The presupposition of the book is that the best way to understand a church is to understand its dreams. Dreams are a summary of the churches values and goals. A dream is a unifying aim that drives and unites a church.
Churches have ministry cycles that include dream, beliefs, goals, structure, ministry, nostalgia, questioning, polarization, and dropout. The way to avoid the declining half of this cycle is to restart the dreaming process.
Churches are a type of volunteer organization and thus a very complex system to understand. Leaders in churches should need to have the skills of consultant, diagnostician, and growth planner to lead a church to continued health.
Ministry is both a promise and threat. When things are going well there is an impulse to go to the next level and a temptation to entrench the people and programs that were successful in the past. The book offered several helpful suggestions to diagnose whether a ministry is going in a healthy or unhealthy direction. On example is whether the dream is owned by an elite few or broadly among the members. If it is only an elite few, this is a caution that the church may be heading in an unhealthy direction.
A helpful exercise was given in chapter 11. A church’s congregation can be divided up into roles that fit in with the various stages of the church life cycle. Taking note of the number of members in each group that corresponds with the ministry life cycle of the church can be valuable in diagnosing the stage of ministry that the church is in as well as accesses the strengths and weaknesses of the congregation.
I had a disagreement or two with Dale …
The ministry cycle provided the structure for the book without a thorough justification for the cycle. More work could have been done to explain the elements, the order of the elements and the probability of going in order from one level to the next. We did not get empirical evidence to prove whether these elements happen in this order occasionally or all the time. The author was asking much of his readers to simply trust the ministry cycle chart as the center of their analysis of their church and planning for the future.
The discussion on the informal communication networks in the church needs to be updated. Since the book was written cell phones, social media, and the Internet have transformed the way people communicate.
In all the book is definitely worth the read, especially for church leaders who feel like their church is near a growth plateau.