Book Review: “Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century” by Aubrey Malphurs (1998)


Bibliographical Entry

Malphurs, Aubrey. Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century: A Comprehensive Guide for New Churches and Those Desiring Renewal. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 1998.

Author Information

Dr. Aubrey Malphurs is the founder of The Malphurs Group, an association helping non-profit organizations and ministries in leadership training and strategic planning.[1] Malphurs is also a prolific author of more than twenty book and a Professor of Pastoral Ministries at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). Malphurs both writes and teaches from an extensive background of experience in church planting, pasturing and leadership, and he seeks not to keep the limits of his influence within the borders of the United States but has partnered with other like-minded organizations all over the world. Malphurs received his Master of Theology from DTS in 1978 and his PhD in 1981 and has spent the most recent years teaching at DTS and consulting for the Malphurs Group.[2]

Content Summary

In Planting Growing Churches, Aubrey Malphurs offers one of the best and most practical guides to church planting available by discussing the WHY (Malphurs, Part 1), the WHO (Part 2) and the HOW (Part 3) of planting churches at home and abroad which are living, growing and ultimately reproductive, and he concludes his book with a wealth of pertinent information in both a Church Planter’s Workbook and collection of informative appendices. This summary will cover the main text of Planting. Malphurs bases his charge of reproduction to American churches on his optimism for the future of Christ’s Church, based primarily on a key text found in Matthew 16:18 (13, 40), where Christ promises a long and protected life to His Church, against which even Hell cannot prevail.

In Part 1 of Planting, Malphurs delivers a four-chapter introduction to church planting in general by discussing the WHY of church planting. He begins in Chapter 1 by defining church planting  as a tiring but prosperous process of faith which both trusts Christ’s promise of Matthew 16:18 and obeys His Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 (19).[3] He follows this in Chapter 2 with four reasons why church planting is necessary: that new churches are necessary (32), that Christ promised He would continue to build His Church (40), that the Great Commission commands it (41) and finally that the fresh churches bring great advantages to the Christian cause (43). In Chapter 3 Malphurs discusses the funding of new churches based entirely on trust in God’s provision (47, 233) and follows it in Chapter 4 with a discussion of six important ingredients to church planting, such as evangelism (62), functions (66) and faith (71).

In Part 2, Malphurs discusses through two chapters the WHO of church planting by focusing on its leadership. He begins in Chapter 5 with a proposal for personal assessment, suggesting that the reader evaluate himself, for instance his character (84), his gifts (85), his strengths and his limitations (81) in order to determine his own leadership qualities. Then in Chapter 6, Malphurs discusses the leadership necessary for church planting. Because Malphurs advocates the need for team planters rather than solo planters (95), he focuses on the leadership needed first in the team and then in the church (96). Such leaders need character (97), direction (99) and influence (100) and must prefer biblical servant-leadership (113) over absolute (111) or even co-leadership (112).

With these foundational elements of both the reasons and the people behind church planting, Malphurs then spends the final seven chapters discussing the HOW of church planting, comparing it to the growth cycle of a human being (23). In Chapter 7, Malphurs opens with the conception stage where the planter discovers his values (118), develops his mission (124) and vision (130) and scans his target environment (128).  He continues the conception stage in Chapter 8 with the design (135) and implementation (162) of a strategy, as well as an appraisal of ongoing ministry performance (163). Chapter 9 focuses on the development stage of the church by discussing the gathering (166), cultivation (172) and growth (181) of a solid core group of believers. In Chapter 10, Malphurs introduces the birth stage by discussing the timing of starting the church (186) and such practical things as naming (190) and publicizing (202) the church. Chapters 11 and 12 deal with the growth and maturity stages of the church, and Chapter 13 takes the whole discussion back, full circle, to the reproduction stage where the new church is ready to plant a daughter church of her own.


Compared to all other required reading for this course thus far, Aubrey Malphurs’ Planting Growing Churches has been by far the best and most practical read. Malphurs successfully accomplished his intent behind this work by clearly laying out a practical guide for planting not simply a church, but a living, growing, reproductive church that both evangelizes the lost and edifies the believing. The following evaluation will emphasize the foundational ideas upon which Planting is based, both the style and method of Malphurs’ writing, and the many positives and few negatives of the book.

To understand the foundation upon which Planting is based, one must understand that Malphurs writes from a standpoint which views the United States first pessimistically as a post-Christian society, but also optimistically as a society which will again experience the promise that Christ will continue to build His Church (13). Also, Malphurs writes from and to a predominantly Baptist background and therefore references the all-too-common culture-clash situations upon which Baptists often hang, for example the generational gap (20, 68-69, Appendix G), mediocrity in service (70, Appendix C), congregational in-reach (216, Appendix A) and apathy in evangelism (202, Appendix D). Finally, because Malphurs’ text presupposes the goal of the audience church to reach a membership of 200 individuals (188), he implies that both the smaller and larger groups adapt the information within accordingly.

Malphurs’ writing style supports his work extremely well, for throughout his book he writes in a structure that is both well-organized and simple. His entire text derives obviously from a succinct outline which advances logically and quickly, making for a simple yet effective and motivating read. Throughout his book he dribbles in real-life examples from both his own ministry and other well-known ministries, such as Saddleback Valley Community Church under Rick Warren (146, 249). In the beginnings of each chapter in Part 3 of his book, The Process of Church Planting, Malphurs also imaginatively follows the planting ministry of one fictional seminarian, Bill Smith. These brief introductions offer a hint of realism that help motivate the reader to picture the possibilities attainable in his own ministry.

The method of Malphurs’ work also motivates the reader to greater ministerial heights. His claims and statistics are well-documented and often illustrated with helpful graphs (specifically in Chapters 6 and 8), and he encourages the reader to further study and personal assessment by offering useful websites (i.e. 16, 52, 56) and even outside reading (92, 99). Malphurs breaks his text down into three easy-to-understand sections which answer the WHO, the HOW and the WHY of church planting, but perhaps the best method Malphurs uses to drive his points home is his use of definition. Rather than offering simple definitions and moving on, Malphurs often takes a full page to describe just why he defines a certain word (i.e. vision, 131) or phrase (i.e. church planting, 19) the way he does. Such a tool certainly makes the definitions more memorable.

The positive qualities of Malphurs’ book so outweigh the negatives that a paper such as this could not begin to make mention of them all. However, this paper will scratch the surface by making particular mention of the following: Planting compared to other books of its kind, Planting’s practicality and clarity, Planting’s pre-planting process, Planting’s focus on leadership and Planting’s focus on evangelism.

First, Malphurs’ book stands above both David Hesselgrave’s Planting Churches Cross-Culturally[4] and E.R. McManus’ Unstoppable Force[5] as a guide to planting churches in the world today. Both Hesselgrave and Malphurs touch on similar issues in the church-planting process—Hesselgrave focusing on planting churches in the ME-2 and ME-3 contexts and Malphurs focusing more on planting churches in ME-1 contexts—but while Hesselgrave follows a particular ten-step process called the “Pauline Cycle” which may or may not work exactly in every church-planting situation, Malphurs discusses principles and purposes of why one should plant, descriptions of who should plant and in-depth suggestions for how one should plant a church, all of which can adapt easily to most every situation in all contexts and in all cultures.

Malphurs’ Planting also contains a clarity and practicality that give the reader a seat at the table with a team of church planters as they work through each step of the church-planting process. As mentioned above, Malphurs’ method of delivery and style of writing are commendable and make for a satisfying and invigorating read. His personal advice and suggestions (i.e. suggestions for ministry coaches, 52; for planting as a team, 95; for uses of governing boards, 228; etc.) stem obviously from a lifetime of experiences and lessons learned first-hand from his own failures and successes. Such writing adds a personal touch which endears the book even more to the reader’s life.

Malphurs also offers a great deal of pre-planting information necessary to the church-planting process, including a proper description of what the ministry entails (Chapter 1), the reasons for going about it in the first place (Chapter 2) and even the feasibility of paying for it all (Chapter 3). Such careful attention to determining both the motives and the ability of the would-be planters makes his book not only an effective How-To of church-planting, but also a fantastic introduction to the ministry as a whole.

Of course, part of this focus on the ability of the would-be church planters also involves the leadership aspect, which is yet another big positive of Malphurs’ book. Understanding that not everyone called to plant churches is called to lead church planting teams, Malphurs helps his readers better comprehend which role in the planting process they are called to play through the use of personal assessment (84). He then focuses on the leaders of the teams, showing how servant-leadership is of ultimate importance (113, 176), as are also trust (97) and direction (101).

Finally, Malphurs’ focus on  the importance of evangelism is also a huge positive for his book. Malphurs calls church planting the best form of evangelism (41) and suggests that Christ uses it to build His universal Church (13). While he acknowledges that it is easier to plant a new church than it is to revive a dying one (14), Malphurs focuses on planting daughter churches from any type of church—either a growing church, a plateaued church, or a dying church (255-6)—and also touches on planting indigenous churches amongst the totally unchurched both at home and abroad (12, 321).

The negative qualities of Malphurs’ book are few, though they do exist. One negative is in regards to smaller or indigenous churches. While the majority of his information can work, as stated above, in all contexts and cultures, his focus on groups targeting two hundred members can cause difficulties for much smaller ministries in indigenous countries, specifically with regards to the core group (166-172). Focusing more on hot starts (168) than on cold-start (166),  he suggests that a church can consider planting a new body once they have a minimum of fifty dedicated believers (188). Such numbers would be impossible in contexts like China where the government outlaws gatherings of thirty or more people. While a small group or cold-start planting team can still follow the principles laid out in this book, suggestions and statistics meeting their own numerical standards would be helpful.

Aubrey Malphurs has delivered a powerful yet easy-to-read guide in Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century. Anyone with a burden to see new churches planted or old churches revived would be wise to read and apply the practical principles laid out this book.

[1] Retrieved from

[2] Retrieved from and

[3] See also Mark 16:15, Luke 24:46-48 and Acts 1:8

[4] Hesselgrave, David J. Planting Churches Cross Culturally: North America and Beyond (2nd edition). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000.

[5] McManus, Erwin Raphael. An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind. Loveland, CO: Group, 2001. McManus’ book, dealing primarily with imaginative theory, is in a sub- class of its own and will therefore not be discussed

© 2010 E.T.

This entry was posted in Book Review, Church Planting, Non-Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Book Review: “Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century” by Aubrey Malphurs (1998)

  1. Errol Bartholomew says:

    This book has been very helpful to me as a church planter. I have adapted its material to my context in the Caribbean. I am presently searching for reliable testing for personality and temperaments that could be used in developing my team of leaders.

    If you can assist in any way, I would be most appreciative.


  2. Pingback: Book Review: “Planting Missional Churches” by Ed Stetzer (2006) | Elliot's Blog

  3. Pingback: Book Review: “A New Kind of Church” by Aubrey Malphurs (2007) | Elliot's Blog

  4. Pingback: Book Review: “11 Innovations in the Local Church” by Elmer Towns, Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird (2007) | Elliot's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s