Book Review: J. D. Payne, Apostolic Church Planting

Payne, J. D. Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches from New Believers. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015.  Link to IVP

Apostolic Church Planting is a follow-up to Payne’s Discovering Church Planting (InterVarsity, 2009). At one-quarter of the length of his earlier work, Apostolic Church Planting is intended to answer some questions which in the years since the larger book was published. Payne has a website with church planting and missions resources.

apostolic-church-plantingSince there is no command to plant churches in the New Testament, Payne begins with a brief chapter defending the practice of church planting as part of an evangelical ecclesiology. He does not advocate planting churches by siphoning off some experienced church members and creating an “instant church.” Rather, he wants to plant churches which are the result of evangelism and discipleship. By making this the priority, Payne believes his model of church planting is obedient to the Great Commission.

Using Barnabas as a model (ch. 3), Payne describes the ideal team member who will evangelize in a community and begin to disciple those who accept Christ. From this group of growing believers, the planting team should identify and appoint elders and pastors for that local community (outlined in ch. 5 and 6). Payne identifies a series of roles in a newly planted church: learner, explorer, evangelist, teacher, developer, and mentor/partner (ch. 6). Since the team is making disciples rather than planting a church, the goal is to move newly saved people through these discipleship levels and eventually move the mentor/partner out into a new community to begin the process again (see the chart on page 78).

With respect to methods, Payne explains church planting methods ought to be biblical, reproducible, ethical, avoiding paternalism (especially important in a cross-cultural context), and manifest Christ-sustained abilities (ch. 8). He offers a chapter encouraging church planting in “hard soil,” or places which seem resistant to the Gospel, balancing a communities need and receptivity (94). This is an encouraging sentiment given that most church plants succeed in the affluent suburbs or in inner-cities with support from affluent churches in the suburbs.

He concludes the book with a chapter on spiritual guidelines and ethical guidelines for church planting (chs. 11-12). Some of these guidelines concern the relationship of the team and their support, but most (even the ethical guidelines) are based on team members who are growing spiritual and committed to creating disciples.

Throughout the book Payne uses a “question and answer” model to deal with potential objections (or obvious questions). Each chapter ends with brief summaries and a short bibliography will help readers to find additional resources for church planting (including three additional books by J. D. Payne).

Conclusion. Payne is a pastor of multiplication at The Church at Brooks Hill, Birmingham, Alabama and has been involved in evangelism and missions within a Southern Baptist context. I am not a church planter, so I will not comment too much on his methods. I do balk at the title since it implies the early church planted churches using the method in this book. This is not the case at all! We really have no access to how the Twelve planted churches; in fact, we do not really know that they did “plant churches” in the modern sense of the word. In some cases Paul entered a Jewish synagogue, preached the Gospel and caused a riot which resulted in a “synagogue split.” Paul then developed believers who left the synagogue into a church. I doubt any church planters would use the method Paul used in Thessalonica or Corinth as an ideal method. Perhaps I am being overly academic, but as helpful as Payne’s book is, I think calling it “apostolic” is a bit of a stretch.

The book offers both spiritual and rational advice and encouragement for what sorts of things need to be in place for a church to grow once it is planted. Payne breaks with some of the more corporate methods used by mega-churches which turn church plants into franchises, or “satellites” orbiting a central church (and usually a central personality by broadcasting sermons in real time from the superstar preacher). Payne’s book is right to focus on making disciples and raising up leaders from within the community God has gathered together.

 

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased Church

Rainer, Thom S. Autopsy of a Deceased Church. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2014.  Hb. 112 pages, $12.99   Link

Thom Rainer is a well-known Church Growth and Sunday School expert with years of experience in ministry and a number of books to his credit. This short book deals with an very important issue for American churches, why are many Churches dying? Rainer offers a series of reasons and some proposals for how to deal with seriously ill and dying churches. Each chapter concludes with a short “prayerful commitment” and a few questions for further thought. These questions frequently return to the text of the New Testament and ask how the Bible can be used to evaluate the present church.

Autopsy Thom RanierThe first two chapters make a simple point: many churches in America are dying. Rainer claims this number to be as high as 100,000. A Google search will turn up a number of similar estimates for how many churches close each year. Despite a large number of new churches planted each year, few observers of the American church landscape will dispute Rainer’s point. The main theme of this book is “Decline is not an event, it is a process.” Rarely does a church have something so traumatic happen that is suddenly shuts its doors. The process is so slow it is usually not noticed until it is too late.

The bulk of the book is a series of nine indications that something is wrong. Some of these are very obvious – churches that live in the past are usually churches in decline. Ralph Neighbour wrote a little paperback in 1979 with a similar theme: The Seven Last Words of the Church. Those words were “we never did it that way before.” When a church idolizes the past and ceases to reach out to their community, the church marginalizes itself and risks decline and death. Several of Rainer’s chapters deal with this inward focus. First, there is no evangelism, so there are no new members. Churches without active evangelism tend to remember the “good old days” when the church did have evangelistic crusades. Second, a church in decline has an inward-focused budget. Rather than investing in ministry and evangelism, the church cuts money for outreach. Often budget decisions support the church facility rather than the ministry of the church. When the church building becomes more important than the church mission, the church is most likely already dead.

Three of Rainer’s chapters concern spiritual matters. First, a church that does not pray is in grave danger. Here he has a good scriptural foundation, since there are many examples of churches fasting and praying in the New Testament. Second, a church that has no clear purpose is likely in decline but does not know it yet. A church that does not have a clear purpose has no way to know they are not meeting their objectives! A symptom of this lack of purpose is a “preference driven church.” Most people who have attended Church regularly know that any change to a program will be met with strong resistance by those who prefer things to remain the same.(Go ahead and put drums on the stage, see how people react to that!)

It is not all bad news. Rainer offers three chapters for churches that only have a few of the symptoms described in the book, for churches that are very sick, and for churches that are dying. Sadly, there are churches that are too far gone and need to die. Rainer suggests a few steps that will help the church “die with dignity.”  I realize the book is a short set of reflections on the decline of churches, but I think that each of the last three chapters deserve much more attention. Perhaps there is a need for the American church to have a manual on how to let a church die in a way that provides life for another new Church.

Conclusion. This is a short, inexpensive book. I can see church boards purchasing copies for each member and working through the chapters for a few weeks, using the discussion questions to evaluate their own church. In fact, I would highly recommend to Pastors and Church Boards to read through this little book together and honestly discuss Rainer’s points, whether their church is doing well or obviously in decline.  While it is true some churches need to die, it is not too late to begin a revival.

Thom Rainer has a very active website / blog. B&H has produced a “book trailer” for Autopsy of a Deceased Church.

NB: Thanks to Broadman & Holman for kindly providing me with an electronic review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.