Church Planting Book Review: Church in the Making by Ben Arment

Church in the Making, Ben ArnettChurch planting is not easy work.

Ben Arment shares some lessons he has learned out of his church planting experiences in his book,

Church in the Making: What Makes or Breaks a New Church Before it Starts

In the introduction, Arment writes for church planters who struggle.

How did church planting become such a spiritual crapshoot?  Why is it that some churches fail why others succeed?  How is it that prayerful, hardworking men and women who are called by God and filled with faith could fall flat on their faces?

Pulling from his own experiences in church planting, both from one that struggled to get going and one that he is currently in, he takes this angle:

  • Understand the spiritual receptivity of the community where you are planting.

He writes:

This book attempts to uncover the mystery of church planting.  . . Church planting, it turns out, is remarkably organic.

Part 1 is called Good Ground – where Arment shares about spiritual receptivity at the level of local community.  I write about spiritual receptivity a lot, but focused on the one-to one conversation level.  Arment brings the wisdom of doing that work in the community.

Part 2 is called “Rolling Rocks.”  Arment looks at momentum and suggest some was to capture that social momentum.

Part 3 is called “Deep Roots.”  Arment looks at how a new church development springs out of the the roots of it’s community, rather than a vision being imported from another community.  Church planters will have a deep connection to their local community, some that will take the time to build.

“Planting a church in a spiritually infertile community can be done, but it’s like walking up an escalator that’s going down.”

Church Planting Challenges

I’ve got the church planting bruises and blessings.

I know that church planting is not easy work from my first hand experiences.

I spent 5 years on the team to start a church for immigrants that still is up and running with it’s founding pastor.

I spent 7 years on the team to start a second church for immigrants that continues to this day with it’s founding pastor.

Seven months ago, we’ve gotten our family involved in a third immigrant oriented church that will look forward to starting public services in October 2015.

My role has always been a support role and never the lead pastor.  That is consistent with God’s calling on my life.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve not seen the ups and downs of launching a new church.

Bruises from disappointments when people walk away.

Blessings of seeing people discover faith in Jesus Christ.

Bruises from early co-leaders who abandon the original vision and bail out.

Blessings from new believers who are so excited about Jesus they keep bringing their friends.

If you are planting a church, you’ll like this book

Other books to church planting take a look at leadership and theology of church planting.  This book adds a sociological layer, focused on momentum and social networks.

For my take, the core of this book is knowing the spiritual receptivity of the community where you will plant your church.

Some might call this

As I look to participating in my 3rd church plant in a brand new community where I have zero roots, this book points out some of the challenges that will be ahead of me.

Arment uses the parable of the soil types in Matthew 13:3-9 to apply to church planting along with examples from his own experience.

Not only is your ability to share the gospel dependent on a person’s heart condition, but your ability to plant a church successfully is dependent upon your community’s spiritual fertility as well. . . It never dawns on most church planters that their target community already has an established degree of spiritual fertility (page 20).

Arment then unpacks

  • the spiritual fertility of the “soil” in which the church is planted,
  • methods of cultivation,
  • tapping into social networks, and
  • creating and sustaining momentum.

To see how they all fit together, you’ll need to pick up your copy of Church in the Making: What Makes or Breaks a New Church Before it Starts, by Ben Arment

When I have taught churches that want to do a door to door evangelism campaign, I invite them to not only think about how to share the gospel, but also to learn about the spiritual thirst of the community as one of the 5 outcomes of door to door work.  I believe that noticing spiritual thirst will open good conversational doors.

You might do the community exegesis of visiting with local officials to learn about the community.

The church you want to plant is not a fortress, but are the people of God on the mission of God.   Brainstorm ways the church can bless its community and ask the question “How can we be the best church for the neighborhood?”

In the process, you’ll learn the spiritual receptivity of the neighborhood.

Quotes I liked:

  • When a new church struggles year after year to see fruit from its activity, we should assume it’s not quite time to plant. Instead, there is tilling, watering, and cultivating to be done.
  • It doesn’t matter how good your service, your worship, or your preaching, your church is ultimately judged by social network.
  • There are two activities for church planters: cultivating and planting. If you do the right thing in the wrong season, you get zero results.
  • But if people are leaving because they don’t like our vision, we should celebrate. Their exodus verifies that our purpose is being lived out. Vision is affirmed not only by the kind of people we attract but also by the kind of people who leave.
  • Not everyone in your church can help you further the movement. Nor should they be made to feel guilty if they don’t. But fueling a movement is about identifying your connectors and enabling them to reach even more people. This is what Jesus did by investing in twelve disciples to keep the movement going from his time until ours.
  • People aren’t inspired by spreadsheets. They’re inspired by changed lives.
  • After seven years of planting a church, it became clear that our most committed colaborers were the people who had found Jesus through our ministry.
  • Paul made a groundbreaking statement to the church of Corinth that ought to forever change how we view our churches: “We have the hope that as your faith increases, our area of ministry will be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the gospel to the regions beyond you” (2 Cor. 10:15–16).
  • Planting a church in a spiritually infertile community can be done, but it’s like walking up an escalator that’s going down.

Links to Other reviews:

  • If you are a church planter or thinking about planting a church you should read this book. Don’t expect it to make you feel great about planting and pump you up to a spiritual high though. It won’t do that at all. What it will do though is make you think through some issues and consider some reasons church planters struggle. I do not agree with all of Arment’s points, but I do think he does an adequate job of painting a realistic picture of church planting.  From: http://pastortodd78.com/book-reviews/church-in-the-making-ben-arment/
  • Church in the Making is a helpful resource for church planters and other ministry leaders, particularly those who are undertaking new ventures such as beginning new programs or casting vision for renewal. I wish I would’ve read this book before launching a youth ministry from scratch five years ago. Arment provides helpful insights on contextualization, innovation, connecting and fostering relationships for the building up of the church. He also cites a number of stories of hardship and trouble that are common to ministry–experiences that are authentic, humbling, and helpful towards those that suffer from naiveté or lack of ministry experience.  (http://benjaminasimpson.com/blog/2011/1/13/book-review-ben-arment-church-in-the-making.html, also found on Twitter at @bsimpson
  • Church in the Making by Ben Arment doesn’t mince any words, and it has the tone of a soldier who has fought the good fight and won, but at a high personal cost, with the sense that the battles could have been easier with better intelligence, and mourning the soldier-friends who he has seen fall around him.  http://therooftopblog.wordpress.com/2010/05/24/book-review-church-in-the-making-by-ben-arment-terrific-and-not-just-on-church-planting/, also found on Twitter at @JamesWJewell

Related Church Planting books

All links will connect you with the book on Amazon.  Any purchase made will earn me a small commission.  I’ve read each of these and can recommend them to the discussion.

Ben_Arment

Connect with the Author

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Order your copy of Church in the Making: What Makes or Breaks a New Church Before it Starts, by Ben Arment  from Amazon.  I will receive a small commission.

Escalator photo credit: Going up via (license)

3 Keys to Make an Evangelistic Sunday School Culture

Sunday school has a long history of being an evangelistic tool of the church.  I’ve visited growing churches that utilize their Sunday School to not only grow their members, but create a space where newcomers can connect and discover faith.

Recently, a small church pastor asked me about how to make their Sunday School evangelistic.   They are a small church in a semi-rural and under-resourced community.  I get the sense from the pastor that members have an apathy about Sunday School that may be hard to over come.

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As I listened to the description and function of their existing Sunday School, I found myself discouraged.

It was full of barriers to entry of newcomers, barriers that would prevent invitations of friends, and barriers that would discourage meaningful learning.  I don’t want to elaborate on their specific problems.  Instead, I want to share with you 3 key elements they need to put in place.

1.  Create a safe context for newcomers who are not yet believers.

Your newcomer is in a place of stepping into a group of people for the very first time.

  • Will they feel safe?
  • Will they feel welcomed?
  • Will they feel freedom to contribute their opinions?
  • Will they be invited back for the next week?
  • Will they feel like it was worth their time to make the investment next week?
  • Will their opinions be respected, even if their theology is not biblical?

Your newcomer needs to feel valued and respected.   Even if they say something that you disagree with, can you disagree with grace instead of being a fountain of correct biblical theology?  Nothing will kill spiritual thirst faster than well meaning Christians who have to correct bad theology.

We made this mistake in an evangelistic small group.  We killed the safety of the evangelistic small group the first night and never recovered.  The Christians had become a verbal fire hydrant of truth, ready to convince someone that they have to follow Jesus.

I’ve seen many people become Christians within 4-6 weeks of joining a group where they finally trust the people in it and realize they can ask their questions without getting a sermon in response.

Is your Sunday School class a safe place where seekers can safely ask their legitimate questions?

2.  Create a culture of evangelistic prayer.

Your existing Sunday school members will need a regular reminder to pray for their friends by name.    Have your class make a prayer list of friends whom you’d like to see following Jesus.

We might mentally agree to the the idea, but to actually make the list and use it may still be a challenge.  I’ve put together my practical model to make a friends prayer list today.

Some would say to put the list on a wall in the classroom, but I prefer to keep that list private and with my journal.

Beside the names on the prayer list, I’ll note specific prayer requests.  The idea is to get beyond the generic “I pray for Jose and Martha” and into more specific areas.

For example:

  • Give me eyes to see their spiritual thirst.
  • Give me opportunity to speak with them.
  • Give them a thirst, help me to see it.
  • Is God inviting me to spend a little more time with them?
  • What is the next “do” with them?  Call?  Coffee? Cookout?
  • Help them move another step closer to you.
  • Reveal yourself to them in undeniable ways.

People are in different places in their spiritual journey.  As I write each name, I ponder what might their next step be?

  • If they are hostile to God, how I can pray that they may start seeking God?
  • If they are seeking God, how can I pray they would talk with me about how I found God?
  • If they are studying the Bible in their search, I’d like to pray that God’s word would speak.

In other words, I try to pray in accordance with the work that God might be doing in their spiritual life already.

As the leader of the Sunday School, it is your job to set the pace and hold your current class members accountable for praying for their friends.

3.  Create an expectation of sharing

I hold the philosophy that evangelism is a process of sowing, cultivating, and reaping.  Some people would define evangelism strictly as an event – the verbal proclamation of the gospel.  Instead, I see evangelism as a process.

When I listen to testimonies, I see the journey of awakening, gathering evidence, reflecting on information learned, doing some reading, and talking out loud with friends about what one is learning of God.  It is a process of sowing, watering, cultivating, tending, weeding, and preparing a fruit for harvest.

You’ll want to encourage your Sunday school members to plant seeds for the gospel by sharing about what they have learned this week. They don’t need to regurgitate the lesson, but reflect on a key point with a friend. This plants seeds for future conversations about faith.

I’ve watched it happen multiple times in my own life.  Let me give you a few examples:

  • We talked about being a better husband.  How do you want to grow as a husband and father this year?
  • We talked abut how God answers prayer.  Share a specific example of how that has come to pass.  Have you seen a possible answered prayer?
  • We talked about raising kids.  I shared how I want to raise my kids to be a follower of Jesus.  What do you want for your kids?

In other words, encourage your Sunday school members to “verbally process” what they are learning with their non-Christian friend.  That assumes they actually have non-Christian friends.  Such conversation topics prepare a context for future gospel centered conversations.

To cultivate this ethic, we use this one question very week.

With whom can I talk with this week about this lesson?

It might take some time

As I shared these three thoughts with the Pastor, it was clear they have a long way to go in adopting these three points.  Their existing Sunday school structure doesn’t foster personal invitations.  They admit that their material is boring, and they recognize that they’ve not created a safe space for non-believers.

How they will change this is something they will need to work out.  They will need to change in-grown patterns that have produced apathy.

These three keys will not produce change overnight, but working towards them will start to create a different culture.

Learn 13 more ways to Cast the Vision for A Great Welcome

Catch the Church Hospitality VisionThese are just a few different ways to reset the vision for a great welcome in your church.

On this MP3, I offer 13 more different ways and places where you can cast that vision in under 5 minutes at various places in the church life.

I want to help you answer how can you develop a passion within the congregation for welcoming first time visitors?

In this 79 minute audio MP3, pastors, hospitality ministry leaders, and volunteers will learn:

  • 4 Reasons Church Visitors Don’t Return and Which Ones You Can Fix
  • Evidence of Poor Church Hospitality Practices
  • Meeting the Expectations of Your Church Visitors
  • The Importance of Initiative in Greeting Church Visitors
  • 14 Ways to Cast a Hospitality Vision
  • How to Pray With Your Church Visitors
  • 7 Next Steps for the Next 30 days.

Format: MP3 audio download (70 MB) Price: 10.00

Order Your Church Greeter DVDs

You’ll be taken to the product order page in the EvangelismCoach.org store

7 Servant Evangelism Ideas for Black Friday Shopping Crowds

Black Friday Shopping Evangelism

In the United States, the Friday after Thanksgiving is a major shopping day.  The media will show reports of Black Friday shopping crowds outside of major department stores and malls.  People who are waiting to be nearly the first in line to get the savings on Christmas presents for family and friends.  When the doors open, mayhem erupts and people get injured as crowds stampede through the open doors.  Corporations are now beginning to open on Thanksgiving Day to allow people to shop after the big meal.

I’m not a big fan of that scene, but the waiting lines that happen in your city or town can give your church an opportunity for a servant evangelism project.

Servant Evangelism Ideas on Black Friday

Servant evangelism is a simple way to market your church’s Christmas outreaches after Thanksgiving has passed.

On the simplest level, servant evangelism is marketing your church.  It involves some form of giveaway that meets a need, with an attached card that gives information about your church.

These servant evangelism ideas are useful any time of year, but post Thanksgiving and Black Friday crowds at malls present a natural crowd that you can bless.

Your act of kindness can build the bridge for the person to receive a touch of love from God.  You are showing the community that your church cares and does not exist only for itself.

Add a invitation to church—even a simple card  with your church’s name, phone number and times of services.   They might come and hear more about Jesus during the Christmas season.  You can add a comment that your church wants to bless the community, showing God’s love, with no strings attached.

Be Prepared before Black Friday for Evangelism moments.

ShareTheGospelYour act of kindness is not sufficient for people to hear the gospel.

They might not even know that you are serving “in His Name” unless you somehow share that.

The gospel does need words to accompany the good deeds.

But attentive volunteers will recognize the nudge of the Holy Spirit in some interactions.

Those conversation can turn evangelistic with a gospel sharing moment, or maybe even a prayer moment.

Remind your volunteers to watch for those moments and be equipped with conversation skills.

A Side Note:

Always obey the rules of your locality, and know that you may need to secure permission of owners if you are on private property.   For example, your local mall may be considered private property and security may not allow you to bless the people who have gathered.  You’ll have to learn ahead of time what boundaries are in place and make sure you obey them.

7 simple Black Friday Evangelism Ideas.

These 7 servant evangelism ideas for Black Friday can be used at other times of the year, but this would make a natural gathering for your volunteers to participate in these ideas

  1. Coffee with sugar and cream available.  Be careful with the hot coffee.
  2. Water Bottles
  3. Prepackaged snack like raisins, trail mix, granola bars (go peanut free).
  4. Hot Chocolate
  5. Donut Giveaway
  6. Candies
  7. Popcorn

Prepare some kind of connection card that gives information about your church, the church website, and service times.

For more servant evangelism ideas, consider the book Outflow, Steve Sjogren and David Ping

Is your church doing any Thanksgiving Outreach?

If so, please share in the comments.  Give a brief overview and if you have a page on your church website that explains it, feel free to link to it.

Book Review: A Plan to Revitalize a Church’s Passion for Evangelism

Bob Farr booksOne frustrating problem for small church pastors is leading a church that has no desire to share their faith.   How does that pastor begin to change that and overcome the natural resistance to personal evangelism?

If a pastor had no training in personal evangelism (which is likely if the church is a mainline denomination), then how does a pastor lead evangelism when the pastor may have very little personal experience?

Books on personal evangelism cover all angles of evangelism work.  What has been needed is a book that presents a plan of action for pastors who feel like they are without guidance in this area.

Get Their Name: Grow Your Church by Building New Relationships is one such book.  Its stated desire to present a two year plan of action that a pastor can lead to develop some evangelistic activity in the congregation.

This book presents a two year plan to help your nervous church members grow in some basic relational evangelism skills.

Lack skills or a plan?

If you have a church that is actively sharing Jesus in many ways, than this book is not quite for you.  If you are

  • Regularly sharing the gospel in your sermons
  • Helping your members talk about their faith,
  • Providing ongoing evangelism training

then this book is not quite for you.  Your church already as an interest in personal evangelism and they are acting on it.

Get Their Name: Grow Your Church by Building New Relationships  is aimed at churches that lack a zeal for personal evangelism.  It is aimed at churches where members are not comfortable talking about their faith at all.  If your members can’t talk about God’s activity in their life now, then this book presents a plan to help change that.

I think this book would be aimed at:

  • Small mainline churches that lack evangelism skills
  • Mainline churches that have plateaued or are in decline.

The target audience is not necessarily a small church, but any church that lacks an evangelistic zeal.  It is for pastors of mainline churches that need somewhere to start in developing the DNA of evangelism in the church.  The authors regularly chime in with some Methodist quotes and values to inform their approach.

smallChurchRelationalEvangelism

Section One centers on basic relational evangelism skills in this model.

Section Two

  • Build relationships with unchurched people
  • Set a goal of conversations, not conversions.
  • Try to spend 8-10 hours a week in being with unchurched people.
  • Includes chapters on how to talk with unchurched people.

Section Three

  • Prepare your church to receive people – improve your hospitality

This final step is absolutely important.  Small churches and even larger churches need to fix their church hospitality on a regular basis.  It is not helpful to have an evangelistic skill set, yet your church will not welcome the newcomers.   In fact, excellent hospitality will increase the likelihood of a personal invitation to church.

Over all, the book presents a pretty good plan.  It’ll take patience to implement, but at least Get Their Name: Grow Your Church by Building New Relationships  gives a pastor a sense of direction as to where to start.  You might want to share copies with your leadership team.

Some useful quotes:

Evangelism becomes passive, waiting for them to come, being polite when they arrive, helping them to join our organization, and then trying to get them to come back if they quit attending worship or giving money.

This book is about helping people in our churches move past the fear of inviting or sharing faith with others and move toward an active, passionate missionary lifestyle.

Evangelism is about building authentic relationships with people we don’t know. This relationship might lead to a conversation, which might lead to an invitation to gather with a community of faith, which might lead to an authentic relationship with Christ.

When you have attended a group [editor note: where you are spending time in the community] for a year, ask yourself if you are seeing anyone become a part of the faith community as a result of your time investment in that group. If the answer is no, you need to evaluate your technique and/or whether it is the right group in which to invest your time.

Related Books oriented at Mainline Churches

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What is the Next Step after Your Halloween Outreach

fallharvestpartyIn my first church, we chose October 31 as a safe alternative to Halloween.  We planned all sorts of children’s games, candy giveaway, costume contest, and all around fun.   We mobilized lots of volunteers to run the games and our small church had a tremendous party every year.

Our Harvest Party (we called it) celebrated some of the fun traditions of Halloween, without the scary costumes and without the occult overtones associated with the date.

More and more churches will choose a Halloween Outreach to open up their doors and provide their community a safe alternative to knocking on doors.  You might have done the same.  You hope that residents in your community will bring their children to enjoy an awesome night of fun.

If you host only church families and have not made your community aware of this, then you need to change your plans and find last minute ways to get the word out about your Halloween alternative or Harvest Party.

If you are not thinking about reaching your community and using this event in your church, then you need to open up your hearts to your community.  Your church is too inward focused.

Are you preparing for guests at Halloween?

Are members of your planning team thinking of church hospitality issues to welcome your visitors during your Halloween Outreach?

Are your facilities ready?

Are your volunteers ready?

  • Have you recast a vision to connect with the stranger who will come?
  • Have you reminded people to be friendly with people they don’t know?
  • Are your volunteers ready to make small talk with all the visitors?

What will your guest experience that night at your Halloween Outreach?

Will your church members take the initiative to make meaningful small talk and make a connection?

Or will your church members simply let them be?  That’s a nice way of saying “Ignore them.”

Have fun and offer ministry

Consider setting up a prayer station as one of the booths.  Offer prayer ministry with people and families that might seek it out.

Equip your prayer booth with literature about the church and promotional items about the next sermon series.

Have appropriately trained prayer ministers there to offer prayer with those who seek it out.

You might have the chance to talk with people in a safe 1-1 context about their faith journey, so be sure your ministry leaders are equipped to talk with people about what it means to follow Jesus.

Maybe in some localities, it might be possible to finish the night with a bonfire.  You can sing a few songs and share a short  non-pushy devotional about being a follower of Jesus.  Check with your local area about rules for bonfires.

What happens next?

One thing that our church failed to do when I was there was to use this Harvest Party to invite people to a meaningful sermon series the following Sunday.  We invited people to church, but I don’t recall anyone coming back.

As I have reflected on that problem, I have come to realize that people have important stuff to do on Sunday.  Their stuff is more important than attending our church (after all, they don’t go to church).

If we can present a sermon series that starts the following Sunday that would be important to them, then there is a greater likelihood that they will rearrange their schedule and come.

Over and over, I have seen in my own life that when I invite people to a new sermon series, I have better success than a simple invitation to church.  The sermon series answers the question, “What’s in it for me?”

Use your Halloween Community outreach to promote your new Sunday Sermon series and maybe even some of your Thanksgiving and Christmas programming.

The point is, plan ahead and create a “Come Back” event that your visitor might consider rearranging their Sunday schedule to attend.

Prepare for your Halloween Outreach

Your hospitality needs to shine during your Halloween Outreach.  A good welcome experience will increase the likelihood of attending your next sermon series.  Your guests should experience a good welcome when they come on Sunday as well.

I’ve put an ebook together to help you review your hospitality systems in preparation for your Halloween Outreach and your comeback event.  It’s good for all seasons of the church year.  You might want to acquire your copy to prepare for your Christmas and Thanksgiving program.

Read more on How To Welcome Church Visitors