Ed Stetzer has planted, revitalized, and pastored numerous churches. Of the three churches he personally planted, he planted one directly out of college. He has done planting more than anything else in his ministry life, according to page xi of his introduction. He has spent thousands of hours training pastors and church planters on five continents. He holds two masters degrees and two doctorates (as well as an undergraduate degree), and has written dozens of articles and books.
Dr. Stetzer is a columnist for Outreach Magazine and Catalyst Monthly, serves on the advisory council of Sermon Central and Christianity Today’s Building Church Leaders, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. Dr. Stetzer is a visiting Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has taught at more than fifteen other colleges and seminaries. He also serves on the Church Services Team at the International Mission Board. He currently works for LifeWay Research as President and Staff Missiologist. Dr. Stetzer maintains several websites, such as http://www.EdStetzer.com, http://www.lifewayresearch.com, and http://www.newchurches.com, where one can “experience Dr. Stetzer’s passion and love for church planting and missions.
Planting Missional Churches contains 350 pages of invaluable information, in addition to a 12 page annotated bibliography and a 7 page comprehensive index. The book is broken down in to 29 short chapters that are easily read. These 29 chapters are not broken into sections like many other books of similar size (such as Planting Growing Churches for the 21 Century, which has 3 major sections), yet it seems to still follow a general pattern that many church planting books follow, developing ideas based on the natural life cycle of the church: conception, development, birth, growth, maturity, plateau, and reproduction.
In his introduction, Stetzer begins by declaring a sort of thesis statement for his book. His statement, which is different than many other writings on church planting, is that “The term postmodern has lost much of its meaning, (and indeed it has. It now lends itself to an entirely negative connotation). I believe it is better to focus on missional, a broader term which emphasizes the approach rather than the population” (p. xii). Therefore, Stetzer sets the stage brilliantly for a journey on how to be missional – that is, “taking the approach of a missionary—being indigenous to the culture, seeking to understand and learn, adapting methods to the mission field—but winding up in the biblical form of the church” (p. xxi). Stetzer’s book, then, is not about compromise, but about compassion for the lost, and a desire to be missional so as to seek and save that which is lost.
Stetzer begins his first chapter with some basics about church planting, reminding the reader that the goal is not merely to plant churches, but to “plant a church that’s part of the culture [the reader] is trying to reach” (p. 1). Church planting has regained popularity, as more than 50,000 churches were planted in North America between 1980 and 2000 (p. 14). However, that is not enough. Stetzer gives a mission statement of sorts, in that this book is written to “inform, clarify, encourage, and persuade evangelicals to embrace church planting” (p. 14).
After a brief introduction on the basics of church planting, Stetzer moves quickly into the meat of the book, beginning early, at chapter two. Here he argues that North America is no longer just the country seeking to do missions – it is now the mission field itself. Ripe with opportunity, Stetzer contends that the most effective mission methodology for North America, and anywhere for that matter, is planting new churches.
One of Stetzer’s strongest chapters is chapter three, where he lays out the biblical basis for church planting, based upon examples from Paul, as well as four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ commands to be missional. Having laid the case for the biblical basis for church planting successfully, Stetzer moves through the fundamentals of church planting, including church plant models, leadership issues, lay leadership, emerging cultures, focus groups, koinos churches, core launch teams, how to choose a meeting place, worship, church growth, and churches planting churches. Stetzer even includes a chapter on how to choose a name and a logo, yes, a logo, for the new church plant. He includes this chapter because first impressions are important, and therefore the name of a church should be “meaningful and contemporary” (p. 233).
Stetzer concludes his book with a small but interesting chapter entitled “Church-Planting Movements”, where he gives examples of a few previous movements and the lessons learned from these movements, as well as some important aspects of any successful church-plant movement. After the closing chapter, Stetzer gives a detailed end-notes section that is jam-packed with references, additional comments, and web links to church planting sites. Beyond this, there is even a bibliography that is annotated and comprehensive, spanning 29 pages.
Ed Stetzer’s work, Planting Missional Churches, is often referred to as the church-planting Bible. It’s no wonder; considering all of the information contained within this volume. This is an updated (2nd) edition of the 1st entitled Planting Churches in a Postmodern Age and is packed with Stetzer’s personal wisdom, experience, and passion – and every page proves it! This book is one of the most comprehensive works on church planting.
Planting Mission Churches is written as a text, yet doesn’t have the dry, boring flavor of a text book. It is exciting, like taking an exciting venture with leaps and turns that bring new, refreshing ideas at every turn. It is the church planting book. There are questions for reflections and dialogue at the end of each chapter. Although questions such as these typically serve to add to the dryness of most textbooks, these questions that Stetzer poses help provoke deeper thought and challenge the reader to apply the principles contained in each chapter to not only his head, but his heart as well. The questions help the reader retrace the primary thoughts within each chapter and are ideally suited for a classroom, a Bible study, or any small group who desires to enhance their knowledge about the topic of church planting.
Another reason why Stetzer’s book is refreshing is his writing style. Most writers, especially those who are writing text book type material write in a more formal academic style of writing. Stetzer’s work however is much different. Stetzer writes in a “conversation” style. As the reader turns through the pages it is as if Stetzer is sitting down at the table talking to the reader. This makes the book a much easier read than the average text book, and quite frankly, makes for a much more relaxed and enjoyable read. Although Stetzer clearly has a strong background in academia he writes in a simple and informal style that allows the reader to comprehend most all of what he says and to retain much of it.
Not only is Stetzer’s work comprehensive, refreshing, and conversational, it is also accurate and much needed. Sadly, there are many in Christian circles who object to church planting. Stetzer is right on target with the objections that people raise concerning church planting and his claims that their objections, for the most part, is unsubstantiated is valid. Stetzer’s work will do much to help combat those objections and to help both the planters and the anti-planters to understand both the purposes and the intentions of planting a new church. One of the common threads throughout Stetzer’s book is that “the goal of missional church planting is glorifying God, growing His kingdom, and developing healthy churches with new converts (p. 5).” Stetzer realizes something that many Christian leaders overlook – the fact that church planting is needed in order to prevent denominational decline as well as a decline in the overall Christian population. It is quite encouraging to see Stetzer pouring his soul into such a noble and honorable cause. This book will equip those with a passion for church planting with the ability to help change long-held objections to church planting that many hold, and will help its readers to teach people that church planting is not about competition, professionalism, or anything else other than using culturally relevant methodology to reach people with the Good News of Jesus Christ for the glory of God.
One of the reasons Stetzer’s work is so successful and so effective is that it is “birthed out of the struggle and failure of church planting” (p.4). Stetzer hasn’t just studied church planting, he has lived church planting. As was previously noted, Stetzer has planted three churches, and they all weren’t complete successes. Stetzer is honest with the fact that he made mistakes along the way and this lends much credibility to the book. The fact that his ventures at times were not as great of a success as he would have liked, serves as a source of encouragement for others who may be struggling in their church planting venture in light of Stetzer’s eventual success. His mistakes, and the disclosure of them in this book, may help countless church planters avoid the same.
This reviewer could find very little in terms of critical analysis within this book. A couple of issues, though minor, are worth mentioning. First, in a volume this exciting it would be nice to see footnotes as opposed to endnotes. There are many notes in this book and constantly turning to the back of the book distracts from the flow of information on particular topics or sections. It would be much easier to stay with Stetzer’s train of thought if the notes were footnotes as opposed to endnotes. Additionally a few of Stetzer’s thoughts seemed a little naieve or impractical. For instance, he mentions in at least a couple of places the idea of sending out a mailer to prospective new church members in the community as a form of outreach (pp. 12,296). However, it is not likely that anyone would respond to a mailer without a personal visit. In fairness to Stetzer, however, he does mention personal visits and door knocks on multiple occasions. Finally, Stetzer seems to focus much of his thought on the large or mega church models which require large up front financial investments, a large staff, and extensive resources. What about the church planter who desires a small startup in a rural area- the pastor who wants to plant a church but does not have all of the “big church” resources at his disposal. Indeed Stetzer’s experience and success lies with the larger model, however it would have been nice to have seen a little more focus on the smaller, more simple, less structured church plants.
Planting Missional Churches is a church planting manual that every church planter should have on their bookshelf. Stetzer brings together a wide spectrum of church planting thoughts, visions, and concerns in an informative, culturally relevant way. Although the term “culturally relevant” is a concern to some because it is often associated with a watered down expression of the gospel, Stetzer’s book is refreshing in that he consistently commands the need for solid theology that is delivered through culturally relevant methodologies. Stetzer’s book is much needed because Christians need to end their discussions on missions and become missional. Stetzer’s work encourages people to do just that. Stetzer’s work affirms the biblical basis for church planting and challenges the reader to search and discover how they can most effectively understand and learn their local culture in order to bring the message of hope to those within the culture. Planting Missional Churches is the book to have for planting biblically faithful and culturally relevant churches.
Key words: Liberty University, EVAN 550, Church Planting, Critical Book Review of Planting Missional Churches