This is a book I hoped to like a lot. I am working through the North American Mission Board’s process to be a replanting pastor and the topic is very interesting to me. I didn’t love it for reasons I’ll explain.
That being said, it is an easy read and I’m glad Mark DeVine and Darrin Patrick wrote it. The book chronicles one church (First Calvary Baptist Church in Kansas City) and its journey through a growing awareness of its status as a dying church, the political infighting of a few influential people who were happy to see the church die provided they remained in charge, and the path the church took (led by Mark) to deal with the problem. Mark and Darrin are both very conversational and they did the reader a favor by simply telling their story. At various places in the book they clarified that they were not trying to write a manual on replanting but just telling the story of one situation.
For what it’s worth, they accomplished what they set out to do. It just wasn’t that ambitious of a goal. The book has very little for anyone to learn other than a fact pattern that went basically unchallenged or even contemplated. The story is presented as though the steps taken were the only possible steps that could be taken and perhaps it’s true. The problem is that they never built (in my opinion) any kind of a basis that argued for why selling out this autonomous church and giving everything to The Journey was the best course of action. It’s not even clear how much other replanting/revitalizing options were considered or what the barriers in Mark’s mind were to their implementation. Pulling back the curtain on this could have been something very valuable to readers drawn to this kind of book but it is noticeably absent.
I have to say that while I sympathized somewhat with Mark as he tells the story with himself being the main character and protagonist, it was hard for me to like him as a character. By his own admission, he got most excited not at the idea of helping these believers find an electrifying identity in Christ, but rather by the prospect of ending their church as they knew it and handing it off to someone who would do more with it than they could (in his opinion). Even his comment about his family being absent from the church created less sympathy for him and more suspicion over how differently he would be processing things had his loved ones been directly affected by his decisions. I am confident my decision making is improved by my wife’s active involvement in it and I didn’t pick up any introspection by Mark as he discussed trying to figure out his next steps absent his wife other than to say that if the church folded or the new owners fired him he’d lose 1/3 of his income and his family would be impacted. To me, he came across much more as a consultant than a pastor and while I’m sure that was not the case in reality it is the way the book reads.
I gave it three stars because I have to admit that once I realized it was not a serious book I started skimming some parts and may have missed something that would counter the things I found lacking. Otherwise I would have given it two stars.
There are so many better books out there on the topic that offer more wisdom, more practical help, a better understanding of the supernatural battle that is replanting, more compassion for the senior saints that tend to be in these churches, etc. The best one I’ve read so far is Mark Clifton’s book Reclaiming Glory but even Darrin’s book Church Planter would equip most people far better to attack this kind of situation than this one did.