The Church Planter’s Library (3): International Church Planting

[Editor’s Note: This summer we are posting some old but good pieces from BtT. This post originally appeared on July 10, 2009.]

The apostle Paul was at once the early church’s best theologian, most perceptive observer of culture, and most active evangelist. As an embodiment of these traits, he provides for us an example of the qualities demanded of an international church planter. He must be both theologically and culturally savvy. He must be a theoretician and a practitioner. He sometimes is asked to be both a church planter and a one-man seminary.

Precisely because of these expectations, the international church planter must think deeply and widely about a host of issues. The little booklist that I am presenting is woefully inadequate, but hopefully it will provide the prospective church planter with a good start.


After having put in the hard (and fruitful) work of studying Old Testament, New Testament, theology, church history, etc., which provide the matrix within which we can think about church planting, the first order of business is to study ecclesiology and the classic texts on church planting. As I did in the previous post, I recommend John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches and Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church as basic texts on the doctrine of the church.

Classic Church Planting Texts

Also as I mentioned in the previous post, I recommend John L. Nevius, The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches and Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of The Church. In addition, however, I would add Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?, a classic text in theology of church planting.

Theology of Mission

John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad is the single best place for an aspiring church planter to start reading theology of mission. It is a theological, missiological, and motivational masterpiece. For a more in-depth treatment, see J. H. Bavinck, An Introduction to the Science of Missions and George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions. These two books are classics of 20th century theology of missions and ought to be read side by side. Finally, David Hesselgrave’s Paradigms in Conflict: 10 Key Questions in Christian Missions Today is an exemplary theological and missiological treatment of major issues in missions today.

Contemporary Texts on Church Planting

After having beefed up on ecclesiology and church planting classics, you are ready to move to make a more sound theological and missiological assessment of contemporary trends in international church planting. Because of the scope of this installment, I will limit myself to a few of the most influential contemporary texts. I want to go ahead and put my cards on the table here. There are very few good books on international church planting (maybe only 2 or 3). You will notice, when reading even some of the books below, that much of what is written in this discipline is severely lacking in theological depth and breadth and for that reason is deficient missiologically also.

1. Stuart Murray, Church Planting: Laying Foundations. Murray’s book provides a theological foundation and historical framework for understanding the task of church planting.

2. David Hesselgrave, Planting Churches Cross-Culturally. Hesselgrave builds a biblical-theological case for church planting and delineates what he calls the “Pauline Cycle” of church planting.

3. Tom Steffen, Passing the Baton, rev. ed. Steffen divides the task of church planting into five stages and focuses on the “phase-out” stage, arguing that the church planter must make clear plans to “pass the baton” to national leaders or else he will endanger the health of the church.

4. David Garrison, Church Planting Movements. This book offers a definition of “church planting movement,” examples of global CPMs, and instruction on how to prepare for a church planting movement. Garrison’s book is a descriptive text about what he has observed in various global CPMs; it is not a biblical-theological treatment of church planting.

5. George Patterson and Richard Scoggins, The Church Multiplication Guide. Patterson and Scoggins teach the necessity of discipleship for healthy church reproduction. They center their discipleship methods on seven commands of Christ, and instruct church planters to teach and embody obedience to those commands. (Note: This book has one of the tackiest covers and most unhelpful page layouts of any book that I have ever encountered. But don’t let this deter you. Patterson planted churches for over twenty years and has plenty to offer.)

6. Daniel Sinclair, A Vision of the Possible. Sinclair’s is a treatise on pioneer church planting in teams. He treats many of the same issues as Garrison (such as leadership, discipleship, CPMs, theological education, etc.), but from a different perspective.

7. Wolfgang Simson, Houses that Change the World. Simson’s book is one of the most widely-read books in the field. He has a fiery pen and wields that pen in order to promote house church planting. Although his argument is an exercise in overstatement that paints the worst possible picture of non-house churches and the best possible picture of house churches, it is helpful for stimulating one’s thought and demonstrating that house churches are not “second-rate.”

A Final Comment

As with the previous installment, I have only mentioned a few of the books that will be helpful for aspiring church planters. (I have not mentioned books in cross-cultural communication, world religions, contextualization, etc.) Further, I have provided little or no critique of each. For that reason, I would like to invite our readership to comment on books that I have not included that you think are particularly helpful, or even to comment on or critique the books that I have included.

What new books (since 2009) can you add to the list? 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Ken McLemore   •  

    Dr. Ashford,

    I have read some of the books listed but not all. I love Piper’s “Let the Nations be Glad”. This book rocked my world and helped me see a broader more biblical view on missions. The others listed also give me some news titles to read for the future.

    A few books that I personally like not listed are Alan Hirsch “The Forgotten Ways” and “Organic Church” by Neil Cole.

    While I may not agree solely with everything in these books and they maybe not be aimed solely at Intl CP’s, both books have helped me and our Church planters see a new way of looking at churches. Instead of trying to plant American style churches internationally, we can see a new way of looking at church models that fit a little better in hard to reach places around the globe.

  2. Doug Short   •  

    Over my 12 years in church planting since graduating from Southeastern, I have found several of the books listed here helpful and several not-so-much. However, some time back when attending a conference at Capital Hill Baptist, I heard something interesting that was transformational for my own personal walk and planting experience. I was told that, when sending out a church planter, Mark Dever insisted that the planter should read no church growth books, but instead simply focus on the Scriptures and getting his theological foundations laid (particularly ecclesiology). After having a steady diet of church growth/planting material until I was blue in the face, this seemed so…right. I later discarded many of the books I had collected (including some of those listed above) and replaced them with solid theological works, biographies, sermon collections (particularly that of the Puritans) and commentaries. Having done this, I found that the difference in my attitude, outlook, and priorities was tangible. The Puritans revealed to me areas where I was blind to my own self-reliance and convicted me over how often my ministry centered upon man rather than God. Now, looking back, I’m afraid that many of the books that I had read to “help me” only fed this spiritual sickness. I share this all not to argue against church growth/planting materials per se (again, I have found some of the books listed here very helpful), but only to provide some food for thought for whatever it is worth. Blessings.

  3. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Ken, thanks for weighing in. Piper’s LNBG is a book that I have often pulled off the shelf… cole and hirsch are helpful even for international CPers, you are right. I differ from Hirsch on how he positions his five fold ministry and on a few other things, but have found him of great help in other areas.

    Doug, you make a valid and helpful point. I’m “with you,” at least most of the way. The “church planting” types of books I am recommending should be read in the context of a deep and broad theological, ecclesiological education, as well as a close walk with the Lord. The Puritans are perhaps the most helpful for “calling us back” to reliance upon God… With that said, I still recommend that guys read a few of the contemporary CP texts in order to (1) learn what they can from these books, and (2) practice using their biblical-theological framework for discerning what is healthy and unhealthy missiologically. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

  4. ryno   •  

    Great list! Your previous posts in this series have also been great, and I’ve got several books to purchase and read now from these suggestions.
    I’ve been exposed to many different books on the subject of ICP, having gone through years of masters work in missions on campus and on the field.
    I would affirm many of these books as being great if not essential works to read through and study critically. I understand Doug’s comment regarding the relative “helpfulness” of the different books. As we have seen in some recent missions methodology books, culture/anthropology books, and other books in the realm of missiology, there is a major need for the reader to be able to deal with the material with a base of knowledge of Scripture. This is not to say that the materials are unusable or worthless: they are indeed helpful and insightful, but the reader must be able to at times wade through or weed through things in them in order to really mine out the nuggets of solid gold.
    In approaching such a major area of study and work as is ICP, because it encompasses so many different subjects, the important things are:
    1) Scripture must be at our side in critically reading through any of these subjects.
    2) In order to get a good base of the issues and methods and best practices, it is necessary to read the various books and weigh and balance the different points together with Scripture.

    P.S. Ecclesiology did seem to be the biggest missing part of my prep for ICP work.

  5. Kyle   •  

    Excellent list. Here are a few more I would recommend.

    “Principles and Practice of Indigenous Church Planting” Charles Brock. Brock was a successful international church planter, and this book provides foundational church planting practices based on his many years of experience.

    “House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structures in Early Christianity” Roger Gehring. Gehring investigates both theological and socio-historical aspects of the missional significance of house churches from the time of Jesus through Paul.

    “Indigenous Church” Melvin L. Hodges. This was the book that helped SB Ms finally begin to look closely at indigenous methods.

    “Bridges of God: A Study in the Strategy of Missions” Donald A. McGavran. McGavaran is one of our pioneer missiologists. This book is a good introduction to his work and strategy.

    “Customs and Cultures: Anthropology for Christian Missions” Eugene A. Nida. Nida explains the necessity and process of understanding culture in order to share the gospel in appropriate ways.

    “Reconnecting God’s Story to Ministry: Crosscultural Storytelling at Home and Abroad” Tom A. Steffen. The majority of the world cannot read. Steffen shows both the importance and the how-to of oral methods in evangelism and church planting.

    “Nexus: The World House Church Movement Reader” Rad Zdero. This book contains case studies of some multiplying house churches that have occurred in recent days.

    I also recommend two more books by Roland Allen called, “Missionary Principles and Practice” and “The Ministry of the Spirit.”

  6. Morris Brooks   •  


    Couldn’t agree with you more.

  7. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Ryno, good point. Isn’t that ironic? Church planting training often is weak on ecclesiology!

    Kyle, thank you for the suggestions. I’d like to affirm, especially, the Gehring text as the best biblical-theological and historical treatment of churches that meet in houses. The Zdero text is an easy read and helpful for understanding the Norht American house cburch movement. Roland Allen’s books are indispensable.

  8. rynoyak   •  

    I would recommend reading one of Elmer’s numerous books entitled “Cross Cultural (fill in the blank)” and one of Hesselgrave’s many books just to get a feel for the ideology of different missiological issues.
    A good theology textbook and commentary like Geisler’s “Systematic” and Sailhammer’s “NT Commentary” are great and essential, especially for long-term discipleship.
    Getz’s “Elders & Leaders” and “Rethinking the Church” by White are good for dealing with the insanely rampant “traditionalism” in so many international contexts that have some previous Christian presence that gives authority to tradition and man rather than God’s Word.
    “The Churches of the New Testament” by McDaniel is ancient, and it gives great overview of the various churches’ practices, which lends itself to the issues of “traditionalism,” church planting, and howto/hownotto do things.
    “Purpose Driven Church” by Warren gives great help in church formation regarding the 5 purposes/functions and leadership responsibilities, etc: essentially being a good practical ecclesiology.

  9. JL   •  

    I agree that we must ground ourselves in and endoctrinate ourselves with Scripture before we plunge into Luther or Piper or contemporary CP texts. And there may be times when we need to take a step back and limit ourselves to Scripture or the early church fathers for a time.

    But if we limit ourselves to only reading Scripture on the matter of cross-cultural ministry, it is possible to miss out on the wisdom that can come from the larger body of Christ and what insights the Holy Spirit has and is giving other believers through their reading of Scripture. As well as the specific applications in certain cultural contexts and the encouragement that comes from learning what God is doing in different peoples around the world.

    Not arguing a point, just wanting to mention that it is possible to read our own views and bents into Scripture. Sometimes reading what others have written (as well as having lively, loving conversations with other believers) can help us recognize our own blind spots or discover insights we would not have discovered in our personal reading alone.

  10. CJ   •  

    I believe “Marks of the Messenger” by J. Mack Stiles was one of the most beneficial reads for me while serving overseas. Not only does it lay out the important traits of a short or long-term missionary, but it gives great insight on how to deal with coming home or the “reverse culture shock” experience. It puts great emphasis on our tendency to assume the Gospel, which will eventually lead to the true Gospel being lost. Love and recommend it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *