Thursday, October 15, 2009

Who Stole My Church?

I recently finished reading the book by Gordon MacDonald titled, "Who Stole My Church?" MacDonald is a fairly well known writer and pastor who tends to comment on things that are current in ministry. This book is written as a story where MacDonald himself is the new pastor of an old church in New England. In the story the "old guard" have just shot down some proposed changes to the church that would have helped the church position itself better for ministry in a contemporary world.

MacDonald gathers a group of people together who are opposed to change in the church and listens to what they have to say. They then agree to meet regularly and continue to discuss church life, specifically change in the church. Over the course of the meetings they talk about the name of the church, music in the church, and outreach and evangelism among other things. Over a period of time the "crusty old-timers" experience renewal as they see that the church really does need to change in order for it to accomplish what they had always dreamed it would accomplish. One of the highlights for the older group is when a group of teenagers came and met with them and they both got to ask questions of the other group.

I was a bit hesitant at first when I began reading this book. In the early chapters I heard a lot of "anti-change" rhetoric that reminded me of things that I've heard in other churches and I would not want to become accepted anywhere. But this turned out to be MacDonald setting up the story. As someone who loves the church, this book was encouraging as "they all lived happily ever after." Since the book is a story rather than a non-fiction work, MacDonald was able to impact his audience without the need to prove a specific point. But along the way he ended up sharing many points.

I drew a couple of specific lessons for my own church situation from this book. First, I should always remember not to marginalize the opinions of the older generation. Our congregation is only fifteen years old and so we don't have generations of tradition influencing us. But we have some elderly people who have been part of other churches most of their lives and they sometimes like to see some things continue. I should remember to hear what they have to say and also to appreciate their heart attitude. For example, some of our older people wish that we had a mid-week prayer meeting. I'm all for having prayer meeting, but it would be impractical for me to be away from my family one more night each week. A while ago one of the retirees in the congregation called me and asked if it would be okay if they had a prayer meeting in the home of an older lady whose health prevents her from getting out as frequently as she would like. The person who called is a retired pastor and he volunteered to lead the weekly prayer gathering. Obviously I was thrilled. They meet faithfully. And I attend when I am able- which is about once a month. When I am there I am impressed to see their love for the Lord and their desire for the church to grow. I don't always like all of the suggestions that they give me, but many of them have been productive.

A second area in which the book challenged me was regarding the impact of a church's name. The name of our church is "Cottrell Corners Community Church." I like many things about the name- it is alliterated, it should appeal to a lot of people since it is a "community church," it is early in the alphabet so people who look for churches in the phone book should get to us before they give up looking. It is a satisfactory name to me- except for the fact that we live in Old Bridge, NJ and very few people here know where Cottrell Corners is. There was supposed to be a development of Cottrell Corners, but it never happened. The book reminded me of the power of a name. I don't really look forward to the work associated with coming up with a better name and then advertising that name, but I learn from this book that I should not get so attached to the name that we have that I would allow it to keep people from hearing about the church.

This book is an illustration of the power of a story to educate an audience. And the education that this book provides relates to changes in churches. I found the book to be entertaining and engaging. The book would probably be most helpful for people who are a part of a long-established church and are either trying to change it or resistant to the changes that are being made.


  1. Great post once again Dave! Thanks for the run-down on what sounds like a terrific book for me to pick up some time in the near future. By the way, are you saying this book is based off what actually happened to MacDonald (which at least means that it was done in the 'real' world)?

  2. The book is completely made up. It did not actually happen to him. But he seems to have used real experiences and conversations and statements to base the thoughts of the characters. And he developed the characters based on having lived in New England, but he says that if you know him you will not find any character in the book who is a person that he knows.

  3. Dave, I do enjoy reading your thoughts. I pray you continue to have a heart for your church & the Church. Keep pressing on. BTW I grew up in BFC (Graterford, PA) so my heart has a special place for that denomination (my parents still attend).