Review by Rev. Fay Puddicombe of Stuart Murray’s Planting Churches in the 21st Century (Herald Press, Scottdale PA and Waterloo, Ont.: Herald Press, 2010).
Stuart Murray has written an excellent concise book on church planting. His book answers all the questions we learned in journalism class – who, what, why, where, when, how and a bonus: “what’s next.” This structure makes the book an easy to navigate guide for all those seeking to plant churches as part of their mission.
Murray was a church planter in London England for 12 years. Beyond that he has been a trainer, consultant, chair of the Anabaptist Network and has written many books.
I wondered at the outset if Murray’s British experience would be relevant in North American churches. In reading the book it was obvious that the research and consulting he has done is widely applicable, even though every church planting situation is unique.
Why church planting?
After research reviewing the mixed results of church planting in the 1990s Murray and George Lings concluded the following:
Church planting continues to represent a vital response to the missionary challenges of contemporary culture. Indeed, unless we believe existing churches are flexible enough to embrace the changes needed to retain our present members, let alone reach out effectively to those beyond our congregations, planting is crucial. And unless we resign ourselves to mission and ministry only among the very limited proportion of the population for whom most churches serve even remotely relevant, planting is essential.” (Lings and Murray Church Planting) p 16
Content and Purpose
Murray writes, “My intention in this book is to provide a framework for practitioners as they set about this kind of planting.” (p 17) He has written other books about the foundations of church planting, this one moves into the practical ‘how to.’
There are many lists in this book. Examples include the following:
- Types of innovative church plants
- Questions to consider when planting
- Ideal qualities for church planters
- Issues to consider when building a church planting team
One list highlights what is needed in the childhood’ stage of a church and includes things such as these:
- “Rehearsing core values, vision, ethos and priorities of the church so that those who join are inducted into these foundational commitments.
- Ensuring that mission remains the priority, but developing maintenance processes to nurture the emerging church.” p 200
The book is directed to those actively involved in church planting and could be a text for courses on missions as well. It would be helpful for a church to work through as a study in the year before they launch a church plant. Each chapter concludes with questions for discussion. Churches not in a planting phase could also benefit from reading this it would act as a reminder of the mission of the church.
In 226 pages Murray provides a good overall look at church planting and the possibilities. While very much a text book, I found it readable.
An appendix provides a list of helpful resources including a bibliography of books, courses and websites.
The following are interesting quotes from the book.
The terminology of church planting is discussed. Some people do not like the term “church planting” and all it implies. Murray notes:
Abandoning “church planting” may hinder those involved in emerging churches, fresh expressions, and other mission initiatives from drawing on the hard-won experience of church planters. However new and different these initiatives are in style, ethos, and approach, they do involve the formation of Christian communities and so have more in common with church planting than some may wish to acknowledge.” p 19
Sometimes when we want change we ‘toss the baby out with the bathwater’ and he offers this balanced comment:
Some new churches, after experimenting with fresh patterns, revert to more traditional forms with renewed appreciation. After all, inherited forms of church, whatever their perceived weaknesses and need for renewal to connect with a diverse and changing culture, evolved and were tested over a long period and have significant strengths. Traditionalism may be problematic, but there are usually good reasons why traditions endure. Is indiscriminate rejection of traditions any more helpful than unthinking captivity to the past?” p 137
One quote that really stuck with me came out of his thoughts on new churches that attract many who are unhappy with their old church. He says this:
I have talked with church planters who deeply regretted allowing their focus to shift from mission in the community – not least because many of those they had spent hours with soon became disenchanted with their new church and left once more. p 45
I highly recommend this book for pastoral students as they embark on ministry in both new and established church placements. As I’ve already said, it would be very helpful for any group, church or denomination planning to enter a church planting phase of ministry.
The book ends with a challenging question “How is God calling you to be involved in planting churches?” Then he lists 16 ways you could, finishing off with these words:
Directly or indirectly, strategically or locally, full-time or part-time, in planting teams or in support roles, hundreds of thousands of us could become involved. And that might just galvanize a movement after all. p 209-210