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The book in question is entitled Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and You Can Too. It provides valuable insights into the state of the contemporary US churches and way to bring more life to them to meet the needs of modern people. The authors provide helpful advice to leaders and pastors, and these recommendations are based on the extensive research.
The authors analyzed performance of 324 successful (comeback) churches that managed to increase attendance as well as the number of newcomers and water baptisms. At that, the authors stress that comeback leaders did not concentrate on the rituals and the institution, but managed to remain committed to the true mission. According to the researchers, the comeback leaders “love the church and its mission more passionately”.1
At that, the majority of US churches are now stagnating. It has been estimated that during the past decades the number of believers did not increase, but there is a mere distribution of them. The authors address existing researches and implement their own study. According to this research, only slightly more than 17% of the US population attend the church at least once a week.2 Clearly, the majority of pastors and leaders fail to change and accommodate to the new environment.
Stetzer and Dodson claim that a comeback leader should understand the current situation and implement the necessary change. It is also crucial to involve as many people as possible to make the change happen. Importantly, the authors provide a definition of the church that stuck.
They focus on such characteristics as institutionalization, voluntary association, inability to act in accordance with good intentions, reluctance to grow due to the fear of losing the sense of certain kind of fellowship, inability and unwillingness to compete, inability to choose leaders wisely, unwillingness to change and grow, and excessive reliance on the leader of the church.3
Importantly, Stetzer and Dodson emphasize the need to remain spiritual when implementing the change as the use of advice provided in the book will be inefficient if done without the spiritual direction.4
The authors claim that those willing to implement the change should pray for God’s assistance in this endeavor, which is ‘harvesting’ souls. At that, the change can be carried out through “renewed belief”, “servanthood”, and “strategic prayer”.5
Comeback leaders should also focus on the community and be culturally relevant and up-to-date, to make sure that they are in the same cultural dimension. The comeback leaders have employed various approaches and managed to make sure that all biblical values are shared while some personal preferences were flexible.6 Comeback leaders make use of traditional hymns, but their primary focus is preaching.
Notably, various strategies are utilized to communicate their ideas including drama or video, and so on. The principle of evangelism is central to preaching in the comeback churches. Thus, the authors stress that people in the church can be prayers, tellers, and bringers.7 Another important aspect is guiding people and enabling them to accomplish their spiritual growth.8
As has been mentioned above, the development communities is essential, and comeback churches have grown due to creating small groups as well as Sunday schools or classes. These tools drew new followers to the church and contributed to the development of the empowered community where all voices are heard, and people support each other in many instances. Stetzer and Dodson note that comeback leaders should be trained to create and guide small groups that can be building blocks of the new community.9
Finally, another key component of the success of the comeback leader is the investment of sufficient time and effort aimed at improving youth ministry.10 The authors note that this can be done through the development of new ways of communicating the message as well as bringing young leaders to the church.
The focus on young generations is especially valid when it comes to the creation of small groups and empowerment of the community. Therefore, the authors provide quite a substantial analysis of successful churches and develop a particular set of strategies that can be utilized to revitalize a stagnating church.
Critique and Evaluation
It is necessary to note that the book in question is a valuable source of advice for leaders and pastors. The primary audience of the book is pastors or leaders as well as all people interested in the nature of modern US churches.
The authors tend to address their audience in simple terms and stress that the comeback leader is “the primary shaper” of their church’s “values, strategy, and direction” who sets “the direction” for the people11. Importantly, the book is written in simple language, and there are many references to the Bible, which creates a balance between the research, guidance and preaching.
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One of the book’s values is that it addresses important issues. Many (especially novice leaders) are struggling to revitalize their churches and bring people back to them. However, they do not have the necessary guidance and soon lose their commitment to bring the change to life. The book encourages them and brings hope.
It is especially helpful that the researchers define what a stagnating church is. It is very common that leaders fail to see the changes taking place around them. Many of them are satisfied with the core of believers they have and simply do not feel they need to change anything. However, the researchers do not simply contemplate on factors contributing to churches’ failures, wasting pages on the matter. They provide an account of primary problems.
Notably, mainly internal issues are mentioned. It is always tempting to say that people are becoming less spiritual, or they lose their faith. However, the researchers stress that the fact that churches close their doors is largely due to their pastors and leaders failure to provide proper management and inspiration.
One of the most valuable peculiarities of the book is that the authors develop the set of strategies based on particular research. Many books tend to provide guidance and include a variety of tips, but they seem rather questionable as there is no factual background. The reader doubts that the strategies described can be effective.
On the contrary, the book under analysis has the necessary background. Every strategy and every suggestion are backed up by qualitative as well as quantitative data. The researchers also provide the data on the particular state of churches in the USA. This is important as the scale of the problem is often underestimated while urgent steps should be undertaken.
At that, it is noteworthy that the analysis of the success of 344 churches can hardly be generalized or seen as valid nationwide. Some may say that this number is statistically insignificant. Nonetheless, the book provides helpful insights into the relevance and efficiency of certain methods employed.
The authors generalize the experience of comeback leaders and identify features they have in common. Clearly, it is impossible to simply follow an example of a particular church or several churches. At the same time, pastors can reflect upon that experience and apply it to their church and community.
It is also necessary to add that the book has a reader-friendly layout. Major points are emphasized with the help of many tools. The authors divided the book into chapters that conclusions where central points are mentioned. Further readings mentioned at the end of each chapter can also help the reader to expand his/her knowledge on the matter. It is clear that the authors are willing to encourage the reader to continue his/her inquiry into the matter.
In conclusion, it is possible to note that the book in question is a valuable source of knowledge and inspiration for pastors and leaders. The book outlines the state of the US churches and evaluates the successful experience of comeback leaders. The authors provide a set of factors that can facilitate the growth of the church.
This source is especially helpful for novice pastors and leaders, but it should be a must-read book for those who have spent many years in the church as well. The book unveils new aspects of being a comeback leader. Of course, the source cannot be regarded as the panacea but it is a good start of further research and development. The methods outlined can be the basis of the change in any church and community.
Stetzer, Ed, and Mike Dodson. Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and You Can Too. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2007.
1. Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and You Can Too (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2007), 59.
2. Ibid., 26.
3. Ibid., 19-24.
4. Ibid., 7.
5. Ibid., 55.
6. Ibid., 73.
7. Ibid., 108.
8. Ibid., 144.
9. Ibid., 159.
10. Ibid., 184.
11. Ibid., 14.