Comeback Churches by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson
Ed Stetzer is all about numbers. And data. And more numbers. Comeback Churches uses those numbers and that data to tell the stories of over 300 churches that had reached a plateau or had fallen into decline. What set these churches apart is that they had turned things around. They are comeback churches.
The churches studied covered the spectrum: age of church, age of members, denomination, geographic location, style of worship, history, size, and virtually any other conceivable area. What they had in common was the fact they had experienced a turn-around.
Many of the books I read are simply things that sound interesting to me or that I think I will enjoy. My motivation to read Comeback Churches was different. I chose to read this out of necessity; in fact, it was almost a sense of desperation. The church I pastor desperately needs a comeback. If things do not turn around soon, there may not be another chance.
As I began the book, I found it both incredibly encouraging and incredibly discouraging. It encouraged me greatly to know that we are not the only ones to face a major decline. Other churches have faced hard times and survived and even thrived. That is good news!
The discouraging part is that all of the churches in his study were larger than our church. They had more resources. All in all, they started in a better position than we are in. While no conditions are beyond God’s ability to deliver, we are in a hard place.
Comeback Churches is not a long book. It is only thirteen chapters. As I was working my way through the book, I was beginning to think it was not going to be very useful for me. In fact, I almost quit reading it at several points. I am so glad I did not.
One of those points was after chapter ten. The primary reason I kept reading was that I hated the idea of getting so close to the end and not finishing the task.
Chapters 11-13 have the primary task of taking all the numbers and data and other information of the first ten chapters and synthesizing it into very usable bullet points.
Chapter 11 summarizes the top ten most common transformations for comeback churches. They are:
Sunday School/Small Groups
Chapter 12 discusses the top factors and biggest challenges to making a comeback. The top three factors it identifies are prayer, evangelism, and preaching. The three biggest challenges identified are attitudes, finances, and facilities. Overall, I would tend to agree with those conclusions. While they do not hold completely true in every circumstance, including mine, I would say they are generally true.
Chapter 13 offers Stetzer’s comeback conclusions. He includes both guidelines and suggestions for effective comeback. Like the two chapters before it, chapter 13 focuses on the practical.
Would I recommend this book? Maybe. Are you looking for a fun, enjoyable read? Unless you are a real data and numbers geek, keep looking. If you are a leader in a church that is in decline, it might be truly helpful.