When I first read Starting Missional Churches edited by Mark Lau Branson and Nick Warnes, I thought – ah, ok. I get it. Church planting for blue states. In this book, they move beyond conventional church planting wisdom that often emanates from red state church practices. These conventions describe starting churches in new suburbs, splitting off from a mother church to create a daughter church (either amicably or not), hiring experts to do demographics and church marketing, and forming the community around a particular inspirational young male. Starting Missional Churches advocates an entirely different model. It provides a church planting strategy that discerns God’s work in urban neighborhoods, comprised of leaders not tied to a particular mother church, where each member connects with neighbors as partners (thus no need for experts), and where a plural team contains all the gifts needed for the plant.
After thinking about this a bit more, I realized that the Blue State/Red state dichotomy minimalizes the significance of this work. I thought maybe it is better to characterize the book in a larger frame, maybe as Church Planting in Post-Christendom. Why Post-Christendom? Christendom describe those typically Western contexts where people have a pre-conceived positive notion of what one might expect from a church service. Members invite their friends to church to hear an inspiring speaker and to receive the services that spiritual consumers desire to meet their needs. In Post-Christendom, an invitational strategy does not work because spiritual consumers eschew organized religion. A church building is antithetical to the spiritual pursuit. Organic relationships, yes, institutions, no. Churches that thrive in Post-Christendom create spaces where each member is a co-creator of their own spiritual growth in a community where they support one other through vibrant Christian practice. Yes, there are leaders, but they serve one another, in relationship, fostering the community to live their lives in God. Community life functions as an informal mentorship in vibrant Christian living, often in urban contexts.
After some more thinking – I realized that Post-Christendom was possibly a too limited frame for this book as well. Post-Christendom assumes that Christianity is or was a significant part of the cultural landscape. Starting Missional Churches makes no such assumption. It is a book I could hand to anyone starting a church outside Western contexts. It provides a highly relational organic model of church planting that leaders might use in any context, such as in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Creating relational communities in God with local neighbors is a model that works in places that have never known Christendom.
So, in Starting Missional Churches, we have a church planting model that works for blue states, for Post-Christendom, and for leaders in the majority world. But then I thought, maybe the significance of Starting Missional Churches is even bigger than that? Circling around, how might the book be applied in red-state cultures? I would trust my sisters and brothers in those contexts to have the greatest insights here. But in my conversations with my friends and colleagues in megachurch-friendly cultures, I understand that in every red state and every site of Christendom there are people who are hungry for a 24/7 spirituality that connects all of life – urban, suburban, Christians, non-Christians, leaders and followers, neighbors and networks together. So, even within a megachurch context, Starting Missional Churches could foster a prophetic movement from a Sunday-spectator model to a networked church of neighborhood groups, living as the church in day-to-day life, but still connecting to the wider group on Sunday.
So, I could hand Starting Missional Churches to any team who not only wants to start a church but even those who desire to initiate new communities of God within larger church systems, within democratic or republican regions, within the West and outside the West. As a professor, I have never held in my hand a church planting book that I could use in both my church classes and in my mission classes. That is, until today. Thank you Mark Lau Branson and Nick Warnes, along with the six other authors who tell their story, for creating this much needed volume. I plan on using Starting Missional Churches as a core book in my classes at Fuller Seminary immediately.