Wednesday Recommendations: 5 Helpful Books for Changing a Church

turn aroundThe church today is in a difficult position.  Many churches are at a point of no return where they must change the will die.  Many mainline churches are declining and need a major comeback if they are going to exist 10 years from now.  With that in mind, here are 5 helpful books about turning around a church.  There are many that could be listed, but these are the 5 I would recommend that pastors/leaders start with.

     Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can, Too– Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson did a study of churches that were “comeback churches.”  These were churches that were in serious decline and have turned their numbers around.  I like this approach because so many other book are almost exclusively diagnostic.  In other words, many other books are about what is wrong.  This book finds best practices of churches that are doing what many of us would like to do.  It is a wealth of information about small places to get some leverage in the church.

     Taking Your Church to the Next Level: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There– Gary McIntosh has written a number of books that could be on this list, but this book is my favorite.  This books helped me understand why churches decline.  He talks at length about church size and how churches change with their attendance numbers.  He also goes into the church life cycle that churches natural follow and explains how turnaround happen at different points on the bell curve.  The book should be required reading for pastors in seminary because it explains so much.

     Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change– Mark Lau Branson uses appreciative inquiry (AI) to church transformation.  If you are not familiar, appreciative inquiry is an organizational development theory that is based on building on what is working.  AI asks people in an organization to tell stories of best practices and best memories to discover core values and practices.  It then encourages organizations to dream about what they could be and design a process for getting there.  This book is a great resource to lead some leadership team meetings or even congregational meetings.  It is especially helpful if your church is really negative.

     Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture– Aubrey Malphurs has several books that could be on this list.  He book on strategic planning is a major contribution to church leadership.  I recommend Look Before You Lead here because it deals with an area that few other books deal with.  It is one thing to change programming or processes at a church.  What is often needed, however, is a culture change.  The way people think, talk, and act all need upgraded for the church to go anywhere.  This book deals with how to change a culture.

     Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard– This book has nothing to do with the church.  It is a business book about making changes that last for both individuals and groups.  It has profoundly changed how I approach church.  It is based on brain science (though the book never talks about the technical neuroscience).  It talks about the elephant (emotional part of the brain) and the rider (the logical part of the brain).  Most of the time when we try to make a change ourselves or our churches we use one or the other.  The key is to use both and to shape a path that is easy to follow for others.  This also had an impact on how I preach.

Wednesday Recommendations: Favorite Brennan Manning Books

There are so many Brennan Manning books and none of them are anything but life-changing. With that said, here are a few of my favorites if you are new to Brennan’s work.

The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out– This is Brennan’s key book.  I think that most of what he says in his other books is basically found here.  His other books just dive deeper into certain elements of this book.  The heart of the book is the heart of Brennan’s work–that God loves you like crazy.  We are all ragamuffins before God.  We are sinners desperately in need of God grace and able to do nothing to gain God’s grace.

Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God– In this work Manning talks about the defining characteristic of a Christian faith– trust in God.  This is not just an emotional reliance on God but a total dependence on God’s grace for everything.  What does it mean to live a life of trust?  To live without anxiety?

The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus– This is a book about changing the way we think.  This may make us do things that seem foolish to the world.  Power becomes unimportant.  Wealth becomes unimpressive.  In the end all that matters is the love of our Fathe

Reflections for Ragamuffins: Daily Devotions from the Writings of Brennan Manning– This is a daily devotional with clips from various of Brennan Manning’s books.  Get ready, because Brennan had a way of saying something even in a paragraph that could make you chew it all day long.

All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir– Brennan Manning died in 2013.  After his death I got his memoir on audio cd.  I found it so inspiring.  Manning was mistreated as a child.  He was an alcoholic and fell back into drink a number of times.  He tried to get to God by living in a cave, living with the poor, and teaching in college and seminaries. Through all the ups and downs he came to learn of God’s radical love and grace for him.


There are so many other good books by Brennan Manning.  Start one soon.

Wednesday Recommendations: Clergy in Film

I love good movies, so for this blog post I thought I might share my 5 favorite movies with pastors as key characters.  There are plenty of movies with pastors and clergy type characters that I may blog about later, but here are my favorites.

> Keys to the Kingdom- This is a classic.  Gregory Peck portrays a priest who does not follow along with the status quo very well.  He ends up as a missionary to China.  He goes through a lot there but ends up serving and doing a lot of good.  I especially love the struggle that the priest goes through over his ministry.  He has not become popular or won many souls.  He returns to Scotland at the end of his life and lives in obscurity.  But he does have an impact on the community in China and that is enough for him.  Outstanding!

> Pale Rider- Clint Eastwood plays a priest comes into a gold mining town.  Through his kindness and hard work he begins to offer hope and life to this run down group of prospectors.  But this hope also begins to tick off the political powers in the area.  As the movie goes on, it becomes clear from his cool nerves and excellent fighting skills that this drifter was not always a priest.  I love the idea of being a priest and a gunfighter, but more than that I love the way this priest brings hope to the daily lives of so many.



 > The Mission- This movie centers around Robert Deniro who is a very rough slave trader.  The man has an encounter with God and gives his life to serving a mission with a priest played by Jeremy Irons.  The story of the slave trader’s redemption is slowly overtaken by the struggle of the politics of the day.  The missionary work was tied to colonization to a point that the political powers feel they can control the mission.

> Martin Luther- This old black and white movie of Martin Luther is so good.  I have always found Luther’s story interesting and compelling.  This movie shows the historical facts and the social and political background of Luther’s story.  I don’t think many people have seen this one, but I love it.

> Luther- This is a recent edition of Luther’s story.  It does a good job with the story, but its strength is the human element of Luther’s story.  It portrays Luther’s struggles, dangers, and ultimate resolve in a way that moves me every time I watch it.

What are your favorite films or shows with pastors or priests in them?