"Re-connect your church" book review


This book is not a dry and indigestible technical treatise. It considers two questions of utmost importance and relevance:

  • “How can churches stay healthy and dynamic over the long term?”
  • “What’s needed to avoid or reverse church stagnation and decline?”

Many of us will know of a church, perhaps our own, with a faithful (but ageing) congregation, showing the classical church membership pattern of ‘growth, plateau, decline, and death'. Its heyday of young/youngish couples with children in a flourishing church is but a distant memory. Now it sees few young people, except the occasional couples coming to church for their banns to be read. This may be despite preaching that is solidly evangelical, Christ-honouring and faithful to Scripture. Earnest evangelistic efforts have yielded little fruit. In short, unless the decline is arrested very soon, the church will become an empty husk. 

Here is where David Brown comes in with his insights, research, and experience as a church planter in highly secularised France. He leads the Church Revitalisation Network for the European Leadership Forum, which focuses on UK and European contexts. The principles and ideas he espouses are relevant to struggling churches in Western societies. There is, however, no ‘quick fix’. Church revitalisation is a process which requires hard work, lots of prayers and faithfulness to the gospel, but it also needs a change in mindset and attitudes. If you or your church leaders and members are determined to cling to ‘this is how we have always done it in the past’ and refuse to re-connect with a society which is increasingly disconnected from the church, don’t read this book! It is not about conservation, hanging on to keep our church members happy and comfortable in the status quo.

Our secularised society views the church and Christians with either a bemused perplexity or outright hostility. It is not entirely their fault! We may well preach solid Biblical truths from our pulpits on Sundays but our congregations live as practical atheists the rest of the week, not knowing how to connect with a society we have lost touch with. Few want to come to our sporadic evangelistic forays. The disconnection between believers and non-believers is becoming an unbridgeable chasm. How are we preparing our church members to discuss current issues of concern with their non-Christian friends, work colleagues, and neighbours?

This is about plausibility: “What does it mean for something to be plausible? It is when something is not immediately dismissed as being impossible and when people think it is worth considering. Our Christian apologetics have traditionally dealt with the credibility, rather than the plausibility, of our faith by asking the questions, ‘Is it true? Can it be believed?’ There is of course a real place for this, but it cannot be the starting point today.

Plausibility leads to desirability leads to credibility. In other words (the non-Christian asks): ‘I must check this out – I like it – Is it true?’”

Our lives show the plausibility (or otherwise) of the gospel.

The author takes a pragmatic approach. There are plenty of charts and diagrams which help illustrate what he is trying to convey. He helpfully follows three representative churches (‘a small town near Manchester’, ‘a city in the west of France’, ‘a village in central Romania’), in their journey through the ‘revitalisation’ process.

His chapter on ‘What should a healthy church look like?’ is worth buying the book for! He defines a healthy church as ‘a fellowship of believers, redeemed through the gospel, who are learning to love God with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their mind, with all their strength (Mark 12:30), and to love people (Mark 12:31) in their cultural context.[emphasis added].

Crucially the author does not advocate the church diluting the gospel; we must be rooted in Christ and Scripture. “One of the important objectives of church revitalisation is to reduce the distance between the church and the world not by changing our theology but by preparing believers to live in the world without being of it, as Jesus said in John 17. As someone once said to me, ‘the boat must be in the water but the water must not be in the boat!’”

Let’s get on with it!