A short while back, Dr. Terry Dorsett asked if I would do a review of his book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation Through the Small Church. I am always honored when folks ask me to review their work; and, in this case, I am also very pleased to give my strongest recommendation of 5 Stars.
Why is this book important?
The church in the West is in decline. Some churches are refusing to change while others are willing, but fear that change means a necessary compromise of their core beliefs—it doesn’t. If your church is ready, then Mission Possible is an essential primer to guide you through the first steps along the path toward missional ministry.
The first five chapters of the book outline the basics for Attractional Evangelism:
- Making your church the social center of the community.
- Regaining the church’s place as the ceremonial center of the community.
- Using the church’s facilites as an outreach tool into the community.
The last six chapters outline the far more difficult challenge of making the Philosophical changes necessary so your church can reach the coming postmodern generation through Missional Evangelism. One of the biggest hurdles is what the books calls Tradition Idolatry: “the tendency to assume that following one’s religious traditions is the same thing as following God (37).”
I have seen close friends hit this hurdle in their churches and the ensuing conflict eventually degenerated into a battle for power beween those who refuse to let go of tradition and those who hope for a better future in reaching the lost with the Gospel.
With these friends in the back of my mind, I asked Terry a few pointed questions about the lessons he has learned since the release of his book.
[Joe Miller] In my experience, more established churches have an entrenched resistance to shifting away from their traditional approaches toward a missional philosophy. What are 1 or 2 key strategies you would suggest for leaders who are trying to make this transition but encounter a lot of push-back from people within their church?
[Terry Dorsett] First, do not try to make all the changes at once. I have seen many good men who had a heart for reaching the next generation try to push the church too fast. Make one small change at a time. Look at this as a five year process instead of a five month process. Think of some small changes that are not likely to cause too much controversy and try them first. Once they are successful, then try another slightly bigger one. Never make big changes until several of the little ones have been proven to be helpful, or at least not harmful. Accept the reality that some churches can only handle so much change. If you can get a church that mainly reaches 70 year olds to become more attractive to 50 years olds, that is progress, and in some churches, that is all the progress that will ever be made. Learn to accept that and rejoice in the success God gives. Perhaps the next pastor will be able to move the church down another decade, and so on.
Second, let other people read the book. Far too often a pastor or youth pastor goes to a conference and gets all excited about what they learn. They come back home and are disappointed when the congregation does not share their excitement. The congregation does not share in the excitement because they do not know what they are supposed to be excited about. Instead of declaring some big change two weeks after reaching the book, buy a box of books and pass them out to all the deacons, Sunday School teachers and other key leaders. Ask them to read the book and come to a meeting with ONE good idea from the book they think should be considered. Listen to the list of good ideas that these leaders offer and resist the temptation to only follow the ideas that you like. If we let others try out their ideas first, they will be more likely to let us try ours out later. In short, share the concepts, get people talking, and then be patient.
[Joe Miller] Your book has been out for a while now and, like every writer, I am sure you have some thoughts that didn’t make it into print. Can you share with my readers 1 or 2 of the most significant post-publication insights that you wish were in the book?
[Terry Dorsett] First, because I serve in a small town, I wrote the book focused mainly on small towns and rural churches. I think the book clearly applies to those settings. But as I have interacted with others about the book, it has become obvious that these same issues are facing small churches in EVERY context, not just small towns and rural areas. I wish I had spent one more month researching how small churches in the inner city and suburbia are being impacted and included a chapter or two about that.
Second, though I talk a lot about using technology in a worship service or for follow up after a Bible study (both more “corporate” in nature), I regret not having a section on how to use technology to share our faith personally. I do share some stories about how I counsel young adults through social media, but most lay people are not going to feel comfortable doing that. They may however feel comfortable sharing their faith in a non-counseling situation through social media. I regret not having a chapter to share how to do that. I am considering a short e-book that might cover that topic.