Top Ten Books on Church Planting

One of the most frequent questions I get from church planters is: What do you recommend as the best books for church planters to read?
As an avid reader who has planted churches on the East Coast and the West Coast, and a person who is devoted full time to helping equip church planters, this is a difficult question to answer. I have sought to avail myself to most all the resources out there on church planting. There are a lot of good books on this topic.
I should have probably wrote a post entitled my top 20 books on church planting, because it would have been a somewhat easier list to make. In addition, I’m sure there are some books that should make this top ten list that I haven’t read, and some that are yet to be published. But for now, this would be my top ten recommendations for church planters when it comes to church planting.
Most of these books directly deal with church planting. Some indirectly relate but give some important theological and theoretical grounding. I have put them in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of importance.

Creating Communities of the Kingdom by David W. Shenk and Ervin Stutzman

This book gives some New Testament grounding to planting churches. It gets very practical with issues that church planters need to think about. Some of the topics that they address include: the message of the church, prayer, calling and commissioning, the team, vision and planning, the power of God, developing the congregation, gospel and culture, peoples and places, discipling and training, leadership and accountability, facilities and finances.

51C8Gjes+xL._SL110_Prodigal Christianity by David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw

Fitch and Holsclaw give us ten signposts that will help planters engage in mission well. They help us understand our post-christendom context, missio dei, the implications of incarnation, what it means to be witnesses, the foundation of scripture, the gospel, the church, relationships and justice. If you want to plant a missional church, this book will help you understand concrete ways to be the church today.

51FR+bzYTCL._SL110_Planting Churches in the 21st Century by Stuart Murray

While Murray’s book Church Planting gives a theological understanding for planting, this book answers the practical questions of “Why plant?” “How to plant?” “Where to plant?” “When to plant?” “What to plant? and “Who to plant with?” Stuart lives in the UK and writes from this perspective, which I think is helpful for us in the US.

The Essence of the ChurchThe Essence of the Church by Craig Van Gelder

Too often church planters quickly go to pragmatic books, without a strong theological understanding of the nature and ministry of the church. In this book Craig Van Gelder gives us some deep theological reflections that have practical implications for church planters. This rich read includes historical views of the church, a missional understanding of the church and well as issues like the organizational life of the church.

The Forgotten WaysThe Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch

Hirsch’s central thesis in this central book to his thinking is that God has implanted a missional DNA (mDNA) in every church that seeks to follow Jesus in any time. This mDNA comes in the form of six simple but interrelating elements and forms a complex living structure – that, when identified and activated, creates an apostolic movement that spontaneously expands. Here is my literary review of this book.

The New ParishThe New Parish by Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens and Dwight J. Friesen

What would it look like if God’s reign were more fully realized in your neighborhood? In The New Parish, Paul, Tim and Dwight team up to answer this question in concrete ways. With a rich theology of place and practice, they guide us in how to have a humble posture and be a faithful presence in the neighborhood. I’m glad to see the new books that emphasize the importance of place. This is one of the best.

The Permanent RevolutionThe Permanent Revolution by Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim

Hirsch and Catchim successfully make the case that the Church of Jesus Christ has been designed with “built in, self-generative capacities” for world transformation. They contend that if we can recapture the dynamics of apostolic movement, built on the fivefold ministry, then we can become a part of the permanent revolution empowered by God himself. An important red in regard to movemental thinking. Here is my review of this book.

The Search to BelongThe Search to Belong by Joseph Myers

In this book Joseph Myers gives the sociological importance of understanding the importance of intimate, personal, social and public space. Myers builds upon the work of the sociologist, Edwin T. Hall and does a masterful job of thinking about what it really means to belong. Here is a post I did on the implications of this for planters, and here is another post on this implications for discipleship. If I had a top 12 books on church planting, his other book Organic Community would definitely make my list as well. Here is my review of Organic Community.

TradecraftTradecraft by Caleb Crider, Larry Mcrary, Rodney Calfee and Wade Stephens

If you want to plant a missional church, then you need to start to think like a missionary. That is exactly what Caleb, Larry, Rodney and Wade do in this book. The central question they are seeking to address is: How will we think and live like missionaries in the everyday rhythms of our lives wherever we are? Themes they engage include following the Spirit, mapping, exegeting culture, building relationships, identifying persons of peace, engaging tribes, contextualization, and protecting indigeneity.

Viral ChurchesViral Churches by Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird

If you want some practical wisdom to move from simply being a church planter to a movement maker, then you need to read this book. Too often we think to small, (i.e. God called me to plant a church), when in reality, it is likely that God wants to use you to help build a movement. This book gives some of the latest research in regard to church planting and helps you think wisely about how to plant churches that plant churches.
As I mentioned earlier, there are some excellent books that would have made my top ten list that are soon to be released. One of those books that you as a planter need to keep on your radar will be released near the start of 2015. It is entitled, Subterranean: A Radical Rootedness for the Future of the Church, by my friend Dan White Jr.
If you are looking for a solid and practical book on raising funds for your new plant, my top recommendation would be Funding Your Ministry by Scott Morton.
In the future I plan to share with you my top ten books on leadership, the missional church, evangelism as well as other top ten lists. Until then, I trust that God might use these books to resource you for meaningful ministry.
So what books would make your top ten list on church planting for church planters?
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Image credit Jules Morgan.

About the Author

JR Woodward


JR Woodward has been passionately planting churches on the East and West Coast that value tight-knit community, life-forming discipleship, locally-rooted presence and boundary-crossing mission for over 25 years. He is the author of Creating a Missional Culture (IVP, 2012) and co-author of The Church as Movement (IVP, 2016). He co-founded the Missio Alliance and currently serves as the National Director for the V3 Church Planting Movement. He is the co-founder of the Praxis Gathering and writes for numerous websites and journals. He has a Masters of Arts in Global Leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary and is working on his PhD at the University of Manchester (UK). He loves to surf, travel, read, skateboard and meet new people. He enjoys photography and film and tries to attend the Sundance Film Festival whenever he can.

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