pose a culture shock for you and/or the Christianized Christians in the church. The purpose of discipleship is not to Christianize these new Christians, but rather to bring them into maturity in Christ, and this may be a challenge at the beginning. Also, about a year or two in is when you can expect a vision-hijacking from your launch team or other leaders, who thought they bought in to your vision, but have realized that they are looking for something different.

When the congregation is self-sufficient, incorporate the church as a non-profit. Until then you can usually find a partner church that will handle the donations and writing checks for you. Finances need to be above reproach, given the culture’s poor view of pastors and money. Always have two people count the money, have two people sign checks, and have the people that write the checks be different from the treasurer.

Soon the time will come for your church to plant a new church. There are never enough resources, so do not wait until there is “enough,” but cast vision for a new plant early on and plan to continue the multiplication movement.

Stetzer and Im have written a very comprehensive book on church planting. They give few suggestions, which is a little frustrating, but many options. Generally each chapter is a list of possibilities, with a brief description of the advantages and disadvantages. They give very practical tips for creating a safe environment for children and for dealing with finances. They also have lots of examples of the more abstract ideas like how to build a church planting network. The negative part is that the book reads like fleshed-out outlines from disjoint topics and does not really flow well. It is also broad, rather than deep, but that is part of the reason it is so popular—the reader will most likely be exposed to some aspects of church they are unfamiliar with.

This is an interesting contrast with Ralph Moore’s Starting a New Church, which is much more prescriptive. Both have a similar amount of good ideas, but Moore is less academic, prefering to give practical advice based on his experience. He is also a bit more Charismatic.

I have several complaints with the book. The first is that they give a lot of statistics, which is great, but there are many times where I thought “correlation does not imply causation.” The second is that they seem to focus on building traditional churches. I’m not convinced that traditional evangelical churches are going to cut it. They give few concrete suggestions on how to build churches where every member is a minister, although it does seem to be a value of theirs. Finally, the focus is on evangelical churches, with the power and presence of God through the Holy Spirit not really talked about. They observe that the church planters in Acts did miracles, but then say that we need a different strategy because miracles are not available to us. The many charismatic churches experiencing God do miracles beg to differ.

The book is extremely hard to summarize because of the disjoint nature of the independent topics, so I recommend reading the notes for a fuller picture of the book. However, there are a few themes. One is that church planting is missional and evangelistic. Missional means that the church planter looks at this target group like a foreign missionary would—what is the best strategy and format to reach this people and fill their hungerings with God. Evangelistic is obvious—a biblical church plant intentionally targets non-Christians; simply attracting Christians with a better service is not advancing the kingdom, although it is substantially easier. Another theme is planning. It is important to plan out the structure beforehand, so that you can respond to events rather than reacting in the moment. Finally, the authors are relentless in beating the church-multiplication drum. To reach North America (and the world), we must have multiplying churches. Multiplication does not happen accidentally; be intentional about building it is.

This is a solid book with many good insights on building churches that multiply. While it seems mostly limited to traditional evangelical churches, it is a good framework with practical ideas for any kind of church that a planter might build.

Review: 8
Very comprehensive, but disjoint and feels like an outline. Good content, though, and a great resource.