Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers

There has been an explosion in the number of new church starts over the past fifteen years. Along with this has come an avalanche of church planting strategies, in the form of books, articles, workshops, seminars, and conferences. It seems every denomination is placing an emphasis on starting new congregations.  Most seminary graduates would rather start a new church than seek a position with an established congregation.  Good or bad, these are the facts.  And, in reality, this passion for planting churches seems to have been the factor behind a surprising new statistic – each year, more churches are being started than are closing!  In other words, the total number of churches is no longer declining in America.

The purpose of this book is clearly stated: to help the reader “develop a church multiplication movement – an exponential birth of new congregations that engage lost people, and that replicate themselves through even more new churches.”

This is not just another book about church planting.  In this work, the authors outline the practices and principles that lead to, and sustain, effective church multiplication movements.  Taking their cue from the concept of viral marketing, the authors point out that a virus doesn’t re-create itself from scratch.  Viruses spread from one entity to another; from one passionate congregation to the next.  Every church, in a real sense, must be pregnant from birth!  That is, its DNA must include a passion to reproduce itself.

The authors call church planting, the “new evangelism.”  I agree.  However, I disagree with them on one point. On page 20 they state, “church planting was the dominant method of evangelism in the New Testament.”  It seems to me that church planting in the New Testament was the result of making disciples.  It appears they have it backwards.  The Great Commission begins with making disciples, not planting churches.

It has been said, the best way to evangelize a city is to plant churches.  In my opinion, the best way to plant churches is to evangelize and make disciples throughout the city.  Church planting is not the end goal for a follower of Jesus.  Our purpose is to make disciples of all nations, and as we make disciples, we gather them into communities of faith to live as a local expression of the Body of Christ.

It is critically important we get our metrics right.  If it is true, “we replicate what we celebrate,” why not make discipleship the thing we celebrate?

Having said that, the chapter entitled, “The New Scorecard” is excellent.  The information found in this chapter is worth the cost of the book. Have you ever wondered why a real, explosive, exponential, Acts-like church multiplication movement has never occurred in America?   Drawing from the work of David Garrison, Church Planting Movements (2003, Wigtake Resources) and Ed Stetzer’s own research through Leadership Network, the authors identify eight obstacles to a church multiplication movement in North America.  Simply powerful!

I believe you’ll find this book to be valuable resource for “hands-on” advice for church planters, and church-planting churches as well.  It may challenge you to look beyond the accepted metrics in our consumer-driven churches, and seek to discover what Christ desires of His church – to be the movement that turns the world upside down!

Reviewed by Larry Doyle

Information on the book:

Authors:  Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird
ISBN: 9780-0-470-55045-8
244 pages
Josey-Bass Publishers

About Larry Doyle

Larry is the Director of Missions for the Piedmont Baptist Association. He has served overseas with the International Mission Board (SBC), in Charlotte NC as the Director of International Ministries, and as a pastor in North Carolina and Kentucky. He is married to Rebekah Hill, a native of Greensboro NC, and has two children and three grandchildren.
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