Book Review: Proliferate: A Church Planting Strategy for Everyday Churches, by Jason Crandall
Jason Crandall, Proliferate: A Church Planting Strategy for Everyday Churches. Lucid Books, 2017. 120 pps, $11.99.
Jason Crandall is a nobody, and he wants you and me to know that nobodies play an important role in the expansion of God’s kingdom through the proliferation of local churches. This conviction led him to write Proliferate: A Church Planting Strategy for Everyday Churches.
In his book, Crandall, the lead pastor of CityView Church in Houston, attacks the notion that only mega-churches led by mega-pastors can be used by God to plant churches. Instead, he proposes that “Everyday Churches” (churches with under 200 in attendance), which comprise 85% of evangelical churches in America, must see that they also play a vital role. His argument is straightforward. Crandall believes that “all churches should be involved in church multiplication in some manner” (3).
He uses the remainder of his book to lay out a strategy for how this can take place. Everyday churches can participate in the proliferation of local churches by employing the 5 Cs: Conviction, Collaboration, Capture a Vision, Communication, and Calling. Chapter by chapter, Crandall discusses each idea and explains how, when taken together, they provide a unified strategy for getting involved in the work of planting churches. Finally, in the appendices at the end of the book, he provides a number of tools to aid these churches in their work of proliferation.
There are a number of things I appreciate about Crandall’s book. Foremost among them is Crandall’s reminder to church members that God intends to use them in making his glory known throughout the earth. He writes, “Nobodies like you and me are the people God uses. . . . God has always used nobodies” (12). Christians on every continent would do well to be reminded of this. But here in America, with our cultural predisposition toward being infatuated with celebrities, it’s crucial to remember that our God is no respecter of persons. Christians in America can so often fall into the trap of thinking that if they don’t attend a mega-church or have a celebrity pastor, then God isn’t interested in using them to make his name known. Crandall, in a very clear way, attacks and undermines this false belief.
Similarly, I was encouraged by Crandall’s confidence in Christ’s ultimate victory over the powers of darkness. This confidence permeates every page and drives his desire to see churches involved in the work of multiplication. Citing Matthew 16:13–18, Crandall concludes, “The church wins! We all win! It includes famous Christians, powerful speakers, and successful pastors, but it also includes me and the Everyday Church I lead” (37).
Too often, I find myself discouraged by the increasing secularism in America, and the opposition that’s likely to come for Christians. Crandall’s confidence was a refreshing reminder that not even the gates of hell will prevail against Christ and his church.
He also offers simple, practical advice throughout the book for pastors who want to get their churches involved in multiplication but don’t know where to start. He dedicates an entire chapter to the importance of collaboration, both inside and outside the church. This is such a useful chapter for pastors who are wondering how to encourage their church to adopt a vision for multiplication.
One of the most basic, yet helpful tips he gives for creating a church planting culture within a congregation is reading good books on church planting with other members and leaders in the church. I know this from experience because it’s among the most effective ways my senior pastor has instructed and shaped our congregation over the last 20 years. It’s an approach I plan to implement in the future.
Clearly, the book has its strengths, but those strengths are overshadowed by weaknesses.
First, and this a minor critique, Crandall provides two distinct aims for his book, yet only follows through on one. He says that his book is both an argument and a how-to manual (3). In his introduction, he states that he intends to make the argument “that all churches should be involved in church multiplication in some manner.” However, he never follows through on supporting that argument. He merely states it as a matter of fact and then proceeds to show how “Everyday Churches” can participate in the work of church multiplication.
A second, and slightly more serious, critique is Crandall’s questionable handling of Scripture. He uses Acts 13:1–3 as his basis for a number of principles that form the backbone of the book. However, the connections between these principles and Acts 13:1–3 are tenuous at best. For instance, in arguing for the need for a church to communicate carefully about its desire to be involved in church proliferation, he cites Acts 13:1a: “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers.” He argues that since Luke is descriptively recording that there were prophets and teachers present at Antioch, that church leaders today should be faithful to teach and preach the Word (83). Now, I obviously support this conclusion. Church leaders definitely should be faithful to teach and preach the Word. I just wouldn’t base that argument on Acts 13:1a.
My final critique is even more serious and has to do with Crandall’s assumption that church multiplication should be rapid. To “proliferate” means to increase rapidly in number, so when Crandall argues that Everyday Churches should proliferate, he’s arguing they should multiply rapidly.
Of course, I’m not opposed to the proliferation of churches if it’s manifestly evident that God is blessing and empowering those churches. I’m just not convinced from Scripture that God has given us a reason to believe that the church will or should multiply rapidly. Jesus likens the spread of the kingdom of God to a tree, and Paul describes the church as a body. Both of these organisms grow slowly.
But Crandall clearly believes Everyday Churches can and should multiply rapidly. As a result, he argues for methods like “planting pregnant,” which means to plant a church in which there’s a group of individuals already prepared to plant another church. The problem with this is that if we hold the analogy of a church being a body, then a church plant is a new body, like an infant, and so to argue for “planting pregnant” is to argue that infants are mature enough to procreate. Furthermore, Crandall encourages churches to set goals for themselves like planting a new church within 18 months of establishing a church, and holds out his own church’s goal of planting 100 churches in 25 years as an example. The danger with this kind of thinking is that, over time, speed inevitably becomes more important than faithfulness.
In Proliferate, Jason Crandall makes the argument that smaller churches should be involved in the work of planting churches. I applaud him for that. However, his questionable use of Scripture and his assumption that church planting will be rapid are errors that should be avoided. As long as you’re aware of those errors, this book will have some helpful insights for the prospective church planter who’s wanting to learn from the experience of someone who’s gone before him.