Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Book recs for small church/revitalization ministry

I've written a post like this before, but it's been a while and I've read a lot of books since then. Plus, this one is more narrow in focus.

At General Assembly last week, one of my good friends from seminary (who is open to small church and revitalization ministry in the future) said to me, "I've read From Embers to a Flame [by Harry Reeder]; what other books would you recommend to me about church revitalization and pastoring a small church?"

Such a great question-- and I'm honored to be asked it. Here is my response:

Books on small-church ministry:

  • Help for the Small-Church Pastor by Steve Bierly. Very practical and helpful, focused on churches that probably won't ever be any bigger than a "small church."

  • No Little Places by Ron Klassen and John Koessler. For folks in a small church in small towns and suburbs, and areas in-between (like the area I'm in!). This is a good book that brings helpful perspective and addresses some of the identity issues that small churches might have.

  • Effective Small Churches in the Twenty-First Century by Carl S. Dudley is a very helpful book that is based on thorough and useful research. Dudley deals with the data and concepts that arose from his study, so many of the ideas here are fresh and not found elsewhere (in other words, this one takes you beyond the "conventional wisdom) about small churches). Good stuff.

  • What Is Your Church's Personality? by Phil Douglass-- of course, it's written for all churches, but you should recognize by now that the dynamics of communication become more influential as the overall size of a group gets smaller; thus, in small churches then it is ALWAYS a centerpiece issue. Plus, understanding how small churches think is so helpful for guys like you and me, because we're on the opposite side of the "wheel" from most of them.

Books on revitalization in particular:

  • The Practices of a Healthy Church by Don McNair is, perhaps, the gold-standard in revitalization concepts. McNair wrote and taught in response to the church growth movement, arguing that the priority ought to be on church health, not growth. Still essential today.

  • Historical Drift by Arnold L. Cook. This one is great for a church that doesn't yet know that it is a revitalization church (or that it is becoming one). Very helpful from a leadership perspective in such a circumstance.

  • The Prevailing Churchby Randy Pope is very much like Reeder's From Embers to a Flame, in that you get insight into how an effective and seasoned Pastor grew and learned these principles by living them. Perhaps in Pope's case you get even more of a glimpse into that. Very good explanation of the principles that undergird a healthy church.

  • And The Shofar Blewby Francine Rivers is a fiction book, but it gives such a real and clear look at the life of a revitalization pastor that it could BE real, as far as I can tell. Certainly, it unveils some of the realities and temptations that a small church/revitalization pastor will face.

  • If It Can Happen Here... by Jeff Patton. I'm a little bit hesitant about recommending this one, only because it offers only a fairly narrow model of how true revitalization can happen. Nevertheless, it does so in a descriptive (not prescriptive) way, so it's good to glean what you can from what this guy did.

  • Outgrowing the Ingrown Church by Jack Miller rivals McNair in being one of the staples of revitalization, in part because Miller began to teach and train what he did so early. Miller's ideas are so good, in part because they are so pastoral. I'm always ministered to when reading Miller, not just given new ideas.

Books on leadership and growth in the small/revitalization church:

  • One Size Doesn't Fit All by Gary Macintosh does a great job of discussing what the leadership dynamics are in a small church, how they change as the church grows, and why some churches grow into large ones while others drop back to a smaller size and stay there.

  • Surprising Insights from the Unchurched by Thom Rainer. I continue to be amazed that more pastors haven't read this book. Rainer's research is impeccable, and the insights he derives from it are not only surprising but SO valuable and practical. This is a handbook for working through the concept of vision and strategy for any church, especially small and revitalization churches.

  • Developing a Vision for Ministry in the 21st Century by Aubrey Malphurs is probably the best book around on how to develop a vision within the church. (For a scaled-down version of the same content, check out The Vision Thing by Don Clements.)

  • High Expectations by Thom Rainer pre-dates Surprising Insights but, in a way, picks up where the other leaves off. This book deals with the idea of "closing the back door" which is a problem in all churches, but can be crippling for the small/revitalization church. Again, great research and even better insights.

  • Well-Intentioned Dragons by Marshall Shelley, again, fits for all pastors in all churches, but also again can be especially poignant for the small-church pastor. How do you deal with the "problem" people in a congregation? Shelley handles this so ably.

  • The Heart of a Servant Leader by Jack Miller focuses on the spiritual health and servant mindset of a pastor. You will not lead a church to revitalization unless you have also been revitalized; there are few books beyond Scripture that will lead you through personal revitalization than this one.

  • Restoration God's Way by Donald McNair. Every revitalization church has those who have been bruised and broken by others; some have been left in the wake of a difficult season while others remain involved, perhaps even in leadership. You will need to understand healthy, biblical church discipline and restoration to shepherd such people effectively. McNair does as well as anyone at teaching this.

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