Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches From New Believers by J.D. Payne raises important issues regarding church planting strategy. J.D. Payne, pastor of church multiplication at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, is a respected missiologist who has already written well-known books on church planting and mission strategy. Apostolic Church Planting is a companion to Discovering Church Planting. Payne believes that we have traded the biblical approach to church planting for less effective approaches.
Payne defines biblical church planting as evangelism that leads to churches. Apostolic church planting finds the disciples in the harvest who become the church. In plain English for those who don’t know church planting jargon, Payne advocates planting a church entirely of new believers rather than planting churches with seed families of believers or similar models. He explains over twelve chapters how apostolic church planting takes place. The chapter headings summarize well the contents of each:
What Is Church Planting?
How’s Your Ecclesiology?
Practice of Team Members
Pathway to Planting
Stages of Planting
Planned Role Changes
Church Multiplication Cycle
Where to Begin?
My background is that of a church planting catalyst working in South America and leading church planting teams there. So, when I heard J.D. Payne had written a new book on church planting, I wanted to read it.
The greatest strength of Payne’s work is the biblical nature of the approach. As Payne points out, church planting is simpler than what we have made it. That is not to say that it is easy or messy. However, Payne lays out a workable model of apostolic church planting. Going into a community, making disciples, and gathering new believers together is much simpler than finding seed families and planning major launch services with a church-in-a-box.
Another strength is that the book is a quick read. One could easily read it in a day or over a weekend. For busy church planters, this length is a plus.
The chapter on ethics is a must read for all church planters and mission leaders in my opinion. Payne describes choices for practices that lead more people knowing Christ as ethical decisions. If we believe in hell and if we believe Jesus is the key to abundant life now and in eternity, how can we not recognize these as ethical decisions?
Payne endorses a team approach to church planting. I agree that this is best. Payne assumes in most cases that these teams will form first and then go to the field, which probably aligns with his experience at The Church at Brook Hills. However, it is not the experience of many currently on the international field, particularly those sent through denominational mission agencies. Many teams form on the field.
I do not know which approach is best. I would like to see more research on the subject. Anecdotally I saw both success and failure with teams formed before they went to the field. In some cases, they were too insulated from those who were already on the field. In other cases, this was not a problem. It depended on the team and its leadership. I would have liked to have seen more in this book regarding teams that form on the field and the challenges they face.
I agree with Payne’s belief that apostolic church planting, birthing new churches from new believers, is the most effective means to reproduce both believers and churches. As a church planting catalyst, I saw and worked with different approaches. Those churches that formed with new believers grew more rapidly and reproduced new churches more rapidly. I attribute this to the relationship network new believers had that still touched those without Christ. A new church starting with believers has to work to build that network.
Apostolic church planting has become more of the norm in international circles outside the USA. I hope this book may stir a conversation about its usefulness in the North American context. Personally, I believe that a church planting catalyst working with apostolic church planting teams could lead rapidly to church planting movements in North America. However, even without a church planting catalyst, apostolic church planting holds great promise. I hope that Payne’s book will be read and often discussed by church planters and agency leaders in the coming year.
(Full disclosure: IVP sent me a free copy of this book for review purposes. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)