Towns, Elmer L., and Douglas Porter. Churches That Multiply: A Bible Study on Church Planting. Kansas City, Mo: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2003.
Dr. Elmer Towns, president of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, and Dr. Douglas Porter, pastor of Napanee Baptist Church until his death in 2011, set out to examine church planting through the lessons taught in the books of Acts. But unlike many other church-planting books, this is not simply a book to encourage people to copy the lessons of Paul's journeys recorded in Acts. It is not a book that dictates a single model to follow, as some denominations attempt. Instead, this is a book that sets out to equip and encourage the average church, full of regular people to plant churches through whatever God calls them to do. Towns and Porter write, "this book suggests a bubble up strategy, which means average Christians get a burden to begin a new church" (7). They conceded that a top down method (they call trickle down) and the bottom up method (they call bubble up) are both biblical and may get churches planted, "but this book," write Towns and Porter, "is aimed at getting you and many other members in your Bible study group a vision of how your church can start a new church" (7).
The format implemented by Towns and Porter is straight forward. They simply move through the book of Acts as their chapters progress. Starting with Jesus' post resurrection ministry, they deal with the education of the disciples and the Great Commission and the disciple's role. From this point, everything is driven out of what Towns and Porter see in the various churches in Acts. From the Church in Jerusalem they discuss the importance of saturating a place and a people with the gospel through evangelism. The Church in Samaria becomes a platform for discussing the ministry of the layperson. Antioch is about cross-culture planting and evangelism while Galatia is about overcoming great problems. The Church in Philippi is used to look at relationships, Thessalonica about compassion for people, and the Berean Church is about being rooted in the Scriptures. Understanding a culture is discussed through the lens of the Athens Church, Corinth becomes the setting to examine spiritual gifts in the church, and the Ephesian Church allows Towns and Porter to close with a chapter on leadership training.
Another aspect of each chapter is the many project options that follow. After each chapter, the reader will find sections called "Personal Lessons to Take Away" and "Church Lessons to Take Away." These sections provide additional opportunity for through and discussion, making them ideal for a group study. In addition, these two sections provide different perspectives for the various readers who may be journeying through this book. A pastor or prospective church-planter may be thinking about a larger vision and context for an entire church or church-planting team while the individual may just be thinking about planting in general or a specific role on a team. Having these two sections broke out makes it easy to get to specifics based on personal circumstances. In addition, there are two more post-chapter sections called "Personal Project" and "Church Project." These sections provide many ideas and 'assignments' for individuals thinking about planting or joining a plant as well as Bible study group projects and even church-wide projects related to planting.
One would be disappointed if he or she were looking for the complete 'how-to' of church-planting, if such a book even exists. Churches that Multiply is not written with many specifics, other than what might be extrapolated from the Lessons to Take Away and Project sections. However, Towns and Porter do not claim this is a how-to book. They call this book "A Bible Study on Church Planting" (cover). The set out to ignite a planting vision for a Bible study group, individual, or church. If a group where to work together through this book and engage in the projects, it is likely that they would indeed gain a vision to plant. That being said, Towns and Porter achieved what they set out to do.
A weakness of Churches that Multiply might be found in its format. Using each church in Acts to examine one thing begins to look a bit contrived as the reader moves from chapter to chapter. It almost seems as if the authors first created a list of things they wanted to cover and then assigned those topics to a single church. Actually contrasting these churches with one another may have been more informative. I wonder how relationships differed and what could be learned in the differences and similarities. How did each church deal with their respective culture (because they all did)? Instead, Athens is the only example of dealing with culture. How did the various churches train up leaders, because surely the Ephesians are not the only ones that provide examples? How did these various churches spread the gospel, do evangelism, and stand in the face of opposition?
A strength of Churches that Multiply might also be found in its format. Having simple sections that cover divided sections of the Book of Acts means it is easy to handle a chapter per week or every two weeks. The projects and lesson take aways provide a simple task for a group leader. This book might be a great place for a church planting team to journey for a season. The projects could unite the group around a common theological vision and purpose as well as allow them to learn and grow together. Spending 6 months in this book would greatly help a team develop a plan for their specific church-plant.
While there are many books on church-planting available, Churches that Multiply is great for a group study. Although I have not used it with a study group or to develop a vision for planting, I believe it would make a good resource to do so.
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* This book was recommended to me along with a few other books by a NAMB Send City Church-Planting Coordinator, and for that, I'm thankful.
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