Monday, February 25, 2008

Book Review: Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century

There can be no denying that Aubrey Malphurs is passionate for the church and wants to see it grow and succeed. He has contributed a lot of paper and ink to the topic of the church, and this book contains a lot of that material—425 pages worth to be exact. Anyone reading this book will appreciate the enthusiasm with which Malphurs approaches the subject. After all, he is not only a seminary professor but a pastor as well.

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.

1 comment:

XLT said...

I agree, I read this book at DTS while in one of Dr. Malphurs classes. I have serious issues with the church planting philosophy he holds...and unfortunately have found it is the predominant one in the denominational district I am involved with. In turn this kind of leaves me in the cold in relation to church planting with this group. Anyway, there is still some value to it