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‘It is only a matter of time before declining churches will have closed their doors for good because no one sounded the alarm.’
Our culture is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity, and despite church planting becoming more popular; our churches are dying more quickly than we can plant new ones. We are struggling to reach our communities for Jesus.
In this timely and much needed book, John James urges us to wake up to this crisis. John argues that if we are to build up existing church members and reach new ones for Jesus then we can’t simply pull the plug on dying churches in favour of planting new ones. John honestly and warmly shares his own experiences of revitalisation and his passion to see churches transformed by the God who delights to resurrect the dead.
This book is an essential read for those considering this kind of ministry, or for those who want to understand the role revitalisation can play in the re–evangelisation of our nation.
A notable contribution to a great gospel cause… this is a refreshingly accessible book
Steve Timmis – Executive Director, Acts 29
Whilst the recent upsurge in church planting is hugely encouraging, church revitalisation has all too often been neglected as a vital strategy for re–evangelising the nation. In this new book John James makes a compelling case for the importance of church revitalisation. Written with a pastor’s heart, and drawing on his experience as a practitioner at Crossways Church in Birmingham, he explains the theological foundations for revitalising churches, presents an inspiring vision of the gospel potential of revitalisation and shares practical wisdom for those leading church revitalisations. Written in a lively, accessible and engaging style, and drawing on case–studies of successful church transformations from across the country, this book will challenge present and future church leaders to reconsider their attitudes towards declining and dying churches. I hope this book is a great success – it deserves to be. I look forward to promoting it.
John Stevens – National Director, FIEC
John James’ book is a passionate call to consider the option of Church revitalisation as part of our evangelism strategy. It is grounded in life experience but it contains much more than the story of a Church that was close to death and then experienced new life. Running through this book is a heart for the lost, a desire to reach out to our marginalised communities and a commitment to work hard in tough unglamorous settings. John’s book is full of practical hard learnt lessons which have application far beyond the situation he is describing, much of this was directly relevant to my own situation Church planting in Lancaster. At every point he directs our gaze at God, His word, His work and His strength. I thoroughly recommend anyone considering pioneering a new work to read this book.
Karen Soole – Chair of the Northern Women’s Convention
John captures both the joys and pain of taking a church from sickness to health. This book born out of a personal faith in what God can do, will inspire and encourage you to see revitalisation as a God–given opportunity for the spread of the gospel in the UK. John is to be commended for his honest appraisal.
Phil Walter – Church Revitalisation Coordinator, FIEC
I bought this book at the FIEC Leaders’ Conference, partly because there was a large stack of them on the book counter, and partly because I know John James! Wow! What a gem of a book! John is the first pastor of what was Helier Chapel, Birmingham, that had fallen on hard times and was in danger of closing. It tried to serve a deprived housing estate but the members were elderly and lacked both energy and resources to turn it around. Whilst church planting is considered ‘cool’, seeking to revitalise a declining congregation might seem a lost cause. But not to John. And not to John’s God. Here is a very warm, honest and humble account of the church’s journey, from asking if the journey is necessary to avoiding potholes on the way. John writes in a very readable style as he recounts the church’s experience over the past five years. He does not shun exposing his own doubts and short–comings but through it all his love for God and his people shine forth. His constant refrain is ‘people not programmes’; church revitalisation is God’s work and only in his strength will it succeed. The work is long–term, low key and hard and he was without any real encouragements during the first year. He invested in relationships and helpfully describes evangelism as just talking to people about Jesus. John reminds us that there is also an enemy at work. Taking a stand against Satan means solid, tenacious perseverance is the order of the day, a daily ‘plod for God’. John includes five other encouraging examples of church revitalisation, where God is breathing new life into his church. Thus the book is thoroughly recommended to all Christians but especially to those, perhaps older, leaders of declining congregations. There’s hope in these pages!
John James provides valuable advice and counsel for people who may be thinking about engaging in church renewal ministry, and gives welcome encouragement to those already involved in that difficult, yet rewarding work. Expect a healthy dose of realism mixed with a good dash of faith in the God who awakens the dead. Re–establishing a vital gospel witness in every community in the United Kingdom is going to require thriving gospel churches in every community. Who will say, ‘Here I am, send me’?
Thank you! John James - This book resonates so much with our situation in Sheffield. I've lost count the number of times church planters have tried to discourage me from working with 'struggling' churches! Thank you for being realistic with how hard it can be, yet also making clear the benefits and hopes of working with small churches that have great links with their local community ! "The goal is not saving face, retaining a building, maintaining the programmes of the Church, and postponing the inevitable. It is driven by a desire to honour God, take seriously Jesus' call to make disciples of all nations" "A church must acts its size. If you are a few in number, then reitalisation may actually require you doing much less rather than much more. It can be incredibly draining to belong to a church that is struggling to act significantly bigger than it is." "But to ask whether God is on our side is the wrong question. We need to ask are we on his side." "change is difficult because it involves loss. When we lose something we grieve for it, and grief is made up of two primary emotions, sorrow and anger." "Tim Keller has said "While in a large church, the people will let you pastor them if you are a good preacher, in a smaller church people will listen to your sermons if you are a good pastor"
John James’ book ‘Renewal’ describes church revitalisation as a ‘plod for God’. While that may be true, this book is anything but a plod! Do not judge this book by its cover: Inside its pages it is exciting, exhilarating and deeply challenging. I know John well, as we attended the same church a few years back. We also attended the same Bible College, though at different times. What’s more, he has been helpful in the first stages of the revitalisation of another church in Birmingham (mentioned on pg. 40), which has recently called me as pastor. ‘Renewal’ describes the ups and downs, the blessings and curses, the joys and tears of church revitalisation, with vivid pictures of John’s own journey with Crossway Church, and other churches, along the way. Most significantly, as the front cover says, John describes church revitalisation “along the way of the Cross”. That is so true. Jesus shines from every page, but the gospel is not just central to everything John describes in this book, it is the very power behind it. In the book John outlines many objections to church revitalisation. But he doesn’t just answer these objections head on; he also paints a glorious picture of the many benefits. Here is a typical fire–in–the–belly passage, from pg. 33: “The argument ‘I don’t want to get stuck in the past’ misunderstands the problem. We all have an unavoidable past that is part of us. But the right concern about nostalgia is actually not a problem with the past at all. Nostalgia is not so much driven by a love of the way things were, as it is by fear of the way things are today. Which means the argument also misunderstands with goal of church revitalisation. Church revitalisation is not about preserving a musty museum piece with no connection to reality. It is about regaining our confidence in the truth that the Jesus of history, the Jesus of our history, is the same Jesus who is seated on the throne today.” Doesn’t that give you shivers! So much of this book will be both practically useful and spiritually encouraging as we start out on our revitalisation journey. I hope you will find the same.
In his book Renewal, John James writes about his experience of leading a struggling church through a process of Revitalisation. That is: He was appointed to lead an existing congregation complete with a building and a history of its own, but he brought with him a team of people to be involved in partnership with those already there to revitalise their gospel witness in the community. Along with his own experience, there are a variety of helpful case studies of the process working (and not working) in a variety of other contexts. Renewal outlines the joys and advantages of this process and challenges us to consider the place of this process (alongside other strategies such as church planting) in our overall aim of proclaiming the gospel throughout the UK. John looks very honestly at the particular complexities/struggles that come as a new culture is grown in old soil. The challenges of lovingly examining the ‘How we do things around here’ in order to better meet the ‘Why we do things around here’. He describes the delicate process of making changes to long–treasured practices together for the purpose of better connecting to the community that the church exists to reach. An excellent book, good length chapters, and very accessible. A great way to get thinking about an under–discussed need amongst many churches today and an exciting possibility for expanding the gospel work in our country.
This book is an excellent combination of practical and theological wisdom. Renewal is accessible and easy to read without dumbing anything down. John begins by outlining the need for and strategic importance of church revitalisation. He then charts, with reference to the story of the church in which he ministers, the journey of revitalisation. He avoids the pitfalls of romanticism, heroism, or defeatism. He’s honest about the joys and the sorrows. He challenges objections and presents the case for the opportunities. I think one of the most helpful chapters was Chapter 7: Setting Off in which the headings read: Expect it to be long term; Expect it to be low key; Expect it to be hard work; Expect to grow. John challenges those involved with such projects to be faithful, focused, and thankful along the way, realistic about the potholes for the church and the pastor. There are some great stories of God’s grace, and the case studies dotted throughout are illuminating, encouraging, and helpful. This is the kind of book that reaches beyond revitalisation to speak to planters and pastors everywhere, as its full of the right mix of realism and optimism in the light of the character of the God we serve. Highly recommended.
Healthy, fruitful, giving and sending churches are a delight. We rejoice when a new church is planted to reach another community with the gospel. We also long for revitalized churches—struggling now perhaps, but refusing to give up, and ready to be transformed by the gospel for the sake of the gospel. John James’s excellent little book holds out hope for struggling churches. It will inspire church leaders who are humble enough to recognize they need help, to ask—and to receive what God gives. It will envision gospel workers who are ready to follow in the footsteps of the Master, as they embrace a less-than-glamorous ministry. But this is not just a book for struggling churches. It will benefit church planting teams and those in healthy churches who want to become more fruitful—and see that fruitfulness multiplied. James’s spiritual realism offers no ‘quick fixes’ and promises no easy path. Rather, he demonstrates from Scripture that hardship awaits any ministry shaped by the cross and resurrection. Several recent case studies of revitalization from a range of fellow-practitioners complement the main thrust of the book. This is a book to read and talk about in your leadership team (you won’t all like everything in it). It will particularly benefit churches longing for renewal and prepared to sacrifice anything but the gospel for the sake of the gospel. ‘Revitalisation is not about self-preservation, but self-sacrifice.’ (p. 18) ‘Self-preservation will become self-sacrifice, as we look to a hope beyond this world. Maintenance will become mission, as we lay up our treasure in heaven. Evading risk will become enduring anything, as we live for a hope and a joy in eternity ...’ (p.111) My two-word summary would be ‘hardship’ and ‘hope’—all through God’s grace in Christ crucified.
An absolute corker of a book on both the need and process of beginning a church revitalisation. This is an ideal entry-level read on the subject, with British case studies, Biblical wisdom, and the common sense that only comes from personal experience. Renewal will now be my go-to book when starting to discuss Church Revitalisation.
Most British congregations are long–established churches. But few are vigorous, few make a significant gospel impact on the communities of which they are a part, and even fewer train their members to simply and spontaneously share the Good News. Some are positively sick. Others resistant to change, failing to grasp that change is of the very essence of the Spirit’s work of sanctification, whether in individuals or in congregations. So it is regrettable that little is available to help to get existing, perhaps run down, congregations renewed, reinvigorated and revitalised for mission, which makes John James’s ‘Renewal: Church Revitalisation Along the Way of the Cross’ all the more valuable. The book is short (130 pages). It is possibly too short to be really useful — it is certainly not a handbook — but it is helpful and it is worth reading. Each chapter is short too. Occasionally provocative, sometimes humorous, John James seeks always to be biblical and pastoral. One fault of many books about the Church and its mission is that they forget that any discussion about the Church is ipso facto a discussion about people. This book doesn’t share that fault, but is warm, pastoral, sympathetic and considerate. It is well worth buying, reflecting on and using as a springboard to help towards further thought and action.
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