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Book Jacket

Trade Paperback
144 pages
Jan 2004
Westminster John Knox Press

Beyond the Ordinary: Ten Strengths of U.S. Congregations

by Cynthia Woolever & Deborah Bruce

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt


"This book's title is slightly misleading. Yes, there are ten basic chapters that focus on key elements of church strength in America (such as meaningful worship and sharing faith). In reality, however, the two author/researchers actually analyzed 16 factors that influence church growth and individual churches' spiritual health.

"After exhaustive surveying and interviewing, the authors confess at the end of their book [p. 113] that, across all denominations, only three actions actually will lead to church growth: (1) caring for children and youth; (2) welcoming new people; and (3) getting people directly involved in congregational life (becoming church leaders, participating in study groups).

"The authors did not limit the scope of their research. They focused on large, medium and small congregations; they surveyed mainline Protestant churches, Catholic churches, black congregations, and hyper-conservative denominations; and they studied both sexes, all age groups, and a wide variety of pulpit focuses, from liberal social doctrines to traditional Bible-lesson-only sermons.  Interestingly, it was their 'myth breaking' revelations that were most revealing about this study.

"Here are some surprising discoveries: (a) copying the methods of successful large congregations like the Willow Creek model negates a church's unique character and, thus, usually does not succeed [p. 5]; (b) mastering one successful aspect of church ministry will not create a healthy and growing church [p. 8]; (c) small congregations, usually conservative in doctrine, do a far better job of welcoming new people than do the mega-churches [p. 22]; (d) congregations with young parishioners report being out-right "bored" by most sermons they hear [p. 33]; and (e) half of all people attending churches today feel that the match between the pastor or priest and the congregation is a "poor fit" for them [p. 94].

"This book is filled with contemporary analysis of American churches. It is easy to read and is supplemented with charts, sidebars, even cartoons. An appendix explains how the documentation was gathered and analyzed. Pastors and lay leaders may be shocked by what they discover here, but they would be fools to ignore it." -- Dennis Hensley, Christian Book

Book Jacket:

The church doesn't need yet another book by some pundit advocating his personal formula for success---what it does need is a solid, objective analysis of the common factors for effective ministry in a broad range of churches. This sampling, based on 2,000 congregations, is as good as we're likely to get.