Our staff was asked to read this book as a topic for discussion about the health and growth of our church. Not the most current book we could read on this topic, as this book was written in 1996. I felt the authors ended up making a couple decent observations, but the journey to get there was somewhat excruciating.
This book reminded me of a college text book. The writing style is dry, clinical, academic and scientific. Because of this, at times I found it difficult to track with the idea or concept they were trying to get across. I have read quite a few other books on this subject that have done a better job of sharing research and observations without the need to write so technically.
Perhaps this book was groundbreaking in 1996, but I didn’t really feel that there was anything profound being presented. I did find it interesting that in their research, one small observation was that high quality growing churches laugh a lot. I do feel that many people believe they must ‘get serious’ about going to church, and God’s Joy tends to get squashed in the way people express their faith. I love to laugh. I tend to hang out with people who enjoy laughing. If you ask me, God is too good and life is too short to be grumpy…especially in church!
I will say that I appreciated the authors balanced take on how the church needs organization and structure, but needs to be allowed to be the organic organism that it is in order to be healthy. He talks about the problems with getting stuck in one paradigm extreme or the other, and the benefits of finding the balance between both necessary elements (organization & organic) that make a dynamic & healthy church.
Critics of the church growth movement have often emphasized the need for quality congregations. We should not focus on numerical growth, but rather, we should concentrate on qualitative growth.
Christian Schwarz has done extensive research world-wide and found that healthy, growing churches seem to share eight quality characteristics. These characteristics are:
- Empowering leadership
- Gift-oriented ministry
- Passionate spirituality
- Functional structures
- Inspiring worship service
- Holistic small groups
- Need-oriented evangelism
- Loving relationships
Schwarz uses the illustration of a barrel with eight staves to symbolize the eight quality characteristics. The barrel can only hold water to the height of the lowest stave. So too, Schwarz argues, a church can only grow as far as their ‘Minimum factor,’ which is the lowest of the eight quality characteristics in their church. He challenges churches to resist the temptation to work on improving areas in which they already excel, for by doing this they do not increase their minimum factor or their church quality.