Joel Comiskey divides the book into three sections in which he outlines: first, the foundations of a simple church; second, the principles of a simple church; third, the strategies for starting simple churches. He supplies many personal examples from his own church planting ministry experience, which is helpful. He also provides many examples of others who are in the trenches of planting simple church movements around the world. The examples of widespread simple church movements open one’s eyes to the possibility of rectifying many of the frustrations found in present ministry models. This is a breath of fresh air.
Comiskey begins the first section of the book by repeatedly emphasizing the difficulty of planting a new church. This is especially helpful for any who read this book. He does not leave out the harsh realities of beginning from scratch. The author likens church plants to cacti in the desert. He clearly states the truth when he proclaims that a church planter must win people to Christ or the church plant will not survive. This goes along with the principle that without people there is no church. One must grow to survive is the clear message of the author. Comiskey also clearly points out the need for developing leadership within the pilot small group. There must be training that takes place at a separate time to ensure that the believers within the pilot group are growing spiritually and being equipped to minister within the small group. Once a believer completes the training he is equipped to lead his own small group. Comiskey emphasizes the importance of every member being a minister within the group. This helps people to grow spiritually and to be carrying out the biblical principles of Christianity. Yet, the author never hides the reality of hardship in church planting. The honesty is refreshing.
Next, the author defines for his readers what it actually means to be a simple church. He repeatedly emphasizes the importance of the church model being simple enough so that it may be reproduced elsewhere. If the model is too complicated it will not be reproduced. Comiskey sets forth four principles which he believes help to define simply what a church is: first, it should have more than three people (Mt. 18:15-35); second, there should be God-appointed leadership; third, it operates under Christ’s lordship; fourth, it practices baptism and the Lord’s Supper.1 The author completes the first section by providing ample N.T. examples of a simple church model. In the two works which I have been exposed to so far, Comiskey attempts to recover a biblical model of doing ministry. This is admirable and inspiring.
In the second section, the author dives into the issues which must be settled before anyone attempts to plant a church (simple model or not). He spends a chapter questioning whether the potential church planter is actually supposed to be a church planter. He provides an example of a man who was passionate about planting a church but did not have the make-up to do so. Comiskey comments on a couple of different tools which help to evaluate the gifting and make-up of individuals to determine whether they should be church planters. He comments that everyone contemplating church planting should submit to some process of evaluation before planting.
The author suggests that future planters determine to prioritize prayer in everything they are doing in ministry. They will need prayer support from other believers to be successful. They also need to determine the core values of the future plant. Comiskey mentions that there are universal principles which will be included in the values but there will also be contextual variations in the values as the church attempts to reach its target population. The author speaks often of the importance of planting a church with a team rather than alone. He trumpets the benefits of shared leadership with a shared ministry load.
Beyond shared leadership, Comiskey urges the leaders to have a coach who will provide encouragement, prayer, ministry, and training. Part of the motivation for this is the discouragement that is often a part of the planting process. The author believes that the presence of a ministry coach will help the planter to endure the slow growth process. He also encourages potential planters to learn as much as possible about the area where they plan to plant. Missionaries on foreign fields must learn culture before and during their ministry overseas. Church planters must also become familiar with their ministry context. This also helps to establish contacts with potential members of the pilot group. There are many principles which must be seriously considered before attempting to plant a church.
In the third section, the author describes cell driven ministry and how to plant a cell church. There is overlap with the previous book, The Church that Multiplies, but the review is helpful. The principles of cell-driven ministry are inspiring. The process of: beginning a pilot cell and living the Christian life deeply together; training leaders; evangelizing as a group and discipling converts, multiplying groups with new leaders and coaching the leaders; the thought of the whole cell-driven model is exciting.
Following the chapters on cell churches, the author outlines how to plant house churches. As is mentioned in the material, house church networks and cell churches are similar in many ways. The words which are used repeatedly are: simple and reproducible. These words are music to my ears. One thing which I did not agree with was the lack of formal leadership in many examples of the house church. Comiskey also touches on this as a potential weakness, along with the lack of coaching for house church leaders. Some within the house church movement are working to resolve these issues. I also noticed a related issue to the lack of formally trained leadership, the lack of biblical training among house church leaders. This could truly harm the quality of the house churches. The potential for heresy would be present. The author mentions house church networks as a solution for some of the potential pitfalls of the movement.
Comiskey ends the book with a call to plant simple reproducible churches. I am in complete agreement with him. I would love to see, experience, and be involved in this model of ministry. I love reading about it but need to see it to be able to really understand everything he is describing. We do need to have more simple churches which are reproducible. I have thought over and over about the principles which the author shares. I long to be involved in a ministry model like the one the author outlines. It seems that this is as close to the biblical model as I have seen. As I seek God’s will in my life, I would absolutely love to learn firsthand how to function in, lead in, train in, and reproduce in a cell-driven ministry. I do not know exactly how this will happen but it is my prayer to do so.
Overall, I think this was an excellent book and very beneficial in formulating my thinking.