I just finished reading Essential Church?
by Thom and Sam Rainer III (2008, B&H Publishing Group), which
deals with young people, 18 to 22, leaving the church. While this book
primarily targets pastors and other church workers, it is valuable
reading material for lay men and women who are active in church
leadership. I not only read Essential Church, but also underlined it extensively because I viewed it as a working reference.
Rainer (the father) has written many books on the health of the church
and I have read several of them and always have found them to be
logical, practical, and biblical in their approach. I was especially
interested in Essential Church because I know a number of young
people who were very active in their churches and could clearly
articulate their faith, but left the church. The fact is that some 70%
of those between the ages of 18 and 22 drop out of church. This
troubles me, and it troubles many Christians.
Why is it that people, especially young people, are leaving the church? That is exactly what the Rainers explore in Essential Church and
their conclusion is that many young people of today no long find the
church essential to their life. They just don’t see a reason to
continue going to church. Lots of reasons are given by those who leave
the church, but essentially it boils down to their conclusion that going
to church is just not essential to their life.
information in hand, Thom and Sam examine churches that are not
suffering this tremendous back-door outflow to determine if there is
anything in common with these churches. While they do not find a
formula for stemming the outgoing tide, they do find these churches have
four general principles in common, regardless of the denomination,
size, or geographic location. These principles are:
Each of these churches has simplified their structure and process for
making disciples. That does not mean they have made it easier to become
a member, but they have crystallized their discipleship process.
Incidentally, repeated references are made in the book to Simple Church, another book by Thom Rainer that preceded Essential Church. It’s next on my reading list.
These churches provide strong biblical teaching and preaching. In
other words, these churches don’t compromise the Word. In fact, these
churches have a strong commitment to biblical truth and to quality
teaching and preaching.
Expect. They all expect a lot
from their members. You can’t be a casual member of any of these
churches. If you join one of these churches you are expected to not
only attend regularly, but also participate in meaningful projects and
Multiply. There is a strong outward focus in
each of these churches, expecting and encouraging their members to reach
others with the Gospel. These churches expect members to “stretch”
beyond their comfort zone, participating in evangelism efforts and even
going on foreign mission trips. They want their members to take
ownership of the church and make it essential to their lives.
not a formula, it’s an understanding that gimmicks are not the
solution, Bible-based approaches and teachings are. Thom and Sam stress
repeatedly that there is no cookie-cutter approach. Each church is
different and must understand their community as well as their mission
in order to become an essential church to the young people of today.
utilizing these general principles and developing their own, unique
approach, each one of these churches has stopped the outflow. They have
made it easy to understand their mission and their process, while
providing strong and faithful Bible instruction. In addition, they
expect much from their members (including those who are 18 to 22 and
beyond), and they are outwardly focused. Of course, while this is easy
to understand, it is not necessarily easy to execute.
four principles provide the framework around which the book is built,
there are many nuggets that deserve attention. Things like creating a
simple, understandable mission, then aligning all of your various Church
projects and programs with your mission. Or making sure your church
offers strong, great preaching. This study and the one upon which
Thom’s previous book, Effective Evangelistic Churches, was written, reach the same conclusion about preaching—it must be strong, powerful, and Bible-based.
There’s lots more in Essential Church worth
reading. Thom and Sam Ranier have provided valuable assistance to
church leaders who seek to keep young people in their church. It’s my
hope that this book will be widely read.