[I am including here my review of Comeback Churches because the review service at Pastor Bookshelf seems to be on hiatus. As a matter of fact, it seems that the entire Pastor Resources site has taken a pause for an extended period of time. When the site returns to activity you’ll be able to find my review there. Until then, I post it here.]

Ed Stetzer & Mike Dodson.  Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can too. B&H, 2007. 226 pp.

[rating: 4 out of 5 stars]

How does one take a book based on statistical research and make it worth reading? Title it Comeback Churches, and you have a good start. Rarely can you find a pastor or church leader who is not ready for their church to go farther and do more in Kingdom work. At the same time it is also almost just as rare that you will find one willing to do what it takes to make that turnaround happen. Ed Stetzer has teamed up with Mike Dodson to disseminate the mountains of research material collected by a team interviewing leaders from over three hundred churches representing ten denominations.

Both Stetzer (Director of LifeWay Research, Missiologist, Church Planter, and author of such books as Breaking the Missional Code and Planting Missional Churches) and Dodson (a church planter in his own right) have experience in helping churches turn around. Their desire with Comeback Churches is to encourage churches and church leaders to move away from the typical decline or plateau tradition that has beset itself among American churches and be part of the comeback generation of churches.

The book and information targets church leaders and is filled with statistics, graphs, and stories showing what happens in churches that determine to move from the graveside to the community. The trends that are reported are at once surprising and logical. The bulk of the text deals with interpreting the data collected. What the researchers found was that overall, respondents to the questionnaire cited leadership to be pivotal in the turn around of the church. Leadership was not a dictatorship, but a modeling and guiding into the multiplication of the leader. The three most influential faith factors (discussed in chapter 3) were found to be (1) a renewed belief in Jesus Christ and the mission of the church, (2) a renewed attitude for servanthood, and (3) strategic prayer efforts.

Filled with quotations from books on church health and growth and from participants in the study, Comeback Churches builds a case that a comeback while greatly desired it is also bought at a great cost. Leaders and churches are cautioned that the road will be difficult but well worth the trek. Another indicator that the trip is a difficult one is the evidence presented that only one percent of the churches of any of the studied denominations met the criteria for participation—having experienced an extended period of decline (at least five years) followed by a two to four year period of radical growth (evangelistic and not biological or transfer growth) of at least 10% each year.

The final three chapters include suggestions for pastors and leaders who desire to explore a comeback in their church, listing challenges as well as stepping stones that would be helpful in turning a church around from decline to vibrant life. Advice includes be intentional in what you do, be prepared for opposition because coming back requires change, and evaluate what you are doing so that it continues to build.

While much of the information held in its pages make the book another in a long line of church growth books that repeats the same suggestions, the overwhelming addition that Comeback Churches brings is the evidence that churches can (and do) come back. The challenges addressed remind the reader that the journey is not for the faint of heart. I recommend reading this along with several other books geared toward the process of changing today’s church into the church that has an impact on American society today. It is beneficial information for pastors as well as other church leaders who are concerned about the health of the church today.