Book Review: “Church Planting Movements” by David Garrison (2004)

“How God Is Redeeming a Lost World”

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I felt deeply convicted by this book,  specifically how it highlighted my lack of vision in ministry, my apparent lack of passion, and what these two shortcomings suggest about the size of my God! I’ve taken the Perspectives course and I’ve read the articles, but perhaps time and boots-on-the-ground reality have chilled my fervor over the years. Yet in this book, David Garrison shares a powerful three-part dissection of the global phenomenon of Church Planting Movements (CPMs), and I firmly believe that Parts 3-4 should be essential reading for all prospective missionaries, pastors, and lay leaders. After first introducing a number of various CPMs around the globe from recent times (Part 2), Garrison then reveals how his team of Strategy Coordinators reverse-engineered those Movements to uncover their most essential elements and dangers (Part 3), before challenging his readers to evaluate their own ministries to discover how they can set their lukewarm church ablaze with a passion for church planting (Part 4).

I cannot go into great detail about all I learned from this book, but before describing how this book has affected me personally, I’d like at least to share his summarized conclusions about what churches need to see such a movement start from within themselves and what dangers they should avoid along the way.

10 Universal Elements at Work in Every Church Planting Movement:

  1. Extraordinary Prayer
  2. Abundant Evangelism
  3. Intentional Planting of Reproducing Churches
  4. The Authority of God’s Word
  5. Local Leadership
  6. Lay Leadership
  7. House Churches
  8. Churches Planting Churches
  9. Rapid Reproduction
  10. Healthy Churches (David Garrison, Church Planting Movements, 147)

10 Elements Present In Most Church Planting Movements:

  1. A Climate of Uncertainty in Society
  2. Insulation from Outsiders
  3. A High Cost for Following Christ
  4. Bold Fearless Faith
  5. Family-Based Conversion Patterns
  6. Rapid Incorporation of New Believers
  7. Worship in the Heart Language
  8. Divine Signs and Wonders
  9. On-the-Job Leadership Training
  10. Missionaries Suffered (David Garrison, Church Planting Movements, 199)

7 Deadly Sins for Church Planting Movements:

  1. The First Deadly Sin: Blurred Vision (You can’t hit what you can’t see.)
  2. The Second Deadly Sin: Improving the Bible (Think it can’t be done? Just watch…)
  3. The Third Deadly Sin: Sequentialism (Inch by inch, step by step…)
  4. The Fourth Deadly Sin: Unsavory Salt (When the salt loses its savor…)
  5. The Fifth Deadly Sin: The Devil’s Candy (Shortcuts to glory.)
  6. The Sixth Deadly Sin: Alien Abduction (Who’s in charge here?)
  7. The Seventh Deadly Sin: Blaming God (Divine dismissal is still dismissal!) (David Garrison, Church Planting Movements, 216)

Garrison challenges his readers to rank from 1-10 all 27 of these points, as they exist in their own current ministries, and then to ask all their co-laborers to do the same. The results will amplify just where each ministry struggles most and will help each to take those necessary first steps in the right direction.

Personally, I came to realize a number of blind areas in my own life and ministry after reading this book, and I’m very grateful for the spotlight it provided me. First, he says that “essential to every movement is the principle of over-sowing.” I’ve long been a fan of “relational evangelism”—but perhaps for too long, and perhaps for too long I’ve also excused my lack of urgency as “a need for caution” or as simply “a part of the culture here,” without ever really trying to emulate Christ and His Apostles in this matter of fervent evangelism to the multitudes. “If nature’s principle of sowing abundantly to reap abundantly is true, then so is its opposite: if you sow sparingly, you will reap sparingly. Wherever hostile governments or societal pressure has succeeded in stifling Christian witness, Church Planting Movements never get off the ground. This simple truth is so powerful, and yet many well-intentioned missionaries accomplish every lofty ideal except this one.” (152) Ouch.

Secondly, Garrison shares a great bit of fatherly advice to “the suffering missionary” by offering some ideas to help us stay in the Lord’s work for the long haul:

  1. Find an accountability partner with whom to share openly and honestly. A good accountability partner will tell what you need to hear and not just what you’d like to hear. For the sake of objectivity, the accountability partner should be someone other than one’s spouse.
  2. Commit to the spiritual disciplines of daily quiet time and regular church involvement. It’s easy for those in the ‘religion business’ to become stale in their personal walk with the Lord.
  3. Commit to the disciplines of regular physical exercise and proper diet. Missionaries have a habit of de-prioritizing their own physical needs until it is too late.
  4. Set limits to the number of nights each month or year to be away from home. Commit to regular date nights with one’s spouse. Work at marriage with a goal of making it better this year than it was last year.
  5. Schedule time with one’s children. Put their school holidays and family vacation time on the calendar before everything else. Bring them into your inner prayer circle. As they see the ministry through your eyes, they will catch the vision and become your greatest team members.
  6. Develop a strong prayer network of support. Watch, fight, and pray!
  7. Stay humble and grateful that God has allowed you the privilege of serving him. Missionaries who maintain a posture of humility and gratitude serve longer and live longer!
  8. Remember there is an Enemy. The adversary is not flesh and blood, but principalities and powers—spiritual darkness in high places. So avoid seeing individuals—Christian or non-Christian—as enemies. (213)

Thirdly, I really enjoyed his back-and-forth about the benefits of a House-Church structure over that of Cell Groups. For reasons I’ll not share here, I’ve been trying for a long time to help my people move away from the traditional church structure to the far more personal and fluid cell group, with a training hub at the center and trainers training teachers from there on out. Thus far, the initial stages have been largely successful, yet from Garrison’s discussions, I can see how limiting this hub-attached cell structure can be. While I absolutely desire for my Tier 1 Trainers to become hubs themselves, I still can understand the disconnect this has from the more independent structure of House Churches. His overall discussion on the matter was enlightening (though not centralized in any one section of the book, snippets appear on pp.165, 212, and 246-249).

Finally, Garrison’s book forced me to consider if such a CPM could ever be accomplished through the Group of believers with whom I currently work. My initial response (which I wrote directly into my copy of the book) was: “I look at our Group and doubt its potential, yet this is not my call. If [the current pastor] wants to keep holding them back, he can, but one day he won’t be here and they will remain. At that point, things could truly explode!” Clearly, we’ve got our own hurdles to cross, and while Garrison doesn’t deal specifically with flawed leadership that might hold a church back from becoming a CPM, he does describe five key ingredients to any healthy CPM—Vision, Training, Passion, Co-Laborers, and Accountability—before describing what might result when any one of these are missing—confusion, anxiety, slow action, frustration, or false starts (263). It was through this final survey that I learned how my own current ministry lacks the vision and passion necessary to become a useful tool in God’s hands as He accomplishes what He’s already doing in my little corner of Earth. It’s a convicting realization, and I just pray that I can help “fan into flame” that passion once more.

I truly enjoyed this book, and I plan to review Parts 3-4 in order to walk my group of trainers through these lists of necessary elements and potential danger points. I can’t expect everyone to read the book for themselves, so my job as Teacher is to take what I’m learning and pass it on. May the Lord bless this process and may His Spirit be at work in what we do here!

©2017 E.T.

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