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Book review: Anatomy of a Revived Church: Seven Findings about How Congregations Avoided Death

Book review by Struan Robertson, Strategic Risk Manager, Uniting Church Qld Synod Office.

We are told by others that have read this work that Rainer’s focus is on looking at faith communities on the brink of closing down. He identifies simple yet vital shifts in culture, attitude, and practice that these congregations made to release new life.

I went into reading this book with an open mind, as it wasn’t the normal genre of book that I would read; however I was quite surprised, as it was an easy and thought provoking read.

Rainer writes with enthusiasm and shows a clear understanding of and love for this topic area. He suggests that now is the time to read this book, particularly if your congregation is facing ‘troubles’ ….he suggests that your Church isn’t dead yet .

The underlying findings highlighted and brought out in this book helped challenge my assumptions; it has helped me focus my thoughts upon ‘above the line’ thinking.

For those of us not familiar with this concept, ‘above the line’ thinking entails being open and positive – it’s about ownership, accountability, and taking responsibility. Whereas ‘below the line’ thinking  is closed and negative – it’s about denial, excuses , defensiveness, and blame. For me, this mindset fits neatly into the concepts as advocated by Rainer, as we all need to take responsibility for our futures.

My understanding is that this book is about Renewal, about understanding a need to challenge assumptions and to identify the ‘things’ that we need to do well and get right to help us further, and more effectively achieve, our mission and goals.

For me, this has great significance as we look at reviewing our strategic objectives, looking at, and better understanding, our purpose and how we create better value for all of our church community, and how we celebrate and enhance how we are truly ‘better together’.

The book suggests that congregations must either change or die, and that the choice is theirs. Rainer suggests that these choices are needed to be made to revive your congregation and are as simple as they are profound. As the title suggests this book focuses on seven findings of how congregations avoided death. According to the author, the seven findings of how congregations avoid death are:

  • Accepting responsibility
  • Overcoming the traps of traditions
  • Developing an outwards focus
  • Focusing on the fundamentals
  • Dealing with toxins
  • Building a cohesive leadership team
  • Establishing a clear discipleship pathway

The main focus of the book is, as mentioned earlier, renewal and Rainer suggests this is achieved through prayer, church unity and a focus upon God’s word achieved through a revitalisation of the Church’s focus upon mission and impact upon the community. From my perspective, this means understanding how a church community helps to add and facilitate value to its the broader local community. The book provides insight and could be useful to congregational councils as a checklist as they review and enhance strategy aimed at Renewal and revitalising the church.

The author Thom S. Rainer has written over thirty books, including the ‘Autopsy of a Deceased Church’, he is a recognised figure and thought leader in the realm of church leadership and church revitalisation across North America. He has a Doctor of Philosophy Degree from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, a US consultancy group that offers guidance on all aspects of church leadership, growth, and administration.

I highly recommend this book.

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