Recommended Reading

The landmark book "Understanding Church Growth and Decline" analyzes the major research on trends in growth and participation among the mainline U. S. Protestant churches during a quarter century.

Monthly book reviews by various authors.

Practical Hermeneutics: A Revised Agenda for the Ministry

Charles E. Winquist, Scholars Press, 101 Salem Street, Chico, California 95926, 1980, 94 pages. Reviewed by Reginald N. Shires, pastor, Takoma Park, Maryland.

Winquist, like most Christian workers, sees the church involved in caring for people. "The theology of glory is internally related to the theology of the cross," he says. "We can attend to what is invisible only by starting with what is visible." This means that the church, while attempting a preaching ministry, must also be concerned with the symbols of liturgy, Biblical teachings, and psychological counseling to give meaning to life by rightly interpreting what is experienced. The church then becomes a place where there is an atmosphere in which change for the better takes place in the life of people. Winquist often refers to the conversion experience, where this change takes place. "Conversion," he says, "is the turning event that transforms the meaning of ministry from a secular to a religious concept."

Understanding Church Growth and Decline, 1950-1978 Dean R. Hoge and David A. Roozen, editors, The Pilgrim Press, New York, New York, 1979, 398 pages, $8.95, paper. Reviewed by Roger L. Dudley, assistant professor of church ministry, Andrews University.

"Do not open your mouth about trends and patterns in church membership and participation unless you have read this book," writes Martin E. Marty. I would concur. This is a landmark book, analyzing all the major research on the trends in growth and participation and the causal factors among the mainline Protestant churches in the United States during the past quarter century. The contributors to its sixteen chapters include some of the most prestigious names in the field: Sociologists Jackson Carroll, David Roozen, Dean Hoge, Dean Kelley, and Wade Clark Roof; Church Historians Martin Marty and James Smylie; Theologian Robert Evans; and Church Consultants Peter Wagner, Douglas Walrath, and Lyle Schaller.

Most mainline churches have experienced a decline since the 1960s, after nearly a century of steady growth. In seeking explanations, the editors have identified two main categories: contextual (outside the church) and institutional (inside the church). Each of these is divided into national factors (affecting the whole denomination) and local factors (affecting individual congregations), giving a fourfold framework to the book.

The chief national contextual factors involved center in a larger value shift in our society in the direction of individualism, personal freedom, and tolerance of diversity. This shift most profoundly affects young adults and the college-educated. There is a lack of commitment to all institutions, including the church.

In the study of national institutional factors, the growth rate of the sixteen largest denominations in the United States were compared with a number of their beliefs and practices. Readers will be interested in how the Seventh-day Adventist Church contributed to this analysis, and all members of conservative churches will have much to ponder. Chapter 8 is worth the price of the book. The authors concluded that those denominations "which strongly emphasized local evangelism, maintained a distinctive life style and morality apart from the main stream culture, maintained a unitary set of beliefs, and de-emphasized social action and ecumenism were the ones that grew" (p. 323).

The most important local contextual factors concern the socioeconomic status of the neighborhoods, while the chief local institutional factors have to do with lay satisfaction with the worship and program and the congregational harmony and cooperation.

Throughout the book a scholarly battle rages over the relative importance of contextual versus institutional factors in church growth and decline. The editors and most of their colleagues support contextual factors, claiming that they contribute 50 to 70 percent, while institutional factors contribute only 30 to 50 percent. Kelley and Wagner disagree. The majority claim, and much of the thrust of the book led me to feel, that the emphasis on contextual factors is, to some extent, an attempt to get the mainline churches off the hook. Evans' plea that there must be a creative balance between faithfulness and effectiveness is well reasoned but may be viewed in some aspects as a rationalization for the failure of churches to proclaim the gospel persuasively.

More serious are the statistical techniques employed to establish the superiority of contextual factors. The knowledge able reader will recognize that the results require the assumption that contextual factors are causally prior, and that a different assumption would result in different findings. This criticism, however, with other valid critiques, has already been made by Dean Kelley in his concluding commentary. This excellent chapter (worth the book) deals with the most serious criticism—the book is more a study of decline than growth because of its focus on mainline churches and its virtual ignoring of vital newer movements.

Nevertheless there is much thought-provoking material here—far more than a brief review can even touch upon. The second chapter, which looks at factors influencing church commitment, will be especially valuable. This book is a must for students of the institutional church.


MINISTRY does not have the facilities to sell or order these books for readers. If you wish to obtain a book reviewed here, please order through any bookstore.



Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus
Monthly book reviews by various authors.

June 1982

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

The two mind-sets

Is it possible for two persons to observe the same kinds of evidence and reach opposite conclusions. MINISTRY Editor J.R. Spangler analyzes the reasons why and how this can happen.

Ellen White: prophet or plagiarist?

This careful and candid look at the way Ellen White used literary sources explores the implications for her inspiration, the trustworthiness of her writings, and the attitude of the church toward the Spirit of Prophecy in general The conclusion is perhaps best expressed in her own words: "No true doctrine will lose anything by close investigation."

Literary thief or God's messenger?

Plagiarism involves much more than the non-use of quotation marks. The author discusses the five ingredients of literary theft.

Human thoughts or divine truths?

Granted that Ellen White did use material without quotation marks more extensively than previously thought, does this make her any less inspired, any less a messenger to God's church today, and her counsels any less trustworthy than one hundred years ago?

Ministers without pulpits

If every Christian is called to pattern his or her life after that of the Saviour, then each Christian is called to minister to others.

Is Jesus Jehovah God?

Is the doctrine of the Trinity merely a relic of Roman Catholicism, as Jehovah's Witnesses maintain, or can it be found in both Old and New Testaments? Is Jesus Christ the Jehovah of the Old Testament?

What's wrong with being a pastor?

If Jesus had spent His earthly ministry in our church, we probably wouldn't think He amounted to much. He never became a conference president, and when He "retired" He was still pastor of a small church.

If not you—who?

It is time to proclaim to all the world that Jesus is coming soon! If we do not respond to the call of God at this crucial hour, who will? If we do not tell the good news, who will?

Shepherdess: The holding pattern

Like a circling jet waiting to land, sometimes our lives seem to be in a holding pattern. But we can gain courage as we examine God's holding pattern displayed in the lives of Elisabeth and Esther.

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - Southern Adv Univ 180x150 - Animated

Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - Healthy and Happy Family - Skyscraper 160x600