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81 of 83 found the following review helpful:
ChurchGrowth Book Bible-oriented Pastors Have Longed For!Oct 05, 2001
By Edward J. Vasicek
"Author, pastor, columnist"
Finally something unique in the growing mountain of church growth materials! "Surprising Insights" offers a mixture of both old standard "church growth" concepts and some truly "surprising" insights that will both encourage and challenge pastors of conviction, committed to preaching the Word of God and holding the doctrinal line.
The author, Thom Rainer (and his research team) have taken a truly unique approach to church growth: rather than survey the unchurched, they studied the "formerly unchurched," the success stories of outreach. Why did men and women who rarely attended church decide to get involved? Rainer rightly points out that most unchurched people will never become regular attenders so why study them? Why not reach the reachable?
Rainer pulls out of his bag some treasures old and new. Maybe 60%f of the concepts he highlights, such as "pursuing excellence" in facilities and children's programs, or being "purpose driven" are already part of church growth dogma. But the other 40% offers some eye-opening surprises. This landmark study is not just the same old same old.
Amazingly, the formerly unchurched were drawn to churches with doctrinal conviction (remarkably, folks who transferred from church to church were LESS interested in doctrine or solid teaching than the unchurched). The majority of the formerly unchurched wanted in-depth (expository) Bible teaching, not merely pop-psychology topical sermons. The churches that reached the unchurched were usually intentionally evangelistic. They also seemed specialized in attracting women to church (sometimes through good programs for their children); the women were won to Christ and then often their husbands eventually came to faith (if the church was burdened to reach their husbands). The pastors worked hard at leadership and evangelism, but compensated by dropping the ball in counseling, hospital visitation, servant-like menial tasks, and pastoral care in general.
Every pastor needs to struggle with how much of a price he is willing to pay to lead his church toward growth. But even those of us who are unwilling to reduce our levels of pastoral care can adopt many of the philosophies in this book. I found the book both encouraging and challenging.
28 of 29 found the following review helpful:
A Refreshing & Original Look At Church GrowthJan 27, 2004
By Tim Challies
Thom Rainer is president of Rainer Group Church Consulting as well as founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. As such, we would expect him to have many interesting insights into church growth. He does not disappoint. In Surprising Insights From The Unchurched Rainer presents the results of a fascinating study he performed over two years. He decided that perhaps the best way of learning what principles of church growth work best would be to interview people who had only recently become Christians and begun to attend church on a regular basis. He and his team spent thousands of hours interviewing 353 of these people. And the results, as is obvious from the title of the book, are quite surprising. In the second half of the book, the focus turns to pastors of successful evangelical churches and seeks to understand what they do to bring success to their churches.
The interviews performed by Rainer were focused on members of "effective evangelistic churches." Rainer defines these as churches with at least twenty-six conversions per year and a conversion ratio (membership/annual conversion) of less than 20:1. The average ratio in American churches is approximately 85:1. The two criteria eliminate 96% of churches. This leaves the elite 4% as the focus of the study.
Through about 125 pages, Rainer reveals the results of his study. He begins by shattering myths about the unchurched. For example, his study found that the name of the church had almost no influence on the unchurched as they chose a church to attend. The pastor does not need to be a dynamic and charismatic leader for the church to reach the unchurched, and deep and complex Biblical truths do not turn the unchurched away. These insights seem to fly in the face of many principles associated the church growth movement. The factors that led people to choose a church were primarily the pastor and his preaching followed closely by solid, Biblical doctrine. Those two factors rated far ahead of any others. Once again, those would seem to contradict much of the church growth movement. Doctrine is so important that Rainer devotes an entire chapter to it.
The second part of the book is devoted to insights gleaned from approximately 100 ministers who pastor effective evangelistic churches. The insights gained from these pastors are also fascinating. Perhaps the most interesting element of this section of the book is "Fifteen Lessons from the Leaders Whose Churches Reach the Unchurched." In this section, Rainer outlines fifteen lessons he learned in interviewing these men. He speaks of authenticity, the imperative of person evangelism, the need to retain strong doctrine and many other critical points. He also devotes attention to their leadership skills and preaching style.
If ever I feel I have done injustice to a book in a review of it, this is it. Honestly, there are so many important principles in this book that they simply cannot be narrowed down to a few short paragraphs. This book is a treasure trove of information about the ways the most successful churches reach the unchurched. I unreservedly recommend this above any others regarding church growth.
28 of 29 found the following review helpful:
Excellent!Jan 17, 2003
By Holly H
I have now collected half a dozen books on church growth, surveying your congregation, and methods to lead a faith-based organization and this is the best of the lot. Dr. Thom Rainer has done an excellent job of researching people who recently made a decision for Christ and joined a church as adults. Some of the results are surprising.
People who have something missing in their lives are not looking for pop psychology or watered-down messages - they are looking for truth and a community of faith who are friendly to people they have never met before. (We all think we are friendly, but what would someone who is meeting you for the first time think about your congregation?) High expectations of new members, Excellence and quality of worship, and cleanliness of facilities were some other surprises. The surveys at the end of the book are thought-provoking. The leadership survey (for pastors) and Church Health survey (for the congregation) are scored by The Rainer Group. The Unchurched-Reaching Readiness Inventory is self-scoring. All appear well-designed and comprehensive, with good correlation questions.
There is an excellent chapter on characteristics of pastors of churches who reach the unchurched. They aren't good at maintenance tasks (weddings, funerals, hospital visitation) but are excellent at preaching, communication, vision, and leading the congregation. Hmmm... it seems this is what the Apostles did in Acts. They equipped others to do the daily work of the church and did the teaching and evangelizing.
If you want a church that only tends to its own members, you will not like this book. But if you want to know how to reach the unchurched, how to grow your congregation (not by moving members over from other churches), then this is a book full of insights and hard data that can really help stir ideas and action to move Christians toward fulfilling the Great Commission of Matthew 28.
11 of 11 found the following review helpful:
Church Growth Remains ElusiveJun 30, 2006
By Amazon Customer
With more research and "How To" books than any other time in history the American Church still seems to be on the decline. In this volume Thom Rainer, Dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth, takes his best shot at the problem. Is his "best shot" good enough? It's certainly helpful, but probably not a home run.
This book reiterates solid leadership principles.
This book insists (thankfully) that traditional conservative churches can grow without becoming "odd".
This book paints a vivid contrast between effective and ineffective pastors.
This book actually goes to those recently converted to Christianity and asks them why they converted.
This book was written by someone who knows what he is talking about.
The research sample is too small and biased. Rainer studied 350 new Christians, 350 Christians who transferred to a new church, and 100 pastors - ALL from conservative evangelical churches! This is circular logic. That is, if you asked all of the new people who came to my church why they came to church, they would mostly respond that they liked particular aspects of my church. This only shows that my church has the ability to attract new persons, not that my church has the only way or even the best way. NCD (Natural Church Development) has interviewed more churches of more types on more continents than any other study. Do not overlook NCD material when researching this subject.
This book accepts national statistics that are no longer universally accepted. This book "assumes" that Conservative Evangelical and Fundamentalists Church in American outgrow liberal and mainstream churches. 10 years ago this statement could have been made as a fact. This is no longer the case. Recent studies have shown that conservative churches are also in decline at about the same rate. The reasons are heavily debated, but the results are that church growth is isolated in all Christian movements.
This book is a must read, if for no other reason, it reinforces that churches CAN be effective without being out of balance. But this book should not be viewed as the final word on the matter.
19 of 22 found the following review helpful:
I was amazed when I read this book, made me thinkAug 22, 2002
By Erich E. Geary
I bought this book thinking it would be like a number of current church growth book that focus on church growth with basic management princibles. What I got was a book that made me think and challenged some of my "sacred cows". Rainer uses scientific survey methods as the foundation of this book. He presents facts about those who came to church for the 1st time or returned after extended absence from the church (the formally un-churched). He asked, "What caused you join the church?" (the churched). He goes further than asking what would make one want to come to church by asking the new converts what brought them to the church. Well worth the read. At this time, I would consider it one of the top ten books to read on church growth and evangelism.
I like the fact it is based on actual research. Read it and use it to start discussions about the issues raised by the book.
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