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Monday, July 30, 2012

"There's Hope For Your Church" (Gary L. McIntosh)

TITLE: There's Hope for Your Church: First Steps to Restoring Health and Growth
AUTHOR: Gary L. McIntosh
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012, (206 pages).

This book brings massive amounts of encouragement for Church leaders who are feeling jaded and discouraged about their churches. It enables leaders to be more responsive and active when they see a chronic deterioration of their church growth. For pastors feeling that their efforts are hitting a dead wall, they will be rejuvenated with creative juices. For board members, they will be reminded to take a harder look at themselves and what they have been doing, so that they can take another fresh approach at revitalizing the church they love. It reminds us that churches are not meant for self-consumption but for the sake of others around us. Most importantly, leaders will discover (or rediscover) a great sense of hope that it is possible, that it is desirable, and that it is exciting!

Calling it "first steps," McIntosh shares with us his wealth of experience and formidable expertise with Church growth and renewal processes. Beginning with a brief observation of the Church patterns in the recent decades, he notes that in the 50-60s, there is much interest in the Church Renewal Movement. In the 70-80s, the interest shifts to the Church Growth Movement. In the 90s, there is more emphasis on Church Spiritual Formation Movement, followed by interest in Missional movements in the two decades after 2000. In all of these movements, McIntosh feels that the pastor is the key change agent. More specifically, Church pastors needs to be "revitalization leaders" that see God as their client (not the Board), be prepared to encounter resistance (rather than expecting smooth flow), willing to lead without affirmation (trusting God more), and practise "courageous, godly leadership." Such leaders are primarily the Dominant or Influential types who are action oriented on the DISC chart.

McIntosh describes 13 "first steps" for revitalization leaders to adopt. Beginning with "See the Potential," before any work can be done with regards to revitalizing the Church, leaders need to see the potential of revitalization. Leaders who "Commit to Lead," need to be those with the right personality (mostly D and I), the right timing (at least 7 years through 5 levels of leadership), the right action (according to the contexts), the right attitude (willingness to suffer), and the right focus (on Christ). In order to cultivate hope, one needs to "Assess the Situation" by looking out for 8 signs of trouble, to remove the fog, to move fast, and even to engage an outside consultant. The principles of Church growth need to be rediscovered as leaders "Learn the Principles" that growth is a spiritual process, and careful attention is needed to address dysfunctional issues in the Church.  "Discern God's Vision" requires one to know where one is and where one is going. There is hope as leaders "Build a Coalition" to get people to work willingly and diligently in the same direction. The next seven ideas talk about change and change management. This means one needs to "Life the Morale" by showing there is hope.  Leaders need to pay attention the three groups of people (Very Important, Very Trainable, Very Nice People), and learn to be less distracted by the fourth group (Very Draining People). Giving hope does not mean doing nice things only. It means even having to "Make Hard Decisions" to confront sooner rather than later. Once leaders learn to "Refocus the Ministry," one starts to build rather than remain stagnant, look outward rather than inward, and to do something about it instead of passive waiting. New ideas need new skills and talents. This is why "Equip for Change" is critical for revitalization. Through his wide understanding of Church makeup, history, intergenerational changes, and patterns of control, McIntosh gives insights on how to manage Church transitions. With any change, there will be the naysayers and the resistance groups. Revitalizing work also requires leaders to "Deal with Resistance which may lead to loss of identity, control, meaning, belonging, and a future. Here, McIntosh encourages us to take note of five sacred cows to beware of, the different kinds of conflicts and how to manage them, and how to go about managing Church conflicts through transitions. In order to restore hope, one needs to "Stay the Course," make changes where necessary, but keep the flow moving. Finally, the most exciting part is when there is "Breaking Through" into new ground. The thirteen strategies are supplemented by three excellent appendices that talk about "rebirthing the church," "church mergers," and a list of recommended resources for further study and research.

My Thoughts

Reading this book itself is rejuvenating for anyone, not only the exhausted leader. The chapters on "Commit to Lead," "Deal with Resistance," and the two appendices are worth the price of the book. Beginning with an important emphasis on leadership, McIntosh skillfully teaches us the step by step process of beginning a move toward a hopeful position. Each chapter can stand on its own, and I will not hesitate to recommend that Church leadership conduct 13 workshops over the year, dedicating one chapter per workshop. The ideas are creative and insightful, but the demands are high. Many can be approached to be leaders, but not many can be "revitalization leaders." There is a wealth of wisdom in this book. I appreciate especially the stories of how individual churches manifest the teachings of the book. It gives a sense of authenticity and that the ideas can work. What is important for readers and leaders is to remember that every church is different. Even the same church needs to be aware that it needs to understand itself. As people change, as transitions come, the same church today is different from yesterday. Likewise, the same church today will be different tomorrow. If that is the case, the incentive is even stronger. Make the future version of our church even better. The first steps of change need to start today. It needs to be planted right now. There is no time to lose. We all need the hope of Christ in us. Let us begin planting the seeds of health and hope right now. Pray. Seek God. Find Hope. Then go make disciples beginning with our churches.

I highly recommend this book for Church leaders and pastors.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

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