Books and Book Reviews on the Church


Book Review: Barefoot Church by Brandon Hatmaker, 4 stars

Brandon Hatmaker in Barefoot Church shares his church’s values and his experience in serving an urban community. Hatmaker stays in the radical middle between the “missional” and “attractional” constructs of church. He is not attempting to promote one or the other, but simultaneously both. He makes it clear that he views evangelism as distinct, though not separate from social action.

In his church, Hatmaker created a structural necessity of community service by expecting all of his church’s small groups to spend half of their time serving together. He claims that if small groups focus on community rather than mission they may get neither. However if a small group focuses on mission it will likely get both community and mission. This is the best insight of the book in my opinion.

Book Review for: Contagious Generosity: Creating a Culture of Giving in Your Church by Chris Willard and Jim Sheppard, 4 Stars

The purpose of Willard and Sheppard’s book Contagious Generosity is not to help churches raise funds, but to help churches create a culture of generosity that raises up generous stewards. Generosity for them is “… a lifestyle in which we share all that we have, are, and every will become as a demonstration of God’s love and a response to God’s grace.”  The authors insist that it is what they want for you, not from you.

Book Review: Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times by Peter L. Steinke, 5 Stars

Leaders Respond Rather than React. Steinke enables readers to quickly get a 50,000-feet view of what happens when challenging events occur in churches. This perspective enables leaders to properly analyze the problem and have confidence and emotional strength to implement solutions. If you would like help in analyzing and solving conflicts in churches, this book is for you. It will give you the theoretical and practical help that you are looking for.

Book Review: ChurchMorph: How Megatrends Are Reshaping Christian Communities by Eddie Gibbs, 4 Stars

ChurchMorph is more of a conversation starter than a carefully argued book. The goal isn’t to come to clearly defined conclusions based on careful research, but on experienced observation. The observations of the church’s response to these megatrends as well as the specific examples give much food for thought to church leaders as they consider how to adapt to their local contexts.

Friday Book Review: Advanced Strategic Planning by Aubrey Malphurs, 4 Stars

The problem that Malphurs tackles is that 80-85 percent of churches in North America either have plateaued or are in decline.  In addition the number of unchurched people in America may be as high as 70 to 80 percent.

Most organizations like churches follow a pattern of growing, plateauing, and declining. Malphurs’ answer to the problem of church decline is to interrupt this pattern with a new pattern of growth. Advanced Strategic Planning is his how-to guide to starting these new patterns of growth.

Book review for Center Church by Tim Keller, 5 Stars

In Tim Keller’s Center Church, the idea of a center church is a balanced ministry on each of three axes: The Gospel, Culture, and Movement. The first axis is the Gospel: The gospel is the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ from the wrath of God. The gospel isn’t something we do, but something that has been done for us that we respond to.I loved Center Churchand give it a high recommendation. Its “insight per page” ratio is among the highest of the books that I’ve read this year. Go out and buy it and read it today.

Book Review: On the Verge: A Journey Into the Apostolic Future of the Church by Alan Hirsch & Dave Ferguson, 3 Stars 

On the Verge is another one of those creative books on the church that claims that times are a changin’ and that church needs to abandon its old ways and get on with the new. We need to regroup using the authors’ theories and methods if we want to be relevant in the next generation.

Book Review: What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, 4 Stars

In What is the Mission of the Church? Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert examine the biblical data to develop this mission statement for the church: “The mission of the church is to go into the world and make disciples and gathering these disciples into churches, that they might worship the Lord and obey his commands now and in eternity to the glory of God the Father.”  For those who are working to define the basic mission of the church or those who are trying to find the balance between gospel ministry and social ministry, “What is the Mission of the Church?” is worth reading. The authors are careful in handling the Bible, defining the terms,  and analyzing the issues involved.

Book Review: Simple Church by Thom Ranier and Eric Geiger, 4 Stars 

Organizations are constantly pulled to become more complex. Churches normally grow in complexity over time as they add programs at a faster rate than they drop them. Ranier and Geiger’s research behind Simple Church shows that churches which resist the pull to become complex are usually healthier and grow faster than those that become complex. I recommend reading Simple Church as a reminder for church leadership to resist the pull toward organizational complexity and align the church’s ministry structure around the process of making disciples.

Book Review: Real-Life Discipleship: Building Churches That Make Disciples by Jim Putman, 4 Stars

Jim Putman in Real-Life Discipleship has taken the discipleship methodology popularized by Dawson Trotman and the Navigators and masterfully brings it into his church, Real-Life Ministries, as its main organizing principle. Putman has developed a proven system for helping believers to grow in Christ and learn how to help others to do the same. Real-Life Discipleship is a great resource for readers who want to understand and implement that system within their church.

Book Review: American Church in Crisis by David T. Olson, 5 Stars

This book’s thesis is that denominations need to focus on starting new churches or their decline is inevitable. It is filled with statistics, maps, and other information. The audiences most likely to benefit from this book are denominational leaders who would profit from the church growth and decline data, as well as local leaders who are considering a church-planting ministry.

Book Review: “Who Stole My Church” by Gordon MacDonald, 4 Stars

I just have to say that Gordon MacDonald is a great writer. The point of the book: church leadership needs to shepherd its members to distinguish between timeless truths and cultural practices, all told within a compelling story. The book is a narrative of a pastor leading various characters through a process of change within a church. Much practical advice is subtly given as the pastor helps each personality walk through the change process. This book is a great read for those struggling with change in a church or inter-generational tensions. Not only is the content helpful, but the story format allows powerful lessons to be delivered in a way that lowers defenses. Content can be understood with less emotional baggage attached to the issues.

Book Review: Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow, 4 Stars

From the title of this book I didn’t expect much, but was pleasantly surprised. Murrow explains why most churches have far more participation from women than men. Many churches unintentionally repel men through a focus on safety, harmony, comfort, and nurture while simultaneously devaluing qualities that draw men like risk, change, adventure, competence, competition, and challenge. I recommend this book to anyone in church leadership who wants help in evaluating its structures and traditions for elements that repel men. Taking Murrow’s advice will create a more healthy church for both its men and women.

Book Review: Radical by David Platt, 3 Stars

The last chapter of David Platt’s book included some helpful practical suggestions for every believer:

  1. Pray for the entire world.
  2. Read through the entire Word.
  3. Sacrifice your money for a specific purpose.
  4. Spend your time in another context.
  5. Commit your life to a multiplying community.

Radical introduces some helpful themes to the American church, but if you are interested in reading one book on developing ministry in your church, a much better selection is Ministries of Mercy by Tim Keller.

Book Review: Radical Together by David Platt, 3 Stars

Platt challenges churches to evaluate every minute and every dollar spent and consider if vital resources are truly being used to expand the kingdom. Platt warns that it is too easy for the American church to get complacent and distracted. Radical Together is a wake-up call for churches to refocus on the task of The Great Commission. In Radical Together, Platt challenges the church to continually evaluate its practices and traditions to make sure they have not lost their purposes in the kingdom. While this could generate excitement, it isn’t “radical”.  The book is a quick read and offers encouragement and passion with a little practical insight.

Book Review: The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, 2 Stars

The purpose of the book is to question some incorrect premises of a traditional church and then, with different suppositions, build a new model in its place. One false assumption is that unbelievers do not have a desire to serve the needy and therefore should not be invited to participate in church sponsored service projects. Instead we should acknowledge that the very act of serving together is a vital way to show unbelievers that the church does what it says it should do and, at the same time, creates a healthy atmosphere of belonging before believing. The negative part of the book comes from the constant pejorative comments made about the “institutional” church. These comments vastly outnumber the authors’ helpful insights. The authors create an image of the church that no one would ever like and then pretend the image is representative of all churches. The distortion weakens many of the helpful points that the authors offer and makes a book with many five star points into a two star book.

Book Review: Taking Your Church to the Next level by Gary L. McIntosh, 4 Stars 

Churches have similar stages that they go through as they grow and even decline. As a church grows it needs to solve a new set of problems that were nonexistent when it was smaller. Suddenly the old programs, staff structure, and leadership roles need modification. Churches that are either unaware of these changes or ignore them tend to get stuck at a certain growth level. McIntosh helps identify the normal plateaus and makes general recommendations to move to the next level. Though the solutions were fairly general, there was enough there to justify reading the book. I would recommend it.

Book Review: To Dream Again by Robert D. Dale, 4 Stars

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, polarizations, and dropout. The way to avoid the declining half of this cycle is to restart the dreaming process.In all the book is definitely worth the read, especially for church leaders who feel like their church is near a growth plateau.

Book Review: Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations by Ed Stetzer and Thom S. Rainer, 3 Stars

The key to a church impacting a city is to have a long-term presence with a plan to affect the city in a comprehensive way. We must think beyond a church’s main activities as being in a building on a Sunday and focus on the church in the community during the week. The audience that would benefit most from this book includes those who have a basic understanding of church life, but have not carefully reflected on the distinctions between healthy and unhealthy churches. The book offers an introduction to the categories used to evaluate churches that may be helpful for people who are new to the Christian faith.