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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Escalator photo credit: Going up via (license)

Book Review: That’s a Great Question

Thats A Great Question Book CoverMy unsaved friend had a few questions for me about the New Testament.

He had been reading articles on the Internet about objections to the credibility of the New Testament

  • Conspiracy theories of the church suppressing information
  • Edits to the text that introduce conformity to the established doctrine.
  • The search for the historical Jesus.
  • Secret gospels that the church suppressed.

How would I answer such questions?  How could I help my unsaved friend evaluate such evidence?

How would you approach your friend who tossed similar questions at you.

That’s a Great Question

One evangelism fear that people have is being caught without an answer to questions like this.  My friend has given me  a specific example of an “I don’t know what to say” moment.

This is where a book like That’s a Great Question: What to Say When Your Faith Is Questioned, by Glenn Pearson, can be a helpful tool for you.

The book is focused on helping you analyze objections that are commonly found to the New Testament, specifically claims against the reliability of the New Testament.

Pearson focuses on worldview filters that skeptics and believers bring to the reading of the New Testament.  I’m grateful he recognizes that he himself brings a filter that starts with the NT being reliable.

I found myself laughing at his humor, his funny stories, and his first hand adventures in talking about his faith in Christ.

It is a book on apologetics I found hard to put down.  No boring list of data facts here.

One reviewer on Amazon said:

In a manner unknown to many authors today, Glenn skillfully blends humor and intellect to produce a great work of apologetics. This book will be a valuable resource

Pearson himself writes:

The purpose of this book, then, is to demonstrate that a commitment to academic excellence and intellectual integrity is consistent with belief in the Bible. I hope to equip you with valuable perspectives and insights that will help you identify and confidently respond to filters often used by those outside the historic Christian faith. Furthermore, I will arm you with practical principles that can clarify some tough challenges to Christian beliefs.

Part 1 is an introduction to filters that skeptics bring.  Filters strain out evidence that is unwanted, or creates blindness to likely alternatives.

For example, chapter 3 is a discussion of two types of filters that add to the stories of Jesus, based on secret or suppressed documents, conspiracy theories.  This chapter made me laugh out loud a few times.

Chapter 5 tells the story of a college class and the Jesus seminar and shows about how anti-supernaturalism leads to forgone conclusions, stacking the deck with similar thinking minds that filter out other explanations or possibilities.

Skeptics have a basic problem when it comes to explaining Jesus’ message. They claim that the Jesus of the Gospels was a remarkable but mortal man whom his followers elevated to divinity. But they never seem able to explain adequately just who did the extreme image makeover or who wrote his amazing speeches.

Part 2 is applying filters that a Christian believer brings to the same objections.

Part 2 of this book presents eighteen principles that provide a solid interpretive approach to the Bible. I call these “Pearson’s Principles for Approaching Puzzling, Perplexing, and Problematic Passages.” If the principles are valid and if the Bible is reliable, this approach should address critiques colored by various filters and which question the validity of the biblical text.

Some apologetic books focus on difficult questions about particular texts (God Behaving Badly).  Other focus on learning and challenging religious worldviews (Evangelism Slightly Less Difficult, or Tactics).

Others focus on Reasoning from the evidence to the existence of God (God is not Dead).  Pearson’s approach is to expose the presuppositions that a skeptic brings to a Bible passage and how a Christian can reasonably deal with objections and still have intellectual credibility in belief.

GlennPearsonDo I have biases about the Bible?

Of course. I have concluded that it is reliable and accurate and is, in fact, God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible, and historically reliable revelation to humanity. This is not simpleminded acceptance, but an opinion backed by considerable research and study.

Are there problems with my position? Of course. I am fully aware of the intellectual challenges inherent in this theological view, but there is strong supportive evidence for my stance.

Do skeptical critics have biases? Of course. They, too, would say their positions are based on careful research, and they are correct.

Are there intellectual problems with their positions? Of course. There are enough complicated factors that neither side can claim victory based solely on the academic arguments.

The point, however, is that it is possible to be a thoughtful, well-educated, well-adjusted person and to believe that the Bible is God’s inspired, inerrant, and infallible revelation to all people in all ages.

Who is That’s a Great Question for?

I found That’s a Great Question: What to Say When Your Faith Is Questioned to be a great book for Christian believers who need to know how to analyze plausible objections to the credibility of the NT.

Young adults headed to college or already in the university will find this book helpful.  If you regularly engage non-believers in meaningful conversations about your faith, you’ll run into objections and questions that are addressed in this book.

If you are a skeptic, than this book may bother you.  Pearson politely shows you the presuppositions you bring to your own analysis.  He admits he brings his own as well.

If you are spiritually thirsty and honestly searching for how a bible believer can believe the Scriptures, you’ll find a honest assessment of the evidence and plausible explanations of alleged contradictions in the text.

Related Apologetic Book Reviews on EvangelismCoach

 

 

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Book Review: Offer Them Life

Dan DunnHaving read a steady diet of popular church growth books, Dan Dunn’s Offer Them Life: A Life-Based Evangelistic Vision is different academic challenge.

It is not a book to consume in one sitting, but a great book for those who want to think deeply on the biblical theme of Life.

I love Dan’s passion for evangelism and it clearly shows through the book with a mix of scholarly wrestling plus how to make such insights available in practice.  Dan’s cross cultural missions experience (a passion that I share personally) gives him tremendous insight into his study.

This book requires deep thought and this was a welcome refresher in an age of “theology lite” books I’ve read the last few years.

Reading it felt like an appropriate return to seminary.  For me, that was a timely challenge that I appreciated.

Dan has made the effort to survey the scholarship and to synthesize their thoughts plus his own surrounding the biblical metaphor of life.

I appreciated Dunn’s scholarly approach.  Rather than reduce the gospel to 3 propositional statements, Dunn looks throughout the scriptures at the theme of Life.  He takes well-developed steps to map out a comprehensive picture of this metaphor throughout Scripture to show the centrality of this message in Scripture. 

His thoughts would serve missionaries, pastors, and evangelism trainers like myself as they prepare their evangelism habits and teaching materials.

Main points of Offer Them Life

DanDunnThese are the two most important points:

1. A solid case can be made that “full, vibrant life” is the central theme of the Bible.

This is therefore what God calls us to enjoy in relationship with God, others, and creation.  It is not only eternal life, but a full and meaningful life as one lives out God’s purpose and plan for which we have been created.

2.  Portraying the full vibrant life that God intends to non-Christians is a central element of evangelism.

This what we should be inviting non-Christians toward.  Sure, the offer of salvation includes forgiveness of sin, but it also includes the offer of “abundant life” here and now.

We should not stop using other biblical/theological language, such as redemption, forgiveness, salvation.

Dunn only asks that we add full life oriented imagery and vocabulary to our theological/biblical understandings and also our evangelistic communication.

Quotes I liked:

  • Two perspectives underlie the current practice of evangelism in the U.S. American context. The first is one’s understanding of eternal life. The second is basing evangelism on the concept of kingdom.
  • Christians, therefore, must continually discern ways of thinking about and practicing evangelism that honor the strong biblical theme that God wants God’s created humanity to experience life fully (abundantly, according to John 10:10), on this earth, prior to physical death.
  • When evangelism deals with sin, for example, mutual emphasis could be given to the life-forever benefits of being forgiven through Christ (e.g., access to heaven) and to the life-now benefits of Christ’s forgiveness (e.g., freedom from bondage)
  • These examples serve to illustrate that a great deal of material has been written on the theme of the already and not-yet character of the kingdom’s fulfillment. For my purposes, the most important factor to note is how the tension between the already and not-yet dimensions of kingdom fulfillment relates to the biblical theme of life, and then consequently how this relates to the theory and practice of evangelism
  • I would now like to introduce a related yet different concept for you to consider: that we frame the relationship between life and kingdom in reference to ultimate goal or purpose, as distinct from the instruments or means that lead to that ultimate goal or purpose.
  • Thus, Jesus’s primary goal in announcing the kingdom and inviting people to respond to it was not so that they could be counted as citizens of the kingdom for the sake of the king or the kingdom, but for their own sake, because it is through submission to the rule of King Jesus that they would receive new life in him.
  • If creation of and participation in life was God’s original intention for creation, then God’s intention in Jesus is a restoration and re-creation of that same life: teeming, fertile, abundant, and good. This directly and powerfully impacts the theory and practice of evangelism, for it helps shape our understandings of what we are offering in our communication of the good news
  • Evangelism begins with God, but God also intends, invites, and desires that God’s people be active participants in the evangelization process. The Scriptures vividly portray that God’s plan for calling God’s fallen creation back to God’s self includes people as integral ministry partners in this work. From the calling of Abraham to be a blessing to all the families of the earth, to young Mary giving birth to the Son, to the early disciples leading thousands of people to Christ—the Bible makes it clear that God wants to communicate the possibility of new life in Jesus to people through people. Therefore, though evangelism begins with God and is utterly dependent on God, God also envisions a vital role for Christians. Without question, God is the sole source of new life in Christ. However, this does not automatically mean that God is the sole agent in the process that leads us to this new life. God’s sovereignty in evangelism does not cancel out God’s intention for us to be used as God’s agents in evangelism. Rather, it is in God’s sovereignty that God has chosen us as God’s agents.
  • How, therefore, can we portray (and invite persons to) an experience of full life in Jesus that appropriately calls them to center that experience in their commitment to and relationship with God?
  • The answer is, yes, there is very good news for life now, and evangelistic theory and practice must make this a primary emphasis
  • In whatever way we may choose to include the possibility of new life in Christ in our evangelistic vision and ministry, we must include references to experiencing positive benefits in this life, if we want to resonate well with non-believers
  • This is the essential point I am making in relation to creation as the starting point for an evangelistic vision grounded in the biblical theme of life. We begin with God’s good and positive intentions. This provides a more appropriate biblical and theological foundation for theology and evangelism.

This reviewer said it best:

Dr. Dan Dunn has done what few can do. He has written a very academic and scholarly treatise delivered in a language we all can understand. His brilliant mind, disciplined academic pursuit and passion for helping others find life in following Christ has resulted in a book every Christian worker should include in their library, not as another dusty tome, but as a pattern for their life and ministry of evangelism. Every theological school which hopes to actually equip their graduates to do the work of the ministry should include this book in their curriculum.

Dan is a personal friend of mine and I have taught with him in the seminary he has founded in Venezuela.

I have gotten to know him over the last few years as we share passions for personal evangelism and a profound love for Latin America.

Even if I didn’t know Dan personally, I’d still recommend this book for your academic reading.  Let it impact how you practice evangelism.

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Hospitality Ministry Book Review: See You Next Week

During a recent church visitor assimilation webinar (available now for purchase), we discussed some excellent resources on the assimilation process.  One participant recommended a short book on hospitality ministry that was helpful to them.

See you Next Week

See You Next Week is a short text crammed full of ideas that could help your church get started in improving the welcome and integration process in your church.  If you haven’t read any books on this topic, this book might fit what you are looking for.  It can help your congregation develop it’s friendliness.

Who is this book for?

I’ve read several books on church hospitality.  I’ve written two myself.  This particular book would be aimed at the church that doesn’t have an existing hospitality committee or advocate who wants to run the ministry and needs someone to start taking charge.

See You Next Week would be a good primer and overview of the church welcome and hospitality process.

If you have already read some of the related books in this field, you won’t learn anything new.   However, See You Next Week would help you refresh your interest.  The ending section on 11 principles for your volunteers would serve any ministry leader well as a resource for their volunteer training.

In either case, you can find short and quick tips that you would need to polish your existing hospitality and welcome ministry, and quick reminders for your volunteers.

The book is not about evangelism, or even how to share the gospel along the way.  The authors know that is an important topic, but it is outside of the scope of their focus on creating a good welcome and developing your ministry of assimilation.

This book is all about integrating that newcomer into the church family as quickly as possible. This is not a book on evangelism. It is not a book on advertising. It is not a book on church programming. It is a book that focuses attention on that narrow range of activity that should help the newcomer on their way into your church community. On their part it might start with a tentative, “We should try that place out sometime.” But we want it to end with an assured, “This place is my new home!”

Overview

See You Next Week is laid out as short two page chapters, followed by a QR code and weblink to more in depth information.

The authors move through

  • The importance of being friendly.
  • First Impressions: the importance of managing it.
  • Next Steps: Plan intentional pathways
  • 11 resolutions for all hospitality volunteers.

Here is what you need to know about the flow of the book. We start together with clearing up some of the basic facts about the subject and the need to integrate newcomers. Then we move on to the attitudinal, mechanical, logistical and general organizational elements to consider. Finally, we give some practical advice for every committed church participant

I presume the promised online resources are still in development.  The preface promised additional resources via the links. I sampled a random few and didn’t find the additional resources hinted at in the preface.  Mostly, I found a page that has the text of the chapter, the audio reading of the chapter, and occasionally resource paper or additional resources.   Maybe more resources are coming as the product development continues.

The Gem of the book

The book is admittedly not about evangelism, or even about how to help people find faith in Christ. The target is to help your church members be intentional in helping newcomers feel like becoming part of the local church family. The writers say right off the bat:

“This is a book about one small slice of church life and therefore doesn’t deal with the diversity of the multiple elements that matter.”

It is full of practical tips on conversational small talk, how to relate to new comers, and various principles that volunteers should keep in mind when serving on a church’s hospitality or greeter ministry. They look at attitude, some mechanics, and some organizational elements of welcome and hospitality.

The value I found in See You Next Week was the 11 resolutions for hospitality volunteers.  These are directed at the volunteers, and you as a ministry leader could use them in your volunteer training.

Most of the books I’ve read in this field talk a lot about the mechanics of hospitality, but this set of 11 principles was written specifically for the volunteer.  It gives you specific ways you can live out a warm welcome from the relational side.

  • Show Up “I will show up for work at church.”
  • Plan “I will plan my work and I will work my plan.”
  • Be Joyful “I will lighten up.”
  • Pick a Seat “I will not sit alone.”
  • Invite “I will invite people to something.”
  • Keep in Touch “I will keep in touch.”
  • Be a Linker “I will introduce newcomers to others.”
  • Be Normal “I will be friendly but not overbearing.”
  • Be a Conversationalist “I Will Become an Excellent Conversationalist.”
  • Live by 5-10-15-Link “I will live by the 5-10-15 link rule.”
  • Reject Rejection “I will reject rejection.”

Short Quotes:

  • A welcoming church where people love to join isn’t built overnight.
  • You won’t get a chance at a second impression if you don’t make a good first impression.
  • Remember, if you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you probably don’t know what you are doing
  • Nobody wants to be around sour people.
  • Don’t look for a comfortable place for yourself; look to make things convenient for others

Other neat quotes:

  • With the “See You Next Week!” system you don’t need 100% involvement. It is a good idea to ask for full participation but if you get 25% participation your church will explode with new energy. If you get 10% participation you will see a noticeable difference in the number of newcomers who decide to make your church their church home. If all you get is one key person to team up with you, you can have high impact.
  • But virtually all church attenders who have been in for very long have forgotten the negative emotions they had in anticipation of their first church experience. It is the negative anticipations that keep many people away. Some take the risk to attend for the first time; they need to be pleasantly surprised. Unchurched people don’t go to church unless something or someone gets them there for the first time.
  • Your program definitely counts for something. But not as much as it used to because newcomers behave differently today. They used to care more about your complete church life. Nowadays, from their perspective, the intended full integration of the typical newcomer into your church life, will be to show up a few Sundays a month or even a season in your main meeting.
  • Meeting people who come from other lands or cultures is especially awkward for many greeters. They hardly know where to begin. And, of course, because there are literally thousands of possible variations it is impossible to cover everything. However, opportunities abound to minister to newcomers from all nations of the world.
  • You get one chance to make a first time impression with first time guests. Your need is to know the process for taking people from a first time newcomer to a healthy, growing, serving member of the church. You should lay out these important stages or touch points along the way. If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process you probably don’t actually know what you are doing. When a church has a really good process of welcoming they can increase the ratio of new people they are keeping while recognizing they will never keep them all.

Order your copy

If you want to add a copy to your library, order yours here.  If you do, I’ll get a few nickels.

Or check out my own ebook that is available to download here.  A purchase of my ebook will also reward you with a free consulting conversation with me about your hospitality ministry, plus information on the best way to get visitor contact information.

Give This Book to Your Spiritually Thirsty Friend

One spiritual conversation is just not enough.  The Lord will use many conversations to help bring your friend to Christ.  But sometimes, you’ll want something that you can give your spiritually thirsty friend something that they can read and ponder over.

Books are good for this.  Invite your friend to read one with you and discuss the chapters over the next several weeks.

So what is a book you can recommend to your spiritually thirsty friend?

Book Witnessing Tool

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