An extended review of the 2021 book by Stephen D. Elliott
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Wesleyan Publishing, 2021. 228 pages. $15 (e-book $10)
Stephen Elliot is superintendent of The Wesleyan Church of Canada and program director of pastoral ministries and church planting degree programs at Kingswood University in New Brunswick.
As a hands-on academic he has written a handbook relevant to lay and ordained leaders in all church denominations as the book deals with the realities of Christianity in North America at this time.
In the introduction he talks about his personal background and the mistakes he made as he attempted to grow a congregation in Kanata, Ont., from 2 to several thousand. He realised quickly that he had to delegate to succeed as the congregation grew. His skill in writing and teaching is knowing when to ask for help.
The book’s acknowledgements section shows how Elliot relies on the wise and seasoned input of other church leaders who have provided excellent suggestions and insights about the inner workings of churches of various sizes and denominational backgrounds. (I have met several pastors who have worked with the author or know him directly, which increased my interest in reading this book.)
The book is set up as a practical guide for church leaders with plenty of practical examples and references to other resources. One of its main points is laid out in the introduction: “A large church operates differently than a small church. The way the pastor approaches church changes with size.”
The author says the book is about the wisdom and commitment it takes to effectively lead Christ’s church in contemporary culture. It is a book written for every church leader who cares about fulfilling the vison God has given them to love and reach the lost in their community.
The book is divided into seven chapters plus appendix, notes and charts. Each chapter has a page of small group leadership team discussion questions. This creates an excellent manual for small groups to discuss the chapter and look up the references to get a better understanding of the pros and cons of each step. Some of the discussions are personal, some theoretical but all a relevant to how human beings interact.
In the first chapter Marbles and Home Runs he tells how he was feeling burnt out but was reinvigorated as he attended a seminar by David Lowe who asked how many marbles can you hold in on hand? You stop trying hold the marbles in one hand and get a bucket. In other words, spread the workload.
The second chapter Controversy and Struggle expands on the reality of change while the third chapter focuses on challenge. He quotes his former professor Dale Galloway, an ex-megachurch pastor. “Four out of every five church will be gone or remain irrelevant if they don’t transition.”
While chapter three focuses What Others Are Saying, it is mostly charts showing what other spiritual leaders define as the characteristics of different church sizes. Comparisons are made between churches of less than 125, 200, 400, 800 to 1000-2000. There is discussion about what is hoped to achieve and what we do achieve. Change has to come from the top down. This is a different way of looking at church growth for some groups.
Chapter five it titled a Short Important Chapter. It points out the 12 steps needed to succeed. This is a useful framework for the sixth chapter which gives examples of different size churches in the 34 tables. The final chapter summarizes insights and strategies. The Appendix is very valuable is it give 12 traits of a successful church discussed by 12 theologians in an each to reach chart form.
Overall the book is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn how to grow a church in the present day.
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