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Books on Evangelism and Outreach

Essential Reading

Evangelism without Additives

Just Walk Across the Room

Losing My Religion

Lost in America: How you and your church can impact the world next door
Missing in America: Making an eternal difference in the world next door

Surprising Insights from the Unchurched
and Proven ways to Reach Them

unChristian:
What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity

Under the topic of Apologetics (Defending/Explaining Christianity to those outside the Faith)

The Reason for God

Other Books

Becoming a Contagious Christian

Christianity for the Rest of Us

Comeback Churches:
How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can Too

Holy Conversation:
Talking about God in Everyday LIfe

Going Glocal:
Networking Local Churches for Worldwide Impact

The Jesus Enterprise:
Engaging Culture to Reach the Unchurched

The Jesus Sutras:
Unlocking the Ancient Wisdom of the Xian Monks

The Post-Evangelical

Quitting Church:
Why the Faithful are Fleeing and What to Do about it.

They Like Jesus, But Not the Church

When Bad Christians Happen to Good People

X Factor Evangelism

Becoming a Contagious Christian
Bill Hybels and Mark Mittelberg
Zondervan, 1994 - 221 pages, paperback
Rating: 3+ stars

This now classic book (15 years old!) still resonates. Hybels and Mittelberg have never advocated ham-handed evangelism and the early parts of this book focus on the necessity to be authentic Christian people and get into authentic loving relationships with others. They were ahead of their time in this way. The culture has moved forward in the direction that they anticipated and that makes this book a little dated - not much. The idea that each of us will have a different style in evangelism (resonated with me a long long time ago. I tend to be an aggressive, intellectual, and argumentative evangelist. I am well-suited to the highly intellectual skeptic. Others (like my more mystical wife) will take other approaches. Her practical acquaintance with Buddhism and Indian culture gives her tools I will never have. So it is with all of us. This book will still be a welcome addition to your evangelism repertoire.

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Christianity for the Rest of Us
How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith
Diana Butler Bass
HarperOne, 2006 - 311 pages, paperback
Rating: 3 stars

I am very tempted to call this book "Christianity for the Left of Us. Ok, I got that out of my system. Still, there is no doubt that this book begins with a "progressive" approach to religion, politics and society. It looks at theologically liberal/ neo-orthodox churches which, none the less, still attract people to membership. That, in itself, is interesting enough to read this book. The lack of theological clarity is joyously celebrated by Bass as Christians who stand between "Fundamentalism and Secularism".

She documents 10 "signposts of renewal".

  • Hospitality
  • Discernment
  • Healing
  • Contemplation
  • Testimony
  • Diversity
  • Justice
  • Worship
  • Reflection
  • Beauty
These are Christian practices (stripped of the historic theology which gave them birth) which substitute for definite theology in these churches. Each of them has merit and many more evangelical churches could find each of these a valuable asset and renewal point. Outside of the theological pluralism espoused here, each of the practices has a definite biblical grounding.

Read this book to be reminded that theological accuracy does not substitute for strong religious community and nurture.

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Comeback Churches:
How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can Too
Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson
B&H Publishing, 2007 - 226 pages, hardcover
Rating: 4 stars

Based on surveys of church leaders whose churches moved from stagnant or declining to growing, this book covers the map of those areas of Church life needed to turn a church around. The highlights of the book are the clear definitoin of "Missional" given in "chapter 0" (sic) and the lists of "books for further reading" cited at the end of each chapter. If you have never explored the breadth of church revitalization literature, here is a very good place to start.

It is also well to head Stetzer's and Dodson's admonition that most churches do not turn around because they haven't the will or desire. They note that this is not a book to be read all the way through and put aside, but rather prayed over and implemented. This insight would probably serve us well in most every good ministry book. Very little in this book surprised me. It also does not surprise me that very little of what is in the book is every truly tried.

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Evangelism without Additives
Jim Henderson
Waterbook Press, 2007 - 170 pages, paperback
Rating: 4 stars

This evangelism guide from the "Emergent Church" movement has a lot in common with Bill Hybel's Just Walk Across the Room . Both focus on building honest relationships as the basis for any effort to introduce someone to Jesus, tell plenty of great stories and tell the would-be evangelist "Just Be Yourself". It's nice seeing a boomer and x-er getting along so well together. They also want us to actually love the people around us as people and then, out of that love, draw them to Christ. What a concept.

The difference lies in how much more laid back Jim Henderson is about evangelism. Unlike Hybels (who is an aggressive and natural evangelist) Jim encourages approaches that may never "close the deal" as my old Baptist buddies might say. In contrast to Bill I think Henderson's stories will resonate more clearly with your average reluctant parishioner. Occasionally Henderson lapses from laid back to ridiculous, such as when he suggests that a woman walking her kids through a park regularly praying for the people she sees, without ever making contact with them, is doing evangelism. She may be doing a lot of nice things, and evangelism is not one of them.

A real advantage of Henderson's book is the 13-week study guide included. (Hybels includes questions at the end of each chapter. I find them less compelling.) This and the much cheaper price will make Henderson's book much more accessible to those you wish to activate into doing evangelism.

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Holy Conversation:
Talking About God in Everyday Life
Richard Peace
IVP Connect, 2006 - 127 pages, paperback
Rating: 4 stars

After you Just Walk Across the Room and engage in Evangelism without Additives you might actually have to talk about Jesus. If you need a basic class on how to do that in progressively more direct and theologically equipped way, then pick up this book. Starting with getting know people and where they are spiritually, Peace develops topics including how to talk about:

  • Jesus
  • Sin
  • Repentance
  • Believing in Jesus
and much else.

Each chapter flows through a regular series of excercises:

  • Life - the "Story" behind each concept (a good post-millennial concept) including "How we live it"
  • Truth - the Concept to be communicated and how we apply it
  • Practice - an exercise to develop our skills in that area
  • Resources - things to study to deepen our preparation
I consider this a very accessible guide for those prepared to carry their friendships into territory that makes most North American Christians very, very nervous. This is one step further into mainstream evangelicalism than Just Walk Across the Room and is, as such, a good compliment to the resources of Emergent and Mainline church orientations.

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Just Walk Across the Room
Bill Hybels
Zondervan, 2006 - 219 pages, Hardcover
Rating: 4 stars

As noted above this book has a lot in common with Jim Henderson's Evangelism without Additives . Both focus on building honest relationships as the basis for any effort to introduce someone to Jesus, tell plenty of great stories and tell the would-be evangelist "Just Be Yourself". Hybels has the more audacious stories (for which most preachers could buy the book). His tone is much more mainstream evangelical (which is to say, aggressive) than Henderson's. This may scare some less-evangelical folk. Yet, you cannot miss his point - people want us to love them, not target them. If they see we truly love them for them, then they become open to hearing about our Jesus.

Hybels neither guarantee's results, nor a quick conversion. This is not an "evangelism in 5 easy steps". Indeed, some of the funnier stories he tells involve people who seem to never be ready to listen and then are lead to faith in Christ through others (a happenstance which Hybels ryly labels "unfair"). The "Three Ds" leading to evangelism are the "big idea" in this book and worth the price, even in hardcover. (No I'm not going to give you what the "Three Ds" are. Buy the book.)

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Going Glocal:
Networking Local Churches for Worldwide Impact
Gene Wood
ChurchSmart, 2006 - 102 pages, paperback
Rating: 4 stars

Gene Wood knows missions. He has served on a denominational mission board for years. And his message to the church: "Go around them."

Outreach is done most effectively and efficiently by those who live in the area, who grew up in the culture, and who have a vested interest in seeing outreach work. Rather than import a foreign (read American) missionary to such places, why not empower local churches there to do this. In this slim volume Wood makes a passionate plea for all churches - large or small - do do just that. The chapters are bitesized (20 chapters in 102 pages) and jargon fee excepting the word "glocal". This makes it an easy read for mission committees which wish to consider an alternative to just sending money away.

Going glocal includes creating a direct and two-way relationship with a local church in a foreign country. Woods admits the difficulties in doing this, and yet has guided many churches (including his own) into this project. It is an intriguing concept that will make many mission organization directors uncomfortable, and which may lead the way to improved outreach across borders.

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The Jesus Enterprise:
Engaging Culture to Reach the Unchurched
Kent R. Hunter
Abingdon Press, 2004 - 149 pages, paperback
Rating: 4 stars

Churches are setting up "businesses" inside a church to reach people for God. If you have any intention of setting up a preschool, coffee house or any other "church business", read this book first. In this short book Kent Hunter details these efforts. If you have already read extensively on how we need to be "missionaries to contemporary culture" then the first 6 chapters will be redundant. However, they are essential reading if that concept is new to you.

Chapter 7 deals with those who are squeamish about "business" as a means of attracting the unchurched. The fact is that Hunter gives a good critique of those who misuse enterprises in the church pointing to many preschools which serve no evangelistic purpose.

The real meat comes in chapters 8 through the Afterword where he details the where and how of reaching out through businesses nested in a church. I found the Afterword the most intriguing where Hunter gives a series of short vignettes documenting actual "Jesus Enterprises" which are reaching the unchurched.

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Lost in America: How you and your church can impact the world next door
and
Missing in America: Making an eternal difference in the world next door
Tom Clegg and Warren Bird
Group Publishing, 2001 - 168 pages, Hardcover
Rating: 4+ stars

OK, this is an updated review that now includes both books. The second one, Missing in America, covers so much of the same territory (including using some of the same stories/movies) that we don't need to buy both. (I realized this too late.) Still, either of these books will be a valuable addition to your library.

Clegg and Bird have written post-modern books about reaching post-modern America. And this is a very good thing. While nearly a decade old, these books stands head and shoulders above most of the more recent books in that it teaches us not only with its content, but also with its style. That style is "story". As such, these books are almost more valuable for how they tells us how to reach out as what they tell us.

Each of the chapters begins with a reference to a story (often from Hollywood films), develops its points through stories, inserts "success story" boxes throughout, and ends by pointing us to a Hollywood film (story) which will drive home the truth: It is the Church that is lost in America and Missing in America. The personal stories used throughout will inspire you to cheer and weep. Some are truly gut-retching. If you have no other reason to buy these books, buy it for the stories of Clegg's sojourn in an African refugee camp where they could only feed 1/10th of the people each day and of his inviting 4 people over four week's time from the community surrounding his American church to explain why the didn't want to become Christians. In delivering the message in this way, Clegg and Bird point the way for how to speak the Gospel to a story-centered America.

However, you will have more reasons than this to buy these books. Clegg and Bird give a very simple outline to the problem, possibilities and processes we will need to turn the church back toward mission. These books are compelling, very readable and accessible, and I would recommend either of them for study among congregation members who need to understand the missional church concept. Between the stories and the exercises at the end, everyone who reads these books will walk away convinced that things cannot continue as before. And they will imbibe the post-modern, story-driven mindset they will need once they hear that call.

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Losing My Religion
William Lobdell
Collins, 2009 - 283 pages, Hardcover
Rating: 5 stars

If Rick Warren has taught us anything about outreach it is to first go understand unchurched Harry and Mary. Lobdell allows us to look into the heart of a person who became an evangelical Christian, moved through Presbyterianism and nearly became Roman Catholic before losing his faith in the midst of the clergy sex abuse scandals. Without venom or diatribe, Lobdell honestly chronicles his journey as a reporter, and then religion writer, into and out of faith in a personal and personally involved God. (Lobdell stands now closest to Deism.)

Where I am living now (upstate NY near the heart of what was the Roman Catholic priest sex abuse scandal)I see so many "Catholics" who have been wounded like Lobdell, and yet still evince a strong attachment to a church they will never again attend. Seeing the scandal through Lobdell's eyes has helped me better understand them.

Lobdell also gives a clear presentation of the coming and going of faith. He states that he would like to believe, and documents but gallant attempts to save and revive his own faith. However, he concludes that faith is not a choice, but something that comes on to someone. This comes out not only in the way his faith came and disappeared, but also in his touching and gentle introduction of people around him (in life and his stories) who continued to believe in the face of many personal struggles.

Read this for the insights into one soul. You probably have many around you like him. Thank you, Mr. Lobdell, for a well-written, stirring, honest and gentle account of faith and losing it.

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The Lost Sutras of Jesus:
Unlocking the Ancient Wisdom of the Xian Monks
edited by Ray Riegert and Thomas Moore
Abingdon Press, 2004 - 149 pages, paperback
Rating: 3 stars

Though not truly a book about outreach, it does chronicle an interesting moment in Christian outreach - when some Persian Christian monks, moved by the Holy Spirit, brought the Gospel to China at a precise moment of openness - and what happened to the Gospel in that alien environment when Buddhism was also, simultaneously being introduced.

While Riegert and Moore seem to think that the monks had become quasi-Buddhists before even reaching China, a direct reading of the Sutras (scriptures) provided can be read as a good attempt to contextualize the Gospel which then flowed into Syncretism in an environment where the Imperial Government sponsored the rapid dissemination of the gospel without adequate discipleship.

Besides the obvious application that such reflection can bring for those of us trying to create "missional churches", the book tells a great story, not only about the journey of the monks, but also about the slow rediscovery of the Sutras' existence - including a 12 foot tall, 1400 year old Christian monument made of stone showing a cross arising out of a lotus, a lost Christian monastery, and Christian and post-Christian writings squirreled away with Buddhist scrolls in a lost Buddhist library as both Buddhists and Christians flee a newly oppressive Doaist emperor.

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The Post-Evangelical
Dave Tomlinson
Zondervan, 2003, 139 pages, hardback
Rating: 4 stars

Back some odd 5 years ago people talked not only about Emergent churches and Missional churches, but also (more honestly) about Postmodern churches; that is, churches developed in the midst of our postmodern culture. Tomlinson provides a very clear, compelling and valuable discussion and introduction to that church. I do not agree with everything he says (and I especially find his reliance on neo-orthodox theologians disappointing). That said, there is much in this book that is a hearty critique of both the middle-class captivity of the church and the Evangelical/Liberal conflict which has distracted the church for decades.

Tomlinson unpacks postmodernism and its application in the church in very bite-sized portions with in-text commentary by other Emergent leaders. These cheers, jeers and querries add a good deal of color to the book and are well worth reading (even if they make it hard to always follow Tomlinson's argument). The value of this book is that it lays out in plain language much of the thinking of the Emerging/Emergent church movement. Love it, hate it or feel indifferent - this movement (like the Charismatics before it) will influence (and perhaps in some small ways supercede) the traditional church. This alone makes this book important reading. The fact that many Americans embrace a popularized and watered down version of Postmondernism is another. Tomlinson's lively writing adds to the pleasure and makes even his philosophical discussions enjoyable.

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Quitting Church:
Why the Faithful are Fleeing and What to Do about it.
Julia Duin
Baker Books, 2008 - 180 pages, hardback
Rating: 4 stars

Like unChristian and They Like Jesus, But Not the Church , Duin wants to tell us why are people leaving the church. Unlike these other books, Duin focuses on the Baby Boomers. She has some valuable insights for pastors and church goers concerned for the church in America. Before I get to that, let me ask just one question: "When did my generation become such whiners?" The over all tone of this book is that of nostalgic yearning for the "glory days" of the Jesus People movements of the 60s-70s. This is, perhaps, an accurate rendering of the reasons why Boomers are leaving the church, and it is an unlovely one.

Duin (Religion editor for The Washington Times) tells us that Boomers are finding today's church shallow. It lacks the spiritual, intellectual and relational punch that accompanied many of their conversion experiences in college and high school. As a devotee (in my younger years) of Francis Schaeffer (and Herman Dooyeweerd) I can heartily agree. The church has become thoroughly domesticated, and most of the fault lies at the feet of the very Boomers who are complaining. As my wife notes after reading this book: Just as the Boomers saw the Hollywood rendition of romance and were disappointed with marriage (having done none of the work) leading to divorces all over the place, Boomers are remembering the ecstatic experience of the Charistmatic revival of the 60s-70s and now they want a divorce from God (or at least His church).

Let's be clear here, there was something lost since those days, and I think the value of Duin's book lies in identifying that loss. What she misses is that in those days we Boomers had nothing to lose and so risked ourselves in "wild schemes" (i.e. Kingdom of God work) which entailed long hours, deep relational commitments and no fear of failure. Today, we Boomers have "too much to lose" as we build buildings and careers and reputations. The hard sacrificial work of Kingdom building is too taxing (as Duin herself notes) for people who raise their children as if they will die before they are 20 and live as if this world is the only chance to "get it all".

I, too, remember the communes, founding house-churches, wild reckless evangelism, mission done on a wing and a prayer, hours spent in small groups and one-on-one discipleship. I remember this all when I was in college. After that, we all got respectable and reliable. If we want what Duin (and Boomers) yearn for, we will have to become willing to be much poorer in the things of this world to afford the spiritual passion she misses.

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Surprising Insights from the Unchurched
and Proven ways to Reach Them
Thom S. Rainer
Zondervan, 2001 - 273 pages, Hardcover
Rating: Must Read

Like unChristian this book gives hard data on the ideas of the unchurched. Yet, the title misleads the reader in 2 ways:

  1. Rainer actually tells us about the RE-churched, the unchurched who have actually returned to the church and remained. Polling why they came back and what held them does provide surprising insights.

  2. Rainer also polls pastors who are successfully reaching the unchurched and compares them with a control group of pastors who may have growing churches, but are not reaching the unchurched.

Reading this book changed many of my perceptions of what a SIM needs to tell a church about seeking a pastor. It has also reaoriented my own ministry. Most startling was the amount of time the "successful" pastors spent on preparing sermons - 22 hours on average. This combined with very little pastoral care and 5 hours spent in personal evangelism has sent my time-management spinning.

Listening to the Re-churched, we find that (unlike Christians transfering into a church) they don't care about denominational labels or styles of ministry. Rather they want authentic pastors who communicate the bible clearly and with conviction, congregations that know their doctrine, and are most often drawn by a personal (ususally family) relationship after experiencing a crisis.

While a couple of typos (where the text and the chart did not match) did mar my enjoyment of the book, there is not doubt that this has transformed my perspective on SIM and called pastoral ministry. I deem this essential reading for any church seeking to reach the unchurched.

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They Like Jesus, But Not the Church
Dan Kimball
Zondervan, 2007 - 272 pages, paperback
Rating: Five Stars

Like Unchrstian (see below), Kimball seeks to help us understand how those outside the church view the church - especially the emerging generations. Though Kimball does not rely on polling data (as Kinnaman and Lyons do) he comes to practically the same conclusions. This fact should frighten us. If different people using different methods can arrive at the same analysis of how people see the church, something very important is being discovered.

Kimball's book mixes personal interviews with 20 and 30 year olds outside the church with wit and some sarcasm. Do not let his humor distract you. He delivers a clear, decisive and compelling discussion of why young outsiders have a very good opinion of Jesus and have no interest in the church. Among the views that these young outsiders hold are...

The Church is:

  • an organized religion with a political agenda
  • judgmental and negative
  • dominated by males and oppressive of females
  • homophobic
  • arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong
  • is full of fundamentalists who take the Bible literally

Now for some of you this list may look good. After all, we do claim that other religions are wrong. And some of these items simply indicate a poor understanding of the faith, for even those who restrict the role of women do not oppress them and even the most literalist believer does not take everything in the Bible literally (otherwise, we'd have a lot of one-eyed/one-handed teen boys in our churches).

However, Kimball makes a compelling case that we must grapple intelligently and sincerely with these issues. And some of his observations are near and dear to my heart. He notes that we can no longer have Christians who are ignorant of their theology. A skeptical world demands we actually understand the faith that we follow. Kimball gives many insights and suggestions for the church and Christian seeking to reach out to young outsiders. Read this book.

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unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity
David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons
Baker Books, 2007 - 255 pages, hardcover
Rating: Must Read

Anyone asking how to reach 20-somethings will want to read this book. David Kinnaman of the Barna Group and Gabe Lyons of the Fermi Project (unchristian.com/fermi) bring us bad news and good news.

The bad news: over 80% of Americans between the ages of 16 and 29 think that we (Christians and the churches in Amercia) are unChristian

The good news: We can make changes.

They list 6 criticisms which those outside the church (16-29) make of us. We may not like their criticisms, and may not think that they are valid. If we are going to tell the Good News of Jesus to this next generation, then we are going to have to accept that this is how they view us. To them we are:

  • Hypocricical
  • Too oriented around "praying the prayer" rather than changing lives
  • Anti-Homosexual (i.e. gay-bashing, rather than pro-anything)
  • Sheltered and parochial
  • Too political
  • Judgmental
Kinnaman and Lyons include in their book responses by a spectrum of evangelical Christian leaders whose names you will know well. While these add to the dialogue it is not necessary to read them in order to get the best out of this book.

Add to this book Surprising Insights from the Unchurched
and Proven ways to Reach Them
and you will get a fairly full idea of who the unchurched are and how to and not to reach them.

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X Factor Evangelism
Michael Wiles
ChurchSmart, 2005 - 103 pages, paperback
Rating: 3+

This is a good basic study for a small group wanting to converse about evangelism. It gives those who are, perhaps, disinclined to reach out a good Biblical grounding in the subject with good illustrations and group questions. It will not move them out of the chairs. You have to do that. And do not mistake this for anything resembling a thorough biblical study of evangelism. In 12 weeks it will give them the language for you to talk to them about being both loving and "salty" in this world.

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