Are elders try to regularly read and review something. Right now at the beginning of our elders' meetings we are working through Mark Dever's Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. Another thing one of my elders has done is review books for us. One of my elders has been reading John MacArthur's book of church leadership. He will take notes and circulate them to us. I've decided to do the same thing with Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson's book Comeback Churches. I read it about a year ago or more and I am going to back to it. I thought I'd also use of up some blog space and post the review here. I'm not going to offer much in way of critique but summarize and highlight.
Let's get started...
Comeback Churches Preface & Chapter 0
I want to walk us through the chapters in the book Comeback Churches by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson. This is a book I read about a year ago, I think it is has a lot of good theory with practical examples for implementation in the local church, like Pocono Mountain Bible Fellowship Church.
The book starts off on page x with this quote:
“Many churches that are stuck on a plateau or spiraling into decline can discover the joy of reaching the peak of revitalization. In many ways, the North American Church has forgotten the joy of climbing the mountain peaks of ministry. It has become overweight with modern techniques and methodologies and lost sight of its true mission and purpose to simply make more and better followers of Jesus Christ.”
The book is written both out of Biblical wisdom/instruction and practicle counsel collect from churches that have actually experienced comeback. They ask “What principles from Comeback Churches could guide pastors and churches down the path of revitalization” (x). This is precisely why I think makes this book helpful for our church.
The question is not just ‘does the church get bigger’ but are lives actually being transformed? Are people coming to Jesus?
Chapter 0 begins with the the essentials of a church. “Having a biblical, missional theology and view of the church is the underlying esssence of the book” (1). They outline six criteria for a Biblical church:
- Scriptural authority.
- Biblical leadership.
- Preaching and teaching. [notebaly here they write “Sadly, for many modern believers worship has come to mean the singing and responses that precede the sermon. True worship is more than that and in a church service it includes both praise and preaching” (3).
- Covenant Community.
- Mission. “Churches are called to the mission of propagting the gospel” (3).
Under the next section they begin to make the case that churhes should be missional. It is not enough to ask are you traditional or contemporary (4). That is the wrong debate. The question is are you biblically faithful? They expand this as “acting as the presence of Christ in the community at large, able to relate Christ to people in culture, and is on a mission” (4). That is essentially their definition of missional.
The church needs to do in America what missionaries do around the world. The church should function as a missionary to it’s community where it lives (4). This means meeting the needs both inside and outside the church (5).
Too much church growth can focus on reproducing what worked elsewhere. “God’s kingdom is not best represented by franchises of McChurch. If you focus your energies on copying someone else’ methodologies or programs, you will miss something crucially important...The Holy Spirit is empowering transformational leaders who demonstrate the kingdom of God in unique ways in each differing community” (quoting Slaughter and Bird, CC, 5). One of the things about this book, along with Ed Stetzer’s other works, and missional theology in general is that it avoids simply boiling things down to timeless reproducible techniques that you can cut and paste to anywhere, a sort of “10 Easy Steps to X”. Biblically faithful means there are non-negotiables that transcend cultures. But Biblical faithful also means the negotiables can be adapted.
Missional churhes are “incarnational”--e.g. ‘deeply entrenched in their communities.’ It is “not focused on their facilities, but on living, demonstrating, and offering biblical community to a lost word” (5-6).
Missional churches are “indigeneous.” They grow up in the local soil. They not how studies show that Christians often live like the world in our sins yet we love to come to church and in church look outwardly different from the world. Stetzer and Dodson argue the Bible teaches we are to contend for the faith (Jude 3) but contextualize to the culture (1 Cor. 9:22-23).
Missional churches are intentional. They do not comprimise Biblical commands and principles like biblical preaching, discipleship, baptism, and other vital functions. But there style, evangelistic methods, attire, service times, locations, and other matters are “determined by their effectiveness in a specific cultural context” (7). It means that churches may have to get out of their comfort zone as culture seperates from church sub-culture. “The most effective comeback churches will be those that intentionally think like misionaries in their context.
So can PMBFC become missional? If we are wiling to follow Jesus, it can be done. Are we willing to be more mission’s minded? Can we think like missionaries?
Stetzer and Dodson outline a missional matrix that includes: Christology: who is Jesus and what has he sent us to do?; Ecclesiology: what expression of a NT church would be most appropriate in this context?; Missiology: What forms and strategies should we use to most effectively expand the kingdom where we are sent. This triangle of sorts forms and Scriptural/Theological foundation and is applied and must be empowered by the Spirit.
A church should not be afraid to ask: “what cultural containers--church, owrship style, small group ministry--will be most effective in this context?” Church is not then a one size-fits all approach (9). Of course, this can only be said, or asked, when it is underlined with a commitment to Biblical faithfulness. No negotiation on the commands, liberty where the Bible is silent. So we must have preaching of the Word, but what time, or in what order in the service, or for how long?
The last section of this chapter is “Churches should be spiritual.” They write “Too often, research-based books offer constructive insights and principles, leading some to conclude that church growth can be reduced to formulas, probabilities, and statistics. There’s value in research because it shows what God has blessed and used in other churches.
“One reason a church may experience decline is because Jesus is displeased with the way the church has handled past challenges. Another is that the church may have been disobedient at a crucial point. Repentance may be a spiritual issue, but it’s also a pressing need” (11).
They list 30 spiritual problems that may be effecting the church (pp.12-13). They conclude with an exortation to leaders: “Your leadership is absolutely essential in guiding your church to be a comeback church. Love for the church and a desire to bring people to Jesus will reinforce and renew your leadership (Matt. 28:18-20). It will not be easy, but “times of refreshing come from the Lord!” (14).
We need to be reminded that central to being a comeback church is prayer (15). We need to see our people and our community the way God sees them.
“One of the most important conclusions we’ve drawn from our study of comeback churches is that they first had a spiritual experience that redirected and reenergized their lives, beginning with their leaders” (15).