I had the chance to meet Mark and pickup his book at a North American Mission Board conference on replanting dying churches. I read the book over the same two days the conference was held, so it is a pretty quick and easy read.
There is a lot to commend about this book. First of all it is well written in a “keep the cookies on the lowest shelf” kind of way. He does not go out of his way to use seminary words like prolepsis and polemic – he just talks about the topic in a way that makes sense to most readers. This is really important because I think it’s average everyday people who have to understand this idea if a movement around replanting will gain ground. Just having some young pastors who are willing to take on a dying church so they can finally be senior pastor is not going to get it done.
The book (and the conference which will be repeated in Feb 2017) do a very good job of redefining the narrative around successful churches. The Southern Baptists, perhaps more than other denominations but at least as much, have majored on numbers for a long time. While it’s true that living things grow and the lack of growth should be a concern, numbers of people in pews is actually never something that is commended in the Bible. Their new definition seems a lot healthier and more biblical is “Success – bearing fruit in the life of a church – means having a pattern of making disciples who make disciples that results in the community being noticeably better.” Note: Having 1500 people show up on a Sunday morning who are total consumers who want things their way and make no meaningful impact on their community is not success in this definition.
One of the real strengths of the book is the empathy it shows for these dying churches. Prior to the conference, I would have said that these places were just stuck in the mud. They need to repent and move on and get with it. The reality is that many of these churches have been hurt over and over by a system of rotating pastors every 2-3 years and have lost faith that there really is a shepherd out there who will shepherd them after God’s own heart (Jer 3:15). Additionally, as Clifton says on p 26, it is frustrating and confusing for a dying church to accept that what worked so well in the past may, in fact, be hastening its demise. It’s hard for these saints bought by the blood of Jesus to see these truths and they need a gentle shepherd who won’t break these bruised reeds.
Honestly I don’t know whether I am cut out for the work of replanting. I feel like I’m a little more missionary than shepherd – I even prefer to use biblical counseling evangelistically than with people who are already in the Kingdom. I think in the right context I probably would be able to do this. The great value of the book is not only that it clarifies for potential replanters whether this is something they might be called to, it also puts a spotlight on a topic the whole church needs to bathe in regular prayer.