Book Review | Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond | David Hesselgrave

Bibliography: Hesselgrave, David J. Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond.  2nd edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics), 2000.

Author information:

David Hesselgrave is a retired professor from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  He holds a doctorate from the University of Minnesota in Rhetoric and Public Addresswith a cross-cultural communications emphasis.  He has served both as a pastor (for 5 years) and as a missionary in Japan (for 12 years).  Before retiring in 1991, Hesselgrave taught for nearly three decades.  In addition to Planting Churches Cross-Culturally, he has also written Contextualization, Paradigms in Conflict, and Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally.  Hesselgrave brings to this book both his extensive educational ministry and his research background.

Content Summary:

Hesselgrave’s 317 page work, Planting Churches Cross Culturally, is written to convey the importance of evangelistic church planting and missions. Additionally, it seeks to provide a manual of sorts for doing missions and church planting. Each of the five sections and seventeen chapters is filled with information that builds upon the last.

In part one, Hesselgrave devotes three chapters to ‘The Christian and the Christian Mission’. It is here that Hesselgrave states his intended purpose for the book which is the proclamation of the Gospel and the gathering of believers into the church, which is the heart of the Christian mission, according to Hesselgrave.  Hesselgrave also spends much time emphasizing the need to plan one’s work before working one’s plan.  According to Hesselgrave, “Too often [missions] is undertaken haphazardly and without thinking it through”(p.33),  After all, “God is the greatest planner of all”(p. 33) If God inspired and encouraged men of old to plan, why shouldn’t the church planters and missionaries of today plan for the tasks at hand?  Hesselgrave concludes this section with an emphasis on the strategy on church planting, a strategy which can be found by studying the missionary endeavors of Paul in the Book of Acts.

In part two of Planting Churches Cross-Culturally, Hesselgrave devotes four chapters to his section entitled ‘The Christian Leader and the Christian Message’.  Here Hesselgrave emphasizes the need for solid strategic leadership in the mission as well as the need to carefully analyze and select the right target areas for missions and evangelism.  It is only after the right leaders have been selected and the right target areas have been discovered that the appropriate resources can be deployed.  The church should, as a body dedicated to Christ, deploy all of the resources that are necessary for the church planting endeavor, according to God’s will.

In parts three, four, and five, Hesselgrave devotes ten chapters to the development and discussion of “The Pauline cycle”, which is a biblical synopsis and analysis of the church planting strategies employed by Paul in the Book of Acts.  The Pauline Cycle begins with God’s call on the missionary.  Once the missionary has been commissioned (step one), a potential audience is contacted and surveyed and widespread evangelism is performed in order to form relationships that will lead to further contacts and further relationships (step two).  Once an audience has been contacted, the Gospel should be communicated (step three) as clearly as possible in a way that is relevant to the hearers in the target area or community.  Prayerfully, those who hear the Gospel message will be converted (step four) and the believers will be gathered together (step five) where their faith is then confirmed (step 6) and leaders for that congregation are consecrated (step seven).  Hesselgrave reminds the reader of the importance of the newly planted congregation training and selecting its own pastor and other leaders.  In step eight, once leaders are consecrated, there should be “an amicable withdraw of church planters” and “an orderly transition of leadership in the congregation”; a transition that creates a seamless “continuation of effective ministries that have been undertaken by the pioneer” (p.279). Through church fellowships, the relationships that have previously been established should continue on indefinitely.  Since Christian churches have a common bond in Christ, they should encourage one another and cooperate “in the common cause of evangelism” (step nine, p.279).  In step ten, which is the last step, the sending church is convened so that the missionary – evangelist can be relocated to a new target area, thus beginning the Pauline cycle all over again.  “And so the Pauline cycle has been and will be repeated, on and on, over and over, until Christ comes again and the church militant becomes the church triumphant. Maranatha!” (p. 321).


Hesselgrave declares in his preface that this book grew out of “fifty years of pioneering and pastoring, reading and researching, and learning and lecturing in company with literally thousands of people who have been my instructors and inspiration in service for Christ and His Church” (p.13). As one reads through this volume, it becomes quite evident that indeed the reader is experiencing Hesselgrave’s experiences, and not just a third-party narrative from a novice in the field. Any doubts as to Hesselgrave’s credentials or qualifications are quickly squashed as one begins to delve into this exciting and exhaustive handbook for church planting.

Planting Churches Cross-Culturally is one of the most extensive books on church planning that this review has ever seen, and certainly the most extensive that he has ever read. His is not just a concise overview, but an exhaustive, extensive, and information filled volume. Most certainly the person who said, “Information is knowledge” had Hesselgrave’s work in mind, for the person who reads this book and retains only a percentage of the information contained within its pages has at his disposal a wealth of knowledge on how to plant a church biblically and practically.

An important strength of Hesselgrave’s work is his dire commitment to remain true to the biblical model for church planting, and for basically anything, for that matter. This is a breath of fresh air in a world where liberal theologians freely offer up opinions that are not substantiated by the Word of God. Since the church’s primary mission is to “proclaim the gospel of Christ and gather believers in to a local church where they can be built up in faith and made effective in service” (p. 17), it’s not only a good idea to follow the biblical model for church planting, it’s crucial. Sadly, many church planting ventures fail to take the biblical revelation into account when planning their task, which often leads to their demise. However, Hesselgrave is committed to leading his readers in a journey that uses the Bible as the primary source of revelation and information for the task of planting church, and he should be commended for this! Why shouldn’t a person interested in church planting look to the Bible for planning and strategy? After all, “it is possible…to extrapolate from the biblical record specific aspects of Paul’s overall strategy and specific methods that can be applied to contemporary situation”(p. 38). Hesselgrave gives further encouragement to go to God’s Word as he states, “In planning for church planting and growth, on the other hand, we have recourse to God’s Word” (p. 39).

Specificity is yet another strong point of Hesselgrave’s book as he discusses the many aspects of church planting and the Pauline cycle. He doesn’t speak in broad, generic, nonspecific terms, but fills each section of his book with practical, specific instructions concerning the topic at hand. For instance, he doesn’t just mention the need to pray, but reinforces that need by wonderfully stating that, “The new is replete with exhortations to prayer….Clearly, the selection of the missionary-evangelist candidates should be bathed in payer. The first deacons were commissioned only after prayer…[Prayer] is the continuing force behind the entire program” (pp. 99-100).  Hesselgrave drives home his points on prayer, and everything else, by reinforcing it in such a way that one cannot offer an argument to his view.

Another strong point, one worthy of mention, is the ‘Relevant Research’ and ‘Practical Reflection’ additions to almost every section in his book. Not only does he bathe each section in relevant Scriptures and appropriate theories that support his theses, he also gives research, sometimes scientific, and practical applications that bring the issue at hand to life. It’s as if Hesselgrave wrote this book with a ‘break out all the stops’ attitude for his readers. For instance, in a section on communication methodologies, Hesselgrave, after making his case for the need for clear, concise, biblically based communication in evangelism and missions, gives research data which supports the idea that personal, one on one, close up communication is not always the ideal way to communicate a message. Likewise, sometimes, as science has proven, a message may be more widely received by the receiver if it is given from a distance, as in a public, or semi-public setting. He follows up this idea with practical reflection which stresses thet need for innovation in communication. “If our abilities to innovate are not exhausted in exploiting the potential of biblical models, we can go on to attempt new methods for communicating Christ” (p.156).

This reviewer could find very little by the way of criticism with this book. One small area of critique would be the amount of time and words that Hesselgrave puts into each segment or section. It seems at time that Hesselgrave could have said the same thing with fewer words, possibly half the words, and yet not lose any substance in his points. The verboseness of his narrative sometimes works against Hesselgrave, causing this reader to lose focus on the point at hand. A more concise narrative on many of his topics could have help the reader to comprehend the subject matter much faster, and quite frankly, could have saved a tree or two (with less pages).

This book is a must-have for anyone who purports to be a serious student of missions and church planting. This is a book that won’t sit on a bookshelf and collect dust. It’s a practical, useful, invaluable tool for anyone who desires to learn all they can about both the need to plant churches and the how-to of planting churches. This book is filled with resource after resource that combines to make a sound survey of biblical church planting. It is a scholarly approach to missions and plating churches, yet is excitingly readable by anyone with a desire to be all they can be in the area of church planting.  It’s about missions….it’s about evangelism….it’s about missional theology….it’s about the church…’s about so much more. I recommend that everyone who desires to grow their church read this book. This is one book that the reader will be glad he read.

Key search words: Planting Churches Cross-Culturally, EVAN 550, Liberty University, Evangelism, Church Planting


One response to “Book Review | Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond | David Hesselgrave

  1. My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

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