Strategies for Tomorrow's Church
Martin Robinson and Dwight Smith
Category: Emerging Church & Postmodern Faith
For anyone with a penchant for postmission, this book is a must. Although not quite as aggressive as its title, it is still a frank reminder that the Western church has a problem (fewer and fewer people want to go to them) and we cannot bury our heads in the sand about it.
The book criticises the classic 'problem — solution' approach as a reaction to this worrying phenomenon and suggests an alternative: creating churches that are dynamic movements with mission as their 'DNA'. It will also mean that Christians can impact their culture more than their culture influences them - hence 'invading secular space'. To quote: 'The challenge is not just to make the church effective in its own life and witness but to do so in such a way that the core interaction with the culture is changed' (p.59). Robinson and Smith are at pains to underline that mission is the raison d'être of the church — if this is not your view then this book is not for you!
Having pondered this for a time, I was quite reassured to hear the authors point out that the age of programme-based churches is coming to an end, and a new paradigm is needed: "It can never be sufficient to constantly construct programmes designed to pull people into sacred space, we have to also consider how we might invade secular space". (p.29)
Robinson and Smith suggest that the church needs to undergo a paradigm shift from 'institution' (p.109), which they describe as its 'default position', to a 'movement' that is 'ignited' (p.33). This can be done through listening to God, making sure each member finds their gifting, and encouraging people to be more intimate with God, amongst other pointers.
The book is clearly written, well structured, easy to follow, honest and speaks plainly about a situation of which we are aware (declining church attendance in the West), but few of us know what to do anything about. I also found the authors' wealth of experience coming through in their writing which helps to make the book authentic and encouraging. This is especially so in the chapters on leadership and church-planting/renewing. Anecdotes and extensive quotes illustrate their points well. The book dragged slightly near the end, but that probably says more about my attention levels than about the quality of the writing!
There is no 'Grow-Your-Very-Own-Superchurch-in-Ten-Easy-Steps' formula, but there is quite a lot of practical advice, although I thought there could be even more. However, there is a directory of people and websites at the back for those who want to take the practical side further.
This book would be ideal for despondent clergy, the type described in the book who scratch their heads and ask what the solution to the problem of declining numbers is. Robinson and Smith underline that it is quality not quantity that counts when it comes to membership, which is a good counter-balance to the pressure put on some leaders to measure church 'success' numerically. It would also be a good reminder to those of us who rely on programmes and planning to make our churches 'function' that we should not exist for our own ends. Like Israel, our purpose is 'to be a light to the nations' which includes interaction with our culture rather than retreating from it or even expecting others to join us when we need to go and join them.
Caroline Wenger, November 2006
Having tried the Alpine life for more than a year, Caroline Wenger is soon to be coming down the mountain to live in a town not far from Zürich. She enjoys reading (albeit slowly), cooking and travelling and finds it sometimes hard to stay awake in sleepy Switzerland.Order from www.christianbookshops.org | Order from St Andrew's Bookshops
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