Bibliographical Information: Malphurs, Aubrey. Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000.
Dr. Aubrey Malphurs is the founder and president of the Malphurs Group, a company that provides consulting services such as coaching, leadership development, training, and strategic planning to churches, non-profits and other organizations to help them overcome company or ministry challenges. Dr. Malphurs is an award-winning prolific author of more than 20 books on strategic planning, leadership development, church planting and organizational strategies. Dr. Malphurs is also a Professor of Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas.
Dr. Malphurs possess many credentials that qualify him as the author of Planting Churches for the 21st Century. Dr. Malphurs planted his first church in 1972. He has also pastored two churches in Dallas, Texas, while teaching at Dallas Seminary. In 1997, he resigned from Pastoral ministry to devote his time to teaching and to the leadership of The Malphurs Group. Malphurs has spoken and consulted in many nations around the world, including Russia, England, Philippines, Finland, Latvia, Germany, Holland, Switzerland and France. He has also consulted a wide variety of denominational organizations across the country.
As Malphurs says at the onset of his book, “It is the nature of a living organism to grow. If it is not growing, something is wrong” (Malphurs, 9). Such is the case with many of the churches in America today – they are not growing. The answer to this problem, then, is to either revitalize the churches that are not growing or to plant new, vibrant churches, or both. What is great about Malphurs book is that even though it is primarily a book on church planting, he devotes the first few sections to church growth and revitalization.
Malphurs’ book of 430 pages is tightly wrapped into three sections containing 13 chapters, in addition to a 30 page church planter’s workbook, numerous appendices, end notes and an index. Malphurs has literally left no stone unturned with approximately 1000 headings and subheadings throughout his informative and exhaustive volume on church planting.
The first part of Planting Churches for the 21st Century is entitled “The Preparation for Church Planting”. It contains four chapters that lead the reader through steps necessary to “prepare the soil before planting the seed” (Malphurs, 17). This section of the book covers four foundational “seed issues” that are necessary beginning points for anyone who desires to plant a new church. Malphurs begins with the all-important task of defining what church planting is – a step so basic that many might overlook it. Yet without a definition people might misunderstand what church planting really is and more importantly they might misunderstand the biblical model and mandate for church planting. Malphurs defines church planting as “an exhausting but exciting venture of new faith that involves the planned process of beginning and growing new churches, based on Jesus’ promises and in obedience to His great commission” (Malphurs16). After defining what a church plant is, Malphurs moves on to giving several reasons for planting churches including the sad reality that, “of the approximately 350,000 churches in America, 4 out of 5 are either at a plateau or declining” (Malphurs, 32). From there Malphurs covers funding issues for the church, reminding the reader of Jesus’ promises about provisions and various methods which can be used to fund a new church plant. Malphurs also covers in this section some important need-to-know information so that incorrect assumptions held by the church planter don’t sabotage the development of the new church plant.
In part two entitled “The Personnel of Church Planting” Malphurs covers leadership practices and skills, qualifications for the church planter, as well as many other things. In this section Malphurs discusses the need for personal assessment by the church planter so that they might discover their divine design as well as their personal ministry direction. He also gives multiple criterions for those wishing to be in ministry. Those criterions include godly character, passion, temperament, a strong family life, as well as spiritual gifts (Malphurs, 84).
The final section of the book is entitled “The Process of Church Planting.” This section is by far the largest section of the book spanning more than 140 pages (not including the workbook, appendices and notes). In this section Malphurs gets to the meat of the topic, which is how to go about planting a church. In this section Malphurs uses a process that closely mirrors the Pauline cycle. Malphurs’ process of church planting begins with conception, then development, then the birth stage as the church is actually planted, followed by the growth stage, which is then followed by a stage of maturity as well as a reproduction stage. This lifecycle of the church closely mirrors the human lifecycle and thus lends itself to a clear understanding of the church planting process that is difficult to misunderstand. In this section Malphurs touches on some vitally important ideas on church planting including the idea that prayer is actually the first step in church planting. “Before we attempt to plant a church anywhere, it is imperative that we spend hours on our knees in prayer. In fact it would be wise for church planters to recruit personal intercessors to make up an intercessory prayer team who will pray for them” (Malphurs, 118). He also stresses the importance of identifying and communicating a set of core values and a mission statement. After the church is conceived and development begins, the church planter must know when the time has come to birth the church. According to Malphurs a church that is birthed with a congregation of 50 or more is three times more likely to succeed (Malphurs, 188). As the church grows and matures they must continually focus on the Great Commission of evangelizing, as well as pursuing and edifying the lost (Malphurs, 216). Throughout this section Malphurs covers many topics such as the selection of a meeting place, leadership skills, staff issues, assimilation and growth, and the importance of reproduction.
The last 165 pages include many tools to aid those endeavoring to begin the noble task of planting a new church. These tools include a church planter’s workbook which is “designed to help you implement the material in this book and plant a church planting church” (Malphurs, 265). This worksheet includes fund-raising, budgeting, ministry design, leadership concepts, mission statements, strategies, the gathering of core groups, and many other topics. The appendices include topics such as a well mobilized lay army, a culturally relevant ministry, authentic worship, biblical evangelism, and much more.
Malphurs book, Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century, is more than just a book about church planting. It is an exhaustive encyclopedia on the preparation, personnel, and process of church planting. Yet Malphurs’ book goes much deeper than just these broad topics of church planting, giving practical wisdom, advice, and instructions to anyone wishing to begin a church plant. As was said earlier, Malphurs has left no stone unturned with this all-inclusive volume on how to successfully plant a church.
This book is packed with so much information that it requires multiple reads just to scratch the surface. It is evident from the wealth of information contained within the pages of this book that Malphurs has done his homework, and that he is indeed passionate about planting churches. His book is easier to read, more exciting, and filled with much more information that similar works, such as Planting Churches Cross-Culturally by David J. Hesselgrave or Starting a New Church: The Church Planter’s Guide to Success by Ralph Moore. This work is not just a how-to guide on church planting; it serves as an encouragement and motivator to those who are praying and seeking direction from the Lord. I, myself, experienced a thousand ideas as I turned through the pages, filling up all the margins with many of them. I was inspired in many ways and in many levels as I read through the pages of this book, unable to put it down.
Malphurs brilliantly reminds his readers that church planting does not end with church planting. In other words, just because a church is itself a church plant, this in no way negates this church’s responsibility to then plant another church. No church is exempt from the responsibility of planting more churches. In fact, Malphurs believes that any church can plant a new church, regardless of size or resources, and that it is the responsibly of all churches to “encourage and equip individual Christians and churches to seed American soil with relevant, significant Great Commission works that will assault and crash through the gates of Hades. (Malphurs, 263)” Malphurs is to be commended for holding such an honorable, important cause so dear and near to his heart.
Malphurs use of the organic metaphors is great, and it drives home his point well. Malphurs likens the church planting process to planting a tree or growing other things (Malphurs, 28-30) – a reminder that the church is not an organization, but an organism that should be treated as living, breathing, and life-giving. He also likens the church to a parent who gives birth to a child (Malphurs, 245-246), reminding the reader that just as people go through a natural life cycle that includes reproduction, so too should the church which is also alive. The church has a life of its own, and as a church with a life, it is responsible to grow, mature, and give birth. These types of illustrations help the reader to see clearly the natural cycle that should be followed by the church.
Malphurs doesn’t just give his opinion on the weighty issues that have led to the decline of the church, and doesn’t lightly throw out the idea that new church plants are needed. Instead, Malphurs backs up most all of his claims with solid statistical data that is difficult to refute. For example, Malphurs indicates that as much as 80% of the growth a church experiences is from transfer growth, where members simply move their membership from one church to another (Malphurs, 64). This means that very little growth is from new converts. Yet another involves the success of church plants. Malphurs purports that the success rate of church plants is tripled when the plant starts with a core group of 50 or more. And finally, surveys suggest that the number one reason that people join a local congregation is because the congregation has made them feel accepted. All three of these points are very important in the church planning and church growth processes. These are just a sample of the sheer volume of statistics, numbers, research, and ideas that are included in this wonderful resource.
There wasn’t much that this reviewer disliked about Malphurs work on church planting. However, I did have a concern with one small part of the book – the issue of meeting places (Malphurs, 197-199). After making some very good suggestions about places to meet, such as gymnasiums, schools, theaters, a storefront, bank buildings, coffee shops, restaurants, and parachurch facilities, Malphurs makes a couple of suggestions that seem to not fit with the otherwise great suggestions. The first one seemed a little strange. He suggested that new church plants meet in a funeral home (Malphurs, 199). He admits this may serve as the perfect excuse for the nonbeliever to use for not attending, yet he still offers it as a suggestion, leaving this reviewer to wonder why he would even make the suggestion in the first place. Another suggestion that he makes is that new churches consider meeting in pubs (Malphurs, 199). Although this reviewer believes in culturally relevant, progressive ideas that will serve to draw people into church, this is taking it a bit too far. This would only serve to tarnish the witness of the new church plant leaders and members, and will leave those members scarred within the community, and will diminish the effectiveness of their ministry from its onset. I was quite surprised Malphurs could be so on point in so many areas, yet make a suggestion such as this.
While I concede that this book is not a book on evangelism, this reviewer would have still liked to have seen more of an emphasis on evangelism. Malphurs mentions that adding believers and unbelievers should be done from the onset of the ministry, so that it is interwoven into the fabric of the ministry (Malphurs, 182). Yet Malphurs, oddly enough, spends very little time giving training and instruction on evangelism. Although I realize there are many great volumes available on evangelism, Malphurs had a great opportunity to give insights on evangelism from a new church plant perspective, such as special outreach events for new churches that could serve as an open door to evangelism. Malphurs dedicates only a few pages to evangelism, and that is very basic.
There is no denying that Aubrey Malphurs has a passion unparalleled by most when it comes to evangelism. His 425 page volume is packed with useful, practical wisdom from a well-qualified author. Malphurs book is full of ideas that will encourage and motivate anyone who is prayerfully considering planting a church. If Malphurs had stopped at the 265 pages mark and left out all of the “extras”, it would have still be an excellent, well-rounded volume on church planting. However, he didn’t. Malphurs included valuable resources at the end that will aid anyone who is serious about fulfilling the Great Commission through church planting. This book can be described in several ways: encyclopedia of church planting information, motivating, encouraging, inspirational, informative, and so much more! I would highly recommend this book to anyone considering the noble, honorable process of church planting.
Key search words: Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century, Liberty University, Evan 550, Evangelism and Church Planting