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:
  • 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.  (, 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., 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.


Connect with the Author

Order your copy

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)

5 Growth Lessons from Church Planting

5LessonsForChurchPlantersOne question that has come to me is

What can a new church plant do to increase it’s membership?

For the last 15 years, I’ve been involved in planting two churches.

Both churches were designed for immigrants.

One of our core values was to “gather the nations to worship Christ.”

We felt that our church planting call was to reach out to different nationalities and grow a multi-cultural congregation of new believers.

I’ve served in the Associate Pastor role because that suits me and my gifting.  I had taken a church planting assessment and discovered that I wasn’t gifted as the pioneer church planter who carried the vision, but rather gifted in a support role to come alongside that planter.

I learned a few things along the way that you may find helpful.

Every new church development wants to grow.

Each lead pastor has a burden to reach people for Christ.

Every church planting leader wants to see the fruit of their efforts and labor in the number of people coming to Christ.

They don’t want transfer growth from other churches (though that will happen).

They want new believers.

1).  Prioritize evangelism to reach people for Christ.

Find ways to share the gospel as you serve and build relationships with the community.

Do not allow your outreaches to simply be good deeds than any non-profit can do.  As you serve, share the gospel (read more).

Find ways to encourage your members to be involved in personal evangelism where they live.  You’ll need to equip them regularly.

Any church planting leader must prioritize personal evangelism, as they will be the models that others will follow.

Hold your leaders accountable to having faith sharing conversations with at least 1 person a week, if not more.  Debrief and review those conversations regularly.

Read: 5 Evangelism Tips for Pastors.

2).  Develop your leaders to carry out the vision.

Don’t let immature leaders derail your vision.  Be sure to teach potential leaders how to deal with conflict and reconciliation.

In our context we started growing new Christians into leaders.  That intentional discipleship was planned to create leaders worthy of becoming elders.  Along the way, immaturity created conflict and immature reactions derailed us for a while.  We had to work through that conflict and it took us a year.  The end result – several people left, nearly decimating our young congregation.  We’ve learned from that mistake.

You may already have your team of leaders who helped you form your church.  Continue to invest in them.   Empower them to carry out the plan that God has laid upon your heart as the lead planter.  Once you empower them, encourage them.

3).  Saturate yourself in the Word.

Keep your communications and sermons centered on the Scripture.

There will be temptations to focus on felt needs. I’ve seen felt needs preaching go to the extreme of simple self-help that is devoid of Scripture.  Make sure you keep yourself anchored in Scripture when you teach.

Use Scripture in your decision making.  The Bible is full of wisdom that can be discovered through regular reflection and meditation, as the Holy Spirit reveals truth that is applicable to your context and time.

Hold your leaders accountable to a personal devotional life where they are reading and sharing Scripture with people.

4).  Cast the church vision.

This needs to become the DNA and it comes only through repeated explanation, application, and re-statement.  Every person getting involved needs to know what your church exists for.

People will gather around a vision. That vision will motivate and inspire volunteers to give of their time, talent, and treasure.  That vision will inspire people to live up to it and carry it out.

Help your leaders and people to know: “This is who we are” and “This is what we will do.”

In my first church plant, we boiled it down to this phrase: “Gather the nations to worship Christ.”  That captured the ethos of reaching out to immigrants and inviting them to church.

In my second church plant, we boiled it down to “Help families follow Christ and experience His grace.”  That captured the ethos of seeking families that needed healing and helped define our programming.

Provide your leaders with consistent clear direction and vision.  There is nothing more frustrating to your leaders than a changing vision that shifts from month to month.  If you are the primary leader – make sure your vision is clear, and that it’s consistent.

Be sure to clearly communicate that vision regularly.

5).  Don’t overstart.

In a new church plant, the temptation will come to start all sorts of ministries:

  • Food pantry
  • Worship team
  • Men’s ministry
  • Women’s ministry
  • Community service ministries
  • Retreats
  • Celebrations
  • Social service projects
  • Park Outreaches
  • Visitations to Hospitals, Elder care homes, or orphanages.

Too many initiatives at one time will dilute the efforts of your church.  When your church is small, focus on one thing.  You cannot become all things to all people.  As a leader, you cannot do it all.

You’ll have to navigate what are the core ministries.

We empowered too many people to do too many things and that led to vision confusion.

A Starter Resource

Grow in Personal EvangelismIf you want to prioritize evangelism among the leaders of your church plant, you’ll need to give them some simple steps of where they can grow.

Get the download copy of my teaching “Simple Steps to Personal Evangelism” ($10).  With your one copy, you’ll have the right to share this valuable teaching with your entire team.

In this 70 minute MP3 AUDIO recording on personal evangelism you will learn:

  • How church invitations are part of evangelism
  • How to discover and share your own journey to faith
  • What you can say about the gospel message.
  • How to personally lead someone to faith in Christ.

It’s a 70 minute audio file that takes just a few minutes to download, but it may help you answer the question:

What can you do in the next 90 days to grow in your evangelism skills?

You need to hold your leaders accountable to personal evangelism when you are planting a church, and this is one way to help provide some practical training for them.

Tim Keller on How churches reach cities – Lausanne Capetown 2010

Here’s a 17+ minute video of Tim Keller talking at Lausanne about how you reach cities by

  1. Planting & renewing churches that are contextual to the city,
  2. Establishing citywide gospel movements

By contextual churches, he speaks of planting a church that fits in your context.   As part of that talk he gave these marks to becoming contextual

  1. A multicultural church has to be extremely culturally sensitive.  Your church must expect cultural and racial tensions and accusations of insensitivity.  It will always be present.
  2. Help people integrate work and faith.  People go to cities to work.
  3. Must have urban sensibility: comfortable with change, disorder,
  4. Evangelism in cities needs to reach different cultures and people.  One script does not fit all.
  5. City Churches need to be famous in its care for the poor.
  6. Artists must be taken seriously.
  7. Relationships are extremely important for ministry in a urban context.
  8. A city can’t be reached by one church, or even one network.  You need a city reaching movement.
Keller mentions 10 in his remarks, but I heard 8.

What is a city reaching movement?

When the Body of Christ is growing more rapidly than the general population.  What creates a movement?

  1. Five or six church planting movements in different denominations and networks.  Don’t work to increase your tribe, but to help others get going.  Collaborate.
  2. You need a
  • network of prayer,
  • evangelistic specialists to focus on universities and youth,
  • work on justice and mercy issues,
  • gatherings based on vocation (business people, artists, etc), and
  • have leaders regularly meeting to discern together what the city needs (not turf wars).

Four questions (from Luasanne’s guide):

  1. How can the church develop a clearer awareness of the needs of the cities?
  2. What has been the response of the church in your context to the increased movement of people to the cities?
  3. What are adjustments that the church should make in order to respond to the needs of the city in a relevant way?
  4. How can the global church be mobilized to the missiological challenge of the city?


Reaching a Community Via a Coffeehouse

The Evangelism Office in the Presbyterian Church USA (which is my tribe) is putting out some videos on churches doing innovative things to reach into their community.

Check this one out:

I’m impressed with their strategy of Business as Mission, but using their coffeehouse to not only provide job, but a gathering space in the community that includes worship.

One question that some will ask: “Is this church?”

I believe it is accomplishing the mission of the church – to make disciples.

33 Influential Evangelism Books for 2012

Outreach Magazine compiled a list of 33 influential books in the March 2012 edition.

“Whether you are aspiring to evangelize more effectively, exploring the nuances of ‘missional’ in your life and your church, looking for a great small group curriculum, or just wanting to expand your ministry knowledge in general, we want to help you find the best resources out there.”

I see that I need to catch up on my own reading.

Evangelism Books

Apologetics Books

Leadership and Church Planting


Missional Church

Small Group Curricula


Compassion and Justice


Children’s Outreach

Youth Outreach