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

Book review: Anatomy of a Revived Church: Seven Findings about How Congregations Avoided Death by Rev. Wayne McHugh. 
I’ve heard that said enough times to be somewhat resistant to it, but Thom Rainer’s repeated use of this doesn’t present “change” as a silver bullet to save your church – indeed one of his chapters is dedicated to the important truth that there is no silver bullet.
This book is only 216 pages in length, and it took me only a couple of hours to read through it.  Despite the short read, there are many years of research and experience with dying churches hidden behind these pages.  Rainer is founder and CEO of “Church Answers”, has 40 years of ministry experience, and is dedicated to the growth and health of local churches and their leaders.
A very disturbing fact is presented in the introduction, that given the choice between life and death, if it involves substantive changes, most churches and church leaders will choose death.  Whether or not that is news to you, it should always be disturbing.  But what substantive changes will save a dying church?
This book summarises results from his research, presenting the most outstanding “anatomy findings” of churches that were dying, but had seen sustained revitalisation and growth.  Findings are presented with on-the-ground stories that make his presentation easy to read and understand.
I recommend you read the book yourself, but in a nutshell, churches that have moved from a dying trajectory to revitalisation:
    • stop blaming external causes, and takes responsibility for their situation.
    • overcome the traps of unhelpful traditions (not meaning that all traditions are traps, but they can be).
    • gather data like attendance because they care about their people, and want to know the truth.
    • commit to prayer, even if it is only a relatively small number of people who do this (which it usually is).
    • deal with toxins. Rainer specifically discusses toxic people, and I thought perhaps other toxins could have been considered too.
    • discover there are no silver bullets – it is a long, slow journey.  Minister, property, special programs – never silver bullets!
    • rediscover meaningful membership.
One of the sub-plots that carries through the whole book resonates strongly with the Uniting Church – the minister cannot save the local church; it is a ministry of all the people.  The journey of revitalisation will almost certainly move from a minister-centric local practice, intentionally and persistently towards a shared ministry of the whole congregation.  In this respect, Rainer is presenting something we should already know a great deal better than we often practice.
There are several absolutes that he presents, perhaps worthy of discussion:
    • Intentional and sustained prayer is always behind sustained revitalisation of a local church – always!
    • Toxic people have to be removed before revitalisation can occur.  Note that critical people and toxic people are not the same.  Toxic people destroy churches.
    • There are no silver bullets – ever!  Sustained revitalisation is a long journey.
Rainer tells us this not an exhaustive presentation of their findings, but they represent the most consistent anatomy of revived/revitalised (reviving/revitalising) local churches.
Join us for the Online Discipleship Bookclub at 7pm on Wednesday 21 Feb where we’ll be discussing Thom Reiner’s book “Anatomy of a Revived Church”. Click here to join the Zoom meeting

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