Book Review: Breakout Churches by Thom S. Rainer

After discussing my resent review of Ed Stetzer’s book Comeback Churches with a pastor friend, he asked if I had ever read Breakout Churches by Thom Rainer. It seemed that we were demonstrating the same sort of passion that we had in a clear vision for our ministry, so I decided to do a little research. It turns out, that Breakout Churches was the predecessor to Comeback Churches and both come from Lifeway Christian Resources.

Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of Lifeway, a globalized non-profit corporation of book stores, research, and missions. But when this book was written in the early 2000’s, it was still within the confines of Rainer’s previous research firm, the Rainer group. Thom has served as a dean at the Southern Theological Seminary where he founded the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism. He is a well known author and known for his research and help in the field of missiology.

Following another author’s research structure, Jim Collin’s book Good to Great, Breakout Churches is based on statistics gleaned from the research of thousands of Churches. There was a rigorous process in determining what qualifies the honorary distinction of being called a ‘breakout Church,’ resulting in only 13 finalists. The Churches polled had been struggling in attendance for at least five years before their initial breakout into success. They were then vetted out by a strict set of standards: The Church had to have a minimum of 26 conversions a year at a conversion ratio of 20:1 (how many people it took to reach one convert).

While the research is interesting, it does seem that it is somewhat out of date. Perhaps that is why Ed Stetzer’s book came out four years later. Still, the points Rainer makes in the book are valid and consistent with describing the problem. Rainer’s research is rather bleak from the start when it points out that only 13 Churches, out of thousands polled, made the cut. This implies, without saying it specifically, that there is a serious problem for the Church in America. It also limits the research done because it was not a large enough pool in order to study the differences. This all seems to mask the real purpose of writing the book, to point out the trappings of pastors and leaders who are not in the exclusive group of ‘breakout Churches.’

The main problem, according to Rainer’s research, was that many of the leaders in the average Church in America lack vision, are unaware of problems in their ministry, and are overspent on all of the wrong strategies. Rainer reveals that less than 1% of senior pastors tested measured up to their standards. Because the research is so heavily based on the negative, I fear many pastors would tend to miss the points that Rainer is trying to make. In order to be a ‘breakout Church,’ leaders have to acknowledge their weaknesses, evaluate the problem, and commit to a solution to change.

Ed Stetzer’s book takes a different perspective of evaluating the Church that has more of a positive outlook on the Church. While I appreciated Breakout Churches, its negative approach to failing Churches may not be the best way to get the point across. Clearly, there is a problem that most leaders in the Church are unwilling to recognize, mainly because it deals with them. These books have their place for those who are open to receiving criticism and recognize the need to change. While I would recommend this book for Church leaders who are committed to making necessary changes, if you were only to read one book on the subject, I would have to suggest reading Comeback Churches by Ed Stetzer.

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