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Why Join a Small Church? John Benton Christian Focus Publications, 2008 ISBN 978-18455-04076 £4.99

The question this short book poses is not one most Country Way readers would ask, since many are probably already members of small churches! However this book is both timely and relevant, especially for the readership at whom it is aimed. Written from an unashamedly independent and evangelical perspective, it introduces the more subtle question, “how can we drive past one church to go to another?” It provides, with numerous brief but cumulative arguments, persuasive reasons for answering, “we cannot.”

The book’s relevance for rural churches is in demonstrating that many who currently avoid their small, local church are missing out. By joining larger, more active or explicitly evangelical congregations in say, market towns (or in going to the nearest cathedral) they deprive both themselves and their local community … to say nothing of the church itself.

Coming from the very constituency for whom the book is written, I have long thought along these lines, and it is good to now have John Benton’s articulate resource to hand. You probably know people who ought to be asking this book’s questions. Thankfully it also contains appropriate answers. 

Simon Martin

Gone for good? Church Leaving and Returning in the 21st Century. Leslie J Francis and Philip Richter Epworth £19.99

ISBN 978-0-7162-0633-0

Before you even open this book, look carefully at the title and note the question mark.

Gone for good? is a book that will make you think about a wide range of people engaged with your church, beginning with who is ‘involved’. The opening chapters will certainly make you stretch your mind a long way beyond the ‘Sunday regulars’ to include the churchyard friends who regularly keep the grass tidy, or the flower arrangers who quietly do their job – but never darken the doors on Sundays.

This broader community is particularly important in rural settings.

Then the authors go on, in great detail, to address a range of reasons why various people have either left the church or never engaged with it. These vary from growing up to incompatible lifestyles; from problems with worship to problems with leadership.

As you would expect from two academics, each cause of disengagement is broken down by sex, generation, denomination, age at leaving and so on. There are also useful pastoral comments on the issues church leaders need to address and highlighting those who are likely to leave and likely to return.

In parts, this book is not for the faint-hearted. However, it is a book that should be read to understand the complexity of church membership, the expectations of those who have left. Perhaps little wonder that the authors propose a ‘multiplex’ approach to church as a way forward. After all we live in a society where so much is tailored to the individual – whether it is your favourite website, or your supermarket special deals. Why should the church not focus more closely on meeting specific needs, rather than

trying to find a balance that suits no-one.  Geoff Dodgson


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