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.

Notes:

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.

 

 


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Monthly book reviews by various authors.

June 1982

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