Ten years have passed since the release of Planting Missional Churches, the biggest and most important book that Ed Stetzer has written. Now, Daniel Im has partnered with Ed on a significant revision of the book.
In looking over the changes Stetzer and Im made to the original, we get a helpful sense of how church planting in North America has changed in the past decade. Here are five of the most notable changes in the revised edition of Planting Missional Churches.
1. A seismic shift in culture has left churches without the ‘home field’ advantage.
In the 2006 edition, the “seismic shift” that Ed referred to was the newfound attention that church planting was receiving from some of the most prominent churches in North America. The focus on church growth was shifting toward church multiplication.
In the 2016 edition, Stetzer and Im add another shift, but this one concerns the church’s cultural position:
“The church in North America has moved from its place in the center to a place on the side. Even with an increase in church planting and church growth, where more people are attending church than ever before in American history, the culture has not for the most part been changed…”
“Christians have lost their home-field advantage,” they write. “The North American church finds itself on the periphery, having been marginalized by the larger culture…” In response, church planters do their work with this cultural shift in mind, considering North America to be a mission field “in the same way we once considered the underdeveloped world.”
Daniel writes with experience as a Korean church planter from Canada, and he points out the positive side of church planting in this environment: a fully secular generation is indifferent toward the church, not overly positive or negative. The demise of Christendom also helps the church better recognize how the gospel is distinct from Western culture.
2. Church planting conversations include an emphasis on multi-ethnic churches and a reevaluation of the Homogenous Unit Principle.
In the new edition of Planting Missional Churches, an entire chapter focuses on the question of multiethnic or monoethnic churches. Stetzer and Im wade into this conversation carefully. They explain and evaluate the Homogenous Unit Principle of church growth (the idea that healthy, effective, and efficient churches are monoethnic because individuals do not have to deal with all of the issues that arise when ethnic lines are crossed). “The HUP proves to be true,” they write, “but debate persists about whether it is good.”
Complicating matters is the history and legacy of ethnic churches – African American congregations, churches for Somali immigrants, or a Spanish-speaking congregation. Stetzer and Im take the view that both kinds of churches can be faithful to the biblical vision, as long as they work to ensure that multi-ethnic churches do not become “color blind” or that monoethnic churches do not become exclusive clubs.
3. Many church planters today already have a multi-site mindset.
The first edition of Planting Missional Churches said little about multi-site congregations. Today, there are 8000 multi-site churches in the U.S. alone, encompassing 5 million worshippers and outpacing the growth of megachurches.
Daniel and Ed are surprised by the explosion of multi-site churches, which they define as “one church that has two or more locations with a shared leadership, budget, vision, and board.” The model includes mini-models too: video-venue, regional campus, teaching-team, partnership, and low-risk.
Ed and Daniel walk through the legitimate concerns raised about multi-site congregations, but they see benefits in linking church planting to multi-site. Many of the churches most involved in church planting are also the most likely to start new campuses, taking a Both/And approach, or a Both/Then approach (with the goal to spin off these campuses as plants) or a Both/Equal approach (where the campus has autonomy).
4. Church planting residencies are becoming part of theological education.
Over the past decade, enrollment in traditional theological education has dropped significantly.
“Not only are far fewer getting pastorally trained, but the population of the world increased by 500 million over those same ten years…”
To address the leadership gap, seminaries and churches are working together to deliver new models of education and new solutions. Church planting residencies are one of the ways churches and seminaries are partnering to provide education.
“Seminaries are realizing that ministerial training happens best in the context of a local church. Churches are discovering that training someone theologically is completely different from training someone for practical ministry. In other words, both churches and seminaries are realizing they need each other more than ever to address this leadership crisis.”
5. The resurgent need of denominations and networks corresponds to the disappearance of the Emerging Church
Absent from the new edition of Planting Missional Churches is the chapter dealing with the different streams of the Emerging Church. Some might conclude that the theological problems with the Emerging movement led to its disappearance, while others might say that the anti-institutional ethos made the movement unsustainable over time. The truth is probably a mix of both.
Instead of a chapter on the Emerging Church, the new edition features fresh research on how denominations and networks are partnering together and learning from each other.
Denominations that want to become more effective are learning they must become more like networks. Networks that want to last are learning they must become more like denominations.
The revision of Planting Missional Churches updates a great manual for church planters and for churches that want to fan the flames of church planting. I’m grateful for the work of Daniel Im and Ed Stetzer in revising this resource for a new generation of Great Commission Christians.