For your consideration, here are some excellent resources (and a few other books) to help develop a personal understanding of how to build back a struggling church.

———–alphabetical order, by author————–

Alberts, David S and Hayes, Richard E Power to the Edge. (DC: DoD Command and Control Resource Program – This is a publication of a Defense Department think tank, but is outstanding in understanding how a centralized leader can keep in contact with people on the edge of the organization. You could think of it like the pastor of a church trying to keep track of the occasional member, the home-bound and the community the church exists in and does business with.

Barna Research Group. Founded by George Barna, this organization focuses on the spiritual attitudes of North Americans and on the activities of their churches. His research is statistically valid, but also frighteningly unsettling. The warnings he gives in his periodic research reports and the books he writes have been documenting the declining state of the Church for several decades. He has helped me see the magnitude of the problem this book tries to address.

Barna, George. How to Increase Giving in Your Church (Regal Books, 1997). Not so much how to twist their arm, it’s more a survey of who gives where, and why. For me, the most valuable insights were that Americans continue to be “determination to give away their money to those in need.” He also makes the connection between active participation in the organization and increased levels of giving.

Bass, Dorothy C Practicing our Faith – a series of readings on how faith is lived out in the practices of God’s people. Her descriptions of “practices” is a key to my interpretation of “acts of ministry” as a corporate discipline of the member of a functioning community of faith. Also includes

* Saliers, Don E “Singing in our lives”, which says that “The circle of song and movement … shared music making that the human body remembers – (is) a kind of natural language of praise.”

* Bass, Dorothy C and Dykstra, Craig. “Growing in the Practices of Faith” evaluates core practices of faith.

Beverley, James “What is Postmodernism?” (, accessed October 01, 2004) While not the definitive word on postmodernism, Beverly has done a good job of condensing the issue to its key elements and describing to the casual reader the dangers of postmodernism to the contemporary church, describing Christ as “the path to truth, the way to meaning, the cause of beauty, the answer to oppression, and the solution to despair.”

Breen, Bill “I Can Only Compete Through My Crew,” Fast Company Magazine, Issue 40 November 2000, Page 270. The story of Simon Walker, who has twice skippered a crew in the BT Global Challenge,” a 30,000-mile marathon ‘the wrong way’ around the planet — that is, against prevailing winds and currents.” It is physically and emotionally draining, and the job of the leader is as much keeping the team’s confidence up as it is making crucial sailing decisions. He talks about the need to gain common understanding among the team to meet team goals.

Collins, Jim. Good to Great. (NY: Harper-Collins, 2001), – A classic in the genre that describes the difference between a great company and one that is merely “good.” In short, a great company chooses to be great at one thing, strips away anything that gets in the way of achieving that mission, and focuses all its energies on becoming great in that one area.

Farley, Gary E, PhD “Some Twenty Observations about Non-metropolitan churches confronting change,” Appendix Two in Working Paper: The Churching of the Metro-Fringe, a case study of Southern Baptists in Kansas City/Raytown, 1945-1995. (Atlanta: North American Mission Board, File 1029, Revised March 29, 2001.) Dr Gary Farley has become one of the leading voices for small and rural churches. His insights on the life-span of a congregation have helped immensely in my understanding and diagnosis of struggling churches and in being attuned to strategies for restoration. In addition to this quoted reference, he has a number of articles online, mostly from, whose mission is “Assisting, Equipping and Encouraging pastors and lay leaders of small churches and rural ministries.”

Firestein, Roger l, PhD, Leading on the Creative Edge, C Springs, CO: Pinion Press, 1996) Success in an organization is in large part due to the leadership being able to express the problems to be solved and the tasks to be done in a way that they can be solved, rather than just imponderable issues. For example, he reframes the complaint “We don’t have the money for that!” into “What might we do without in order to pay for this needed thing?” or “What other ways might we get the value of using this thing without paying the full price?” He emphasizes leaving time to fully understand the problem and for generating more options, in order to create more creative “can do” solutions.

Garrison, David Church Planting Movements, (Midlothian, VA: WIGTake Resources, 2004). Written by a missions area coordinator, Garrison tells the stories of rapid church growth by conversion in Asia and other parts of the world, describing the key universal factors. There are suggestions on how to help missions and what activities are most likely to stop a missions movement. The publishing house is WIGTake, for What’s It Gonna Take to win the world?

Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point. (NY: Back Bay Books, 2000). The subtitle of this 300-page paperback is “How little things can make a big difference.” That phrase was prophetic. The Tipping Point not only has become a classic in management literature, but the title has entered the American lexicon such that the concept of a tipping point is now widely understood. In the book he compares how viral epidemics begin and how that applies to advertising and ideas. He explains the role of connectors, mavens and salesmen in spreading ideas, and why each is different but all are needed. One key is that most people wait for someone else to initiate an idea, but once started, small efforts can keep that idea spreading.

Hall, Edward T, The Hidden Dimensiona cultural anthropologist looks at the use of space in public & private space (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co, Inc. 1966) Although I tried to avoid any books more than 10 years old, this seminal work is still valid in many of its points in describing how various cultures view personal and professional space, and suggesting architectural solutions. It is useful to this discussion in describing the infrastructure and physical barriers that must be overcome in creating comfortable social spaces (such as church meeting facilities).

Kelly, Dean M, Why Conservative Churches are Growing (NY: Harper & Row, 1972). As a rule, I don’t study contemporary issues with non-contemporary sources. The culture changes too fast to make judgments about today and tomorrow with yesterday analysis. However, there are a few authors who manage to touch on timeless issues and core principles, or were able to spot a trend before it was widely recognized. The Bible obviously provides timeless truths that are as fresh tomorrow as they were a thousand years ago. The unique insights of Tom Peters and Rosabeth Moss Kantor into the nature of human organizations (especially in the Western culture) are generally long-lasting. Similarly, Hall’s ideas of social space and Maslow’s concepts of needs are enduring. Dean Kelley’s book, while seeming to be of the age in which it was written, seems to reflect the early glimmer of what has become a full-blown crisis in the modern church, and we would have been well-served to have heeded its suggestions then, instead of backtracking now. (NOTE: This book has recently been re-released.)

Kotter, John P, Leading Change (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1996). This is a very easy read. The most valuable insight to me was that successful organizations are not complacent in how they do their business, and their leaders are always communicating urgency, vision and strategy. The key job of a leader is to remove barriers for their people. Successful leaders share authority and celebrate small victories. Authoritarian and control-oriented leaders stifle the organization’s ability to move forward.

Hayes, Albert Power to the Edge (DC:, 2003). This is a military thought piece of how to improve command and control by creating flexible and adaptive structures that react to change with innovation, and resilience against change. These new organizational structures maintain cohesiveness by robust communication and unity of purpose to every echelon of the unit (maximize collaboration and minimize information hiding).

Kantor, Rosabeth Moss & Stein, Barry A Life in Organizations: Workplaces as people experience them (NY:Basic Books, Inc. 1979) When organizations are responding appropriately to a changing world, the leader must over-communicate and must always act consistently with the stated vision. The leader must also listen to the concerns of those being led to find what motivates them, for their willingness to follow is a matter of managing expectations and consistently delivering on the factors that are key to the individuals themselves. Conversely, “organizational skullduggery” invariably leads to organizational inertia and/or failure.

Kantor, Rosabeth Moss, On the Frontiers of Management (Boston, MA, Harvard Business School Press, 1997) As one of the leading experts in organizational dynamics and management, Kantor’s works are timeless. This volume provides “a refresher course” for managers leading organizations involved in a changing world. It talks about being life-long learners, thinking creatively, obsessing about customer-focused organizations, and the hard work of “follow up and follow through.” It’s not enough to have a great product or a history of success. The contemporary manager must lead the organization through constant self-discovery through the eyes of each succeeding generation (year/quarter/month?) of customers, being “local” in every global location the organization is represented. (My local public library is upset at me for holding on to this one so long, but there was so much intellectual ‘meat’ in it!)

Kimball, Dan, The Emerging Church: Vintage Christianity for New Generations. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003) This is perhaps one of the best books on the contemporary church, and well deserving the forward by Rick Warren, who is himself best known for his Purpose Driven Life series. Kimball is both insightful and practical. Not only does he explain the culture around us, he tells you what to do about it to have the church speak to that culture, how to balance liturgy with the MTV culture. So many ideas here! Or, as he puts it “I want all who desire to have an impact in the emerging church to be … thinking strategically, studying the culture, and functioning as missiologists like never before. … We need to set the pace for social justice in our communities and be thinking globally. But please, please, please … be constantly connected to the chief Shepherd … for his leading and guidance.”

Martin, Kevin “The Future of the Small Church” (, accessed November 14, 2004) This is a review of Kennon Callahan’s “Small, Strong Churches.”  (Jossey-Bass, 2001)  which says that small churches are fundamentally different than large churches, and can be healthy and strong without having an abundance of members.

McGukin, Frank (ed) Volunteerism (NY: The H.W. Wilson Co, 1998) This is a collection of speeches on the topic of finding and keeping volunteers in social service organizations external to the church. It reads like a collection of current events articles and is dated at points, it does provide insight into how the best organizations gain and keep their best workers.

Malphus, Aubrey Developing a Vision for Ministry in the 21st Century. Describes the leader as a player-coach, whose job it is to form and focus the team.

Neil Earle “The Night We Sushied the Sharks” (, accessed October 01, 2004) Earle says we need to reach unbelievers where they really live.

O’Hannigan, Patrick “What Hollywood Can Teach Christians About Their Hymns” (, accessed November 18, 2004) Father O’Hannigan says that “Hollywood understands that religious music is a teaching tool. Every hymn is a response to God’s call, but (among other things) good hymns do not mistake you or me for God.”

Parks, Sharon Daloz, Big questions, worthy dreams : mentoring young adults in their search for meaning, purpose, and faith, (San Francisco, Calif. : Jossey-Bass/Wiley, c2000) Parks describes mentoring as a process where those being taught come to understand how to deal with the questions of life and faith in a way that prevents despair and trains them to orient their lives so as to achieve “worthy dreams.”

Peters, Tom The Pursuit of WOW! (New York: Vintage Press/Random House, 1994) Peters is one of my favorites for vignette books; there is not a consistent plot in this book, but rather a running collection of ideas (210 of them) centered around the theme of absolutely astonishing your customers so that they will buy your products every time. He talks the vision thing, the organizational thing, and how to really do customer service. But what I most like is his understanding of what the leader must do. “The number one leadership skill is the ability to develop others.” He says that the best leaders remove barriers that are keeping their employees from doing their absolute best. This book is almost certainly at your library.

Reid, Alvin, Radically Unchurched (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2002) An extremely practical theologian (and seminary professor), Reid has his finger on the pulse of society and solid suggestions on how the church must reframe itself to react to people who have no clue as to what we do or why we do it.

Rogers Everett M., Diffusion of Innovations (New York: Free Press, First edition 1962, Fourth edition 1995). Rogers, as a result of his observations, divides the population into five categories — the Innovators (2.5%), the Early Adopters (13.5%), Early Majority (34%), Late Majority (34%), Laggards (16%). If you want to bring about effective change in any institution, society, etc., it is important to identify the Innovators and Early Adopters and work with them, the others will follow, although the Laggards will be curmudgeons about it every inch of the way. These proportions and groupings are pretty constant whatever the circumstance.

Scalia, Father Paul, “Ritus Narcissus: Why Do We Sing of Ourselves and Celebrate Ourselves?” (, accessed November 18, 2004) Father Scalia wrote this blistering repudiation of modern church music to say that worship (the mass) is about dialoguing with God, and songs that talk to one another (“Come to the table of plenty”) focus too much on our actions and not about the actions of God for us, to us and with us.

Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. (Franklin, TN: Integrity Media, Inc. 2006) He says that our activity for God can only properly flow from a life with God. We cannot give what we do not possess. Doing for God in a way that is proportionate to our being with God is the only pathway to a pure heart and seeing God

Schwarz, Christian. Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches (Carol Stream, IL: ChurchSmart Resources, 1996). This is one of the most insightful and helpful books I have read on why some churches grow and why others falter. His approach is to achieve an “organic balance” between ministry areas. The key illustration is an eight-staved barrel, with each stave of different lengths. In the barrel analogy, it will only hold water to the height of the shortest stave, no matter how tall and strong another particular area of ministry may be. Even with unlimited resources, unless the church is balanced, any growth will be short-term and unhealthy.

Sykes, Thomas E. Field of Churches: A Viable Option, compiled by. (Atlanta: Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1989). The field of churches approach involves multiple churches sharing one or more pastoral staffs, located within a reasonable driving distance of each other, committed to helping one another as if extended family living apart in the same rural county. Similar to the circuit riding heritage, these churches intentionally work together to evangelize the region even as they meet as geographically close community congregation.

Stott, John R.W. Involvement: being a responsible Christian in a Non-Christian Society (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H Revell Company, 1985) Page 41 sums up the text with “So if we truly love our neighbors, and because of their worth desire to serve them, we shall be concerned for their total welfare, the wellbeing of their soul, body and community. And our concern will lead to practical programmes of evangelism, relief and development, we shall not just prattle and plan and pray.” Our faith in Christ calls us to activity in the world, which is the only place we will find those to whom we can share our faith, but after we have shown that we care.

Tanner, Edward Why things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences (NY:Alfred Knopf, 1997) – an organization is more than a group of people assembled together, which is as much a mob as an identifiable “thing”.

Underhill, Paco. The Call of the Mall, (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2004) Page 127 summarizes the book with “the mall is a tamed jungle, the retail concentrate of the urban environment – a very weird city, on in which there is little to do but shop, with a roof and a smooth floor and air bearing the scent of candle shops and cappuccino.” This book talks about creating social spaces.

Underhill, Paco, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping (NY: Touchstone Books, 1999) Probably the best single chapter for my purposes was Chapter 3, which is titled “The Twilight Zone.” This chapter dealt with what people did when they first entered the store, and the all-too common mistakes made by retailers. Underhill says that the first few seconds in a new environment are spent adjusting to the surroundings. Most of us will enter a store intent on buying what we went there for, and aren’t focused on impulse shopping until that task is accomplished. The interruptions are either not seen, ignored or distract us from our goal of buying something at all. As applied to a church, I learned that we need a foyer, a transition zone between the carnal and the sacred, a place to adjust. What they need is a welcome, a guide to find their way.

Watson, Robert A, and Brown, Ben, “The Most Effective organization in the US” – Leadership Secrets of the Salvation Army (NY:Crown Publishing Group, 2001) Describes how the Salvation Army has been successful at helping people see ways to achieve worthy goals, and to satisfy basic needs of feeling worthy. He illustrates the need for constructive feedback in keeping the organization moving forward, even in times of uncertain future outcomes.

Wood, Gene, Leading Turnaround Churches, (St Charles, IL: Church-Smart Resources, 2001) Despite the title, I cannot recommend this book. It is not a bad book, per se. It is a great introduction to the problems a leader will face walking into a church that isn’t moving – quantitatively or qualitatively – and some solutions on how to deal with personal conflict. But the novice reader using this as his only sourcebook for rescuing a failing church likely will not see the results expected, and may further demoralize the nascent leader looking for the 10 easy steps for fulfilling the will of God in his town. Wood’s key suggestion seems to be that failing churches have too many intransigent busybodies and stick-in-the-pew deacons, and the pastor must dislodge them and send them off to another church before success can be realized.

Yaconelli, Mike (ed.), Stories of Emergence: Moving from Absolute to Authentic (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003) – This is a thought-provoking collection of readings that will challenge conventional ideas of what church is. Although I don’t agree with everything included in each article, these are stories of people doing the hard work of “working out their salvation with fear and trembling” in a post-modern society have helped me explore alternate understandings of creating authentic churches that are relevant to today’s culture.

* JoAnn Badley, ‘Living as an exile’: “The task of theology is to restate faithfully the saving actions of our God and to think carefully what that means for the community of faith in this new time.”

* Todd Hunter, ‘Entering the conversation’: The Gospel of the Kingdom invites us into a large, all-encompassing story; the stories of Adam and Eve, Israel, and the church … living outside God’s story has serious ramifications…”

* Chris Seay, ‘I have inherited the faith of my fathers’: “The story of God hasn’t lost its power or beauty (but) we must create new wineskins for new believers (who) wont find a home in a Sunday School class or a singles class. … (we need) a reformation built around mission and relationship instead of thoughts, systems and ideals.”

* Brad Cecil, ‘I Told You We Weren’t Crazy’: “…in the post-modern world community is essential. … Postmodernity promotes a concept that truth equates to agreements formed in community and only people who participate in a community can obtain truth.” He says that to reach the postmodern world with the Gospel, you must first build relationships and form community, rather than relying on “lecture halls” for laying out an impersonal linear reasoning to win an audience that is no longer listening.

Yancy, Phillip, The Bible Jesus Read (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999) Besides being a great introduction to some key books of the Old Testament, it helped me solidify my understanding of the needs for communication in the church, and how, being in the likeness of God, nothing is more upsetting to a person than being forgotten.

Yahweh God, The Bible. . I prefer the modern translations, and have used for my source material the New International Version, The Open Bible, and The Message paraphrase most of the time. But whether you use King James or the Living Bible, it remains the most authoritative source for knowing how church should be organized.


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