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? 

The Church Planter’s Library (2): North American Church Planting & Renewal

[Editor’s Note: This summer we are posting some old but good pieces from BtT. This post originally appeared on July 7, 2009.]

North American church planting and renewal is not for wimps, dummies, or dorks. In order to plant and revitalize churches in 21st century America, we need men who are strong in their walk with the Lord, strong as husbands and fathers, and strong in perseverance. Further, the church needs men whose mind is buttressed by sound theology and missiology. Third, we need men who are culturally savvy, having a ready gasp of their socio-cultural context and an ability to communicate the gospel and plant the church appropriately in that context.

Finally, North American missiology is for those who are seeking to minister in diverse and multicultural country. Why? Because we no longer need to cross the ocean in order to cross cultural and linguistic boundaries. In our own country, and even in the South, we find a dizzying array of cultures and sub-cultures, each with their own distinctive beliefs and ways of life. Many of these cultures and sub-cultures are non-Christian or post-Christian, in that they do not have even a basic understanding of a Christian worldview or Christian vocabulary. And because the SBC is a mostly middle class, mostly white network of mostly declining churches that are not yet reaching those cultures and subcultures.

For this reason, evangelicals in general (and Southern Baptists in particular) must begin to take their own cultural contexts as seriously as IMB missionaries take theirs. We must labor consciously and carefully to learn the cultures and sub-cultures around us so that we can communicate the gospel faithfully and meaningfully in those contexts.

Along the way, it is helpful to read widely on issues related to church planting. Toward that end, here is a list of books for prospective North American church planters and renewers. (Note: Also beneficial is Ed Stetzer’s annotated N. A. Church Planting Bibliography from April 2009.)


After having immersed ourselves in biblical and theological studies, which provide the matrix within which we think about church planting, the first order of business is to deepen our understanding of the church. Pick a couple of ecclesiologies and study them with a pen in hand, reflecting, critiquing, making application. I recommend John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches and Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. The former is probably the best one-stop doctrine of the church available, while the latter focuses on nine crucial aspects for building a healthy church. If you would like to go retro, J. L. Dagg‘s Manual of Church Order is an older ecclesiology text written by a pastorally-minded theologian.

Classic Church Planting Texts

The next order of business is to read at least one of the classic texts on church planting. I will mention several. First, John L. Nevius, The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches is a slim little volume written by a 19th century Presbyterian missionary to China. In juxtaposition to most missionaries of his day, Nevius encouraged workers to plant churches that were contextual and self-supporting. Second, Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of The Church is another slender little book written by a turn-of-the-20th-century Anglican missionary to China. He urges church planters to start churches that will spontaneously grow, multiply, and overcome various difficulties that hinder the church from growing in this manner. Finally, David Hesselgrave, Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond, 2d ed., is written by the doyen of 20th century evangelical missiology. In this contemporary classic, the author provides a biblically and theologically driven model for church planting that is also informed by historical, sociological, anthropological insights.

Warning: The first two volumes were written in another era and are a little more difficult to read than books being published in the 21st century. (In bygone eras, theologians were audacious enough to assume literacy in the Western world.) But they are worth the read. In fact, I think I can say without too much exaggeration that all contemporary church planting theory is “footnotes to Roland Allen.” Even today, his work is salient and timely.

Five Streams of North American Missiology

After having beefed up on ecclesiology and church planting classics, you are ready to begin making theological and missiological assessment of contemporary trends in North American church planting and renewal. I have divided current literature into five categories.

1. Reformed & Contextual:

By far the most well-thought-out and influential book in this category is Tim Keller & Allen Thompson, Church Planting Manual, published and distributed by Redeemer Presbyterian’s Church Planting Center (New York). Keller and Allen’s book manages to be at once deeply theological and eminently practical. Also in this vein are Mark Driscoll‘s The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out and Confessions of a Reformission Rev: Hard Lessons from an Emerging Missional Church. In the first book, Driscoll argues that the American church must center itself on a proper understanding of gospel, church, and culture. In the second, he tells the story of Mars Hill Church, from the time he planted it until the present. Both books are full of funny stories, so much so that I almost fractured my diaphragm on several occasions reading them.

2. Purpose Driven:

Rick Warren‘s influence on the contemporary scene is mammoth. Ron Sylvia, Starting New Churches on Purpose, is a church planting text in the vein of Warren’s Purpose Driven Church. This text is, for the most part, a-theological.

3. Missional/Incarnational:

The missiologists in this third category overlap at points with those in the first category, but are by no means synonymous. One foundational text to read is Michael Frost & Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church. A second significant book is Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches, which is one of the most handy and helpful church planting texts on the market. Finally, Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways and Michael Frost, Exile are helpful treatments of a missional-incarnational model for church planting.

4. Organic/House Church:

Proponents of organic/house church overlap at points with the missional-incarnationals. The books to read here are Neil Cole, Organic Church: Growing Faith where Life Happens and Jonathan Campbell, The Way of Jesus. Another helpful but relatively obscure little book is Rad Zdero, The Global House Church Movement.

5. Miscellaneous Contemporary:

The fifth category is a catch-all. A few of the more significant texts are Steve Sjogren, Community of Kindness: A Refreshing New Approach to Planting and Growing a Church, Ralph Moore, Starting a New Church: The Church Planter’s Guide to Success, and Bob Roberts‘ trilogy of books, Glocalization, Transformation, and The Multiplying Church.

A Few More

In addition to the books listed above, here are a handful of other books beneficial for the aspiring church planter. Thom Rainer‘s books are well-worth the time spent reading them. I will limit myself to two. The Book of Church Growth: History, Theology, and Principles is the single best introduction to the church growth movement, including an almost-100 page section on theologically-driven missiology. Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples, co-authored by Rainer and Eric Geiger, is a lucid and persuasive argument that churches need to return to the simple disciple-making process exemplified by Jesus.

In Comeback Churches, Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson report on more than 300 formerly declining congregations across multiple denominations, reporting on what it took to revitalize and renew those churches. Planting Churches in the Real World is the story of Joel Rainey’s first church plant and the numerous challenges and times of discouragement he faced. As Stetzer puts it in the blurb on the back of the book, “If you are a planter drunk with vision, this will sober you up.” Finally, Tim Chester and Steve TimmisTotal Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community is a helpful little book arguing that we must center all of the church’s life around gospel and community.

A Final Comment

In this installment, I have only mentioned a few of the books that will be helpful for aspiring church planters. Further, I have provided little or no critique of them. 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 this list? 

Aspect 3(b): A Mission Focused on the Nations (Five Clear Challenges)

(By: Danny Akin & Bruce Ashford)

Five Clear Challenges:

As we fulfill our mission to the nations, we face many decisions, including the five following challenges. With a limited number of missionaries, to which parts of the globe do we send missionaries? It is our conviction that the majority of international missionaries should be sent to unreached and unengaged people groups, those who have little or no access to the gospel. As we mentioned above, there are vast stretches of the globe (Asia and Africa in particular) where there is no church capable of reaching its own people. Our churches must take the gospel to these people groups. As Jerry Rankin has argued, this does not mean that we discontinue our partnerships in the parts of Latin America or Sub-Saharan Africa where there are indigenous churches capable of reaching their own people, but it does mean that the majority of our resources should probably be directed toward the unreached and unengaged.

When we send our workers to the unreached and unengaged, what are we sending them to do? Should they primarily preach the gospel? Feed the hungry? Heal the sick? It is our belief that, ultimately, we are sending missionaries to make disciples by means of planting churches (and training indigenous church planters) that will preach the gospel, feed the hungry, and minister to the sick. It is these churches, and not primarily the missionaries, who will work out the implications of the gospel in all aspects of their society and culture: in their families, workplaces, and communities. God works primarily through his church; therefore, he would have us to extend his kingdom by means of his church.” We seek to plant churches whose immediate goal it is to plant other churches until there is a cascading chain of churches planting churches. Indeed, we hope to see churches planted within walking distance of every house in the world.

When we plant these churches, how will we ensure that we do so in a way that is biblical and appropriate to their respective contexts? How can we guarantee that we are not planting American churches on Iraqi, Nigerian, or Vietnamese soil? In brief, the answer lies at the intersection of three imperatives. First, we must preach the gospel and plant churches faithfully, in a way that conforms to the Scriptures. In a phrase, we seek to plant healthy, biblically-defined churches. Second, we must preach the gospel meaningfully, using words and categories and teaching styles that enable the hearer to understand the gospel in the same way that the preacher intends it. Third, we must preach the gospel and plant the church dialogically, in conversation with the host culture as national believers prayerfully seek to allow the gospel to critique the very language and categories of their own culture. If we will hold these three imperatives in tension, we have good reason to hope that the churches arising from native soil will be appropriate to their contexts.

In what ways may our American churches fulfill their calling to the nations? First and foremost, we must find ways to build the Great Commission into the DNA of our churches. Mission is not a “ministry” of the church; it is at the heart of who she is. This means that in our preaching and teaching ministries we need to trace the message of mission throughout the Scriptures and publicly invite our members to commit a summer or two years or even a lifetime working among the nations. In our community ministries, we need to reach out to the immigrants, foreign exchange students, and others, who live in our cities. In our mission ministries, we might work with the IMB to adopt an unreached people group as the church’s own, and then seek the guidance of the IMB’s seasoned workers on how to proceed in ministering to that people group.

In what way might our seminaries and colleges assist our churches in fulfilling our calling to the nations? They may do so by not divorcing theology from missiology and by not quarantining missiology to a lonely corner of the campus. Theology may be the “queen of the disciplines,” but it will be a distorted theology indeed if it is not forged in the fire of mission. We must be careful to teach the books of the Bible and the classical theological loci with reference to the biblical narrative and God’s missional character. In so doing, we will find ourselves teaching about God with reference to his missional heart. We will teach about the church in relation to her missional calling. We will teach about the end times in light of the ingathering of the nations. Some institutions will need to be careful not to allow their missions department and missions professors to be viewed as second class citizens. Others, however, must take care to ensure that their evangelistic zeal is buttressed by sturdy theology. In riveting theology to mission, we will produce students who can build and sustain Great Commission churches.

Jerry Rankin, To the Ends of the Earth: Churches Fulfilling the Great Commission (Richmond: International Mission Board, 2005), 6. Rankin points out that in 2001 Southern Baptists finally reached a total of 5,000 missionaries under appointment, but that this is not nearly enough. For example, at the time Rankin’s book was written, the IMB had appointed one missionary unit for every 4.6 million lost people in South Asia.

In Matthew 28:18-20, we are commanded to make disciples of all nations. If we are to “make disciples” of the nations, we must do so through the planting of churches, because discipleship can only be fully accomplished through the local church. For further biblical-theological treatment of the mandate and implementation of church planting, see John L. Nevius, The Planting and Development of Missionary Churches (Hancock, NH: Monadnock, 2003); Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962); and David Hesselgrave, Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000).

This provides a natural opportunity for partnership between a local church, IMB missionaries, and national partners (unless there are not yet any national believers and churches). When an American church embarks upon mission trips without such a partnership, there are three potential pitfalls. First, the church will have limited insight on how to make their work fit within a broader long-term strategy. Second, the church often will find itself crafting the trips primarily according to what is best for the local church team rather than what is best for the people group to whom they are ministering. Third, the church will be tempted to focus too much on certain perceived needs of the nationals and, in so doing, create an unhealthy dependency upon the American church. For a church’s short term mission trips to be truly strategic, they must be part of a long-term field-based strategy in collaboration with missionaries and (if a national church exists) with seasoned national partners. George Robinson has addressed all three of these issues in Striking the Match: How God is Using Ordinary People to Change the World through Short-Term Missions (Franklin, TN: E3 Resources, 2008). Also, see Robert J. Priest, ed., Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions: Doing it Right! (Pasadena, CA: William Carey, 2008).

Russell D. Moore makes this point in “A Theology of the Great Commission,” in The Challenge of the Great Commission, eds. Chuck Lawless and Thom S. Rainer (Pinnacle, 2005), 49-64.