For years I have been frustrated with the state of affairs in the Church of America. Many of the books I’ve read either portrayed a biblical picture of a healthy congregation, or warned about the undeniable statistics that many Churches are dying. As a result, I’ve developed a deep passion for Church planting while working in existing Churches for seven years. It seemed to me that there wasn’t much hope in casting new visions for preexistent Churches who were struggling with hemorrhaging members or simply not growing.
That’s why I was so encouraged to read Ed Stetzer’s book Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can Too. The book, largely based on research, attempts to ask the question of what made these ‘Comeback Churches’ so successful. I think the research is honest and very telling, and I think it will help many Church leaders earnestly consider where their Churches will be in 20 years and help them stay on mission.
Understand, this book is largely based on research of 300 undisclosed Churches. So, yes, there is room to debate the validity of the research based on the definition of the quality of the Churches in question, but I believe this debate leads away from the issue at hand and is simply used as a smoke screen to obscure the real issue and justify doing nothing. The book should be accepted on this premise: in the midst of thousands of Churches closing every year, there are some who are making a comeback.
Stetzer’s research is plainly spelled out in the chapters of the book and his conclusions can be easily acknowledged based on the results. The problems and solutions probably won’t surprise you, but they will offer you with a concise overview of what made these churches successful again. The consistent characteristics among the 300 Churches surveyed were strong leadership, a clear vision, and vibrant worship. These Churches were able to get past the base discussions about forms and procedures and focus on the great commission and the preaching of the Word.
While Stetzer doesn’t spend a great deal of time discussing the problems of what cause a Church to get to the point of stagnation or death, his points for what makes a successful Church contrast what all Churches ought to be doing, but aren’t. What struck me was the fact that over 4,000 churches closed their doors this year and more are resting on the brink of death while very few are actually making a comeback.
There are a lot of factors which prevent a Church from sustaining vibrant growth, but the most consistent reason Churches cease to grow is due to poor leadership. Most Churches I have seen on the decline usually have leadership that is either completely confused at how they got to where they are or they are completely oblivious that there is a serious problem. In reading this book, they may only see points of contention and excuses to be made. The scary reality is that most of the leaders in failing Churches will refuse to acknowledge the problem or do anything about it. In that way, this book can’t help those who don’t think they need help. I would suggest that even if you are a part of the most successful Church in America, it would be good to read this book from the perspective that you have something to learn rather than looking for something to disagree with.
Comeback Churches lays a good foundation for recognizing the problem and will help leaders in the Church start moving in the right direction. It’s not conclusive. Other books on casting and maintaining vision may need to be sought out, as well as books on how to lead. But Comeback Churches does a great job at defending the need for Churches to honestly evaluate the health and welfare of their body. I’d recommend this to any Church leaders and anyone who is starting to notice that their Church has stopped growing outwardly and is concerned with where they might end up in the next 20 years.