Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Book Review: The Everychurch Guide to Growth.

This book review is one which I submitted as part of a church growth class for my masters degree. It was the first time I had ever been exposed to church growth concepts. I found it very interesting because I could see where many churches in my area had moved in this direction and had resulted in large numerical growth. However, are these principles really biblical, or simply business models adapted for the church? Personally I am not sure yet. I also wanted to post this review because of the comments that I made about church leadership towards the end of the review. I am not really sure where I was going with these comments and I am not sure where I stand now, because I no longer attend the elder lead church I discuss below. I would love to hear of experiences others may have had with church growth principles as set forth in books like these.

Towns, Elmer, C. Peter Wagner and Thom S. Rainer. The Everychurch Guide to Growth: How Any Plateaued Church Can Grow. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998.

I grew up attending smaller churches of less than 100 people and numerical growth was a subject that came up often, though mostly at Church meetings where finances were being voted upon. Money issues definitely plagued the smaller churches I attended, they struggled to pay the often times very low salary of their over worked pastor. Not to mention the overhead and maintenance costs of aging church buildings and facilities. But money problems are usually only a surface symptom of a deeper issue that is inhibiting spiritual and numerical growth. This book, The Everychurch Guide to Growth, attempts to give solutions and practical advice to possible growth problems.

The first motivator for a reader to pick this book off of the shelf is the fact that all three authors have the experience and credentials to speak authoritatively on the subject of church growth. Elmer Towns is a prolific author and seminary professor, as well as a lecturer and a respected scholar on church growth. C. Peter Wagner is a writer and noted authority on the church growth movement, and is a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. Thom S. Rainer is a noted author and scholar on evangelism and church growth and is president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville.
Though this work is short, only 188 pages of text, it covers a lot of ground in the area of church growth and practical direction. The book is divided into three sections discussing barriers to growth in small (200 people), medium (400 people) and large (1,000 people) churches. Each of these sections are taken up by a different author, Wagner deals with the small church, Rainer with the medium, and Towns with the larger churches. 

Some of the most immediately practical advice can be found in the introductory discussion at the beginning of the book. It is here that several factors, which could inhibit growth, are given under the heading of “A Sick Body Will Not Grow”1 which lists five “diseases” that could be the cause of stagnated development.
These five diseases are; “ethnikitis,” which is “an allegiance of the church to one ethnic group;”2 “ghost town disease,”3 meaning a church that does not grow because of a local depleting population; “people blindness,”4 referring to an inability to see needs within the body or in the community; “koinonitis,”5 this is an over emphasis on internal church fellowship; “sociological strangulation,”6 which refers to the building facilities not being large enough for numerical growth; “arrested spiritual development,”7 which is a lack of internal spiritual growth; and “hypopneumia,” a “subnormal level of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.”8 This introduction is definitely the strong point of the book. If one were only able to read a few pages, due to time constraints, much of the benefits would be gleaned from reading only the first 20 pages.
If a reader had a few extra minutes to glean more from the book, flipping to chapter eight would be the next best thing. Here one could read about a very interesting discussion on the “cell” church in part three. Despite the discussion being in the context of breaking the “1,000” person barrier, it appears that the concept of the church being several “cells” is applicable even to those churches that would be labeled small. This is exactly what Towns does in his description of the cell;

A small single cell church probably has an average attendance of 87 worshipers (87 is a statistical average of a wide variety of churches representing different denominations, theological convictions, worship styles, and regional areas of the United States). The single cell church resembles a large, overgrown family. As a matter of fact, the single cell church is often called the family church or the typical American church.9

This idea of the church being a “cell” in the fashion of a living organism, is a very practical understanding of the church. It is here that universal application of some general techniques of growth can be readily understood and applied. Several bulleted lists and tables are given, filled with ways in which programs or activities can be undertaken to immediately move a church in the direction of growth. These are very practical and down to earth and can be summed up in Towns' own words;

Just as a human body grows by the division of cells (and remains healthy by the addition of cells), in the same way the local church body will grow by adding cells. Don't think of adding people to a church of 100 – think of adding new ministries, new classes, and new programs of outreach.10

The introduction and chapter eight together total around 40 pages of text, these appear to be the strongest and most practical areas of the book. The rest is not as promising and there are several points of critique which can be brought to light.
The repetitive nature of the content can be a detraction from those who want a more detailed discussion and overview. As was mentioned above, much of part one and two repeats the introductory comments on “diseases” of church growth. Though, some readers may find that repeating the material helps them retain the information for later use. 

Most of the directions and tips concerning the type and quality of leadership can better be learned and understood in other more in-depth books dealing specifically with the subject of biblical leadership. the information which given on the topic of leadership is itself very repetitive in nature, which appears to be the designed approach of the book. Though each section touches on the challenges of leadership in some form, the only chapter that focuses specifically on Godly leadership is chapter nine, and this in the context of breaking the 1,000 person barrier. This really should be more of an in depth study, considering that the authors consistently point to the pastor and leadership as the main problem of failing to break church growth barriers.

The final, and arguably the most detracting characteristic of the book, is the emphasis on the pastor-teacher style of leadership. This is by no means the only way a congregation can be lead. There are many successful churches which are shepherded by an unpaid, non professional group of elders. Many of these churches are very large and have exceeded the 300 and even 400 person mark. I personally attended a church such as this, which fluctuated every Sunday from 200 to 250 people and was lead by a group of elders and deacons. Each of the elders shared the position of leadership and none had the “final word” on the direction or vision of the church. Consider this statement at the beginning of chapter nine;

The one key ingredient to breaking the 1,000 barrier is the pastor-leader. The pastor must be an executive leader with skills not evident or required to break the tow previous barriers (emphasis mine).11

This statement shows the bias that is presented towards the pastor-teacher style of leadership which is prevalent in churches today. If the methods of church growth given in The Everychurch Guide to Growth only work with a pastor-teacher style of leadership, then one must question the biblical soundness of the methods given.

In conclusion, this book has many things going for it, especially if one wishes to have an introduction to the topic of growth. But the book is so repetitive that the information could easily be condensed to a booklet of 80 pages or so. Also, better books are out there that deal with the subject of biblical leadership which could be consulted. Perhaps a better approach would be to give more real life examples of these methods implemented in actual churches and discuss how they have worked. Overall, this is a good introduction to church growth and is a great book to keep in ones library for quick and easy reference on the topic of growth.

1. Elmer Towns, C. Peter Wagner and Thom S. Rainer, The Everychurch Guide to Growth (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 10.
2. Ibid., 11.
3. Ibid., 12.
4. Ibid., 13.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid., 14.
7. Ibid., 15.
8. Ibid., 17.
9. Towns, 151-152.
10. Ibid., 153
11. Towns, 169.

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