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Book review: The Church of Tomorrow by John McGinley; Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land by John Marsh

04 August 2023

Mike Starkey looks at ideas about changes for a better-filled fold

THE Church in the West is in decline — but there are signs of hope, and God is at work in new ways. So says John McGinley, of the Gregory Centre for Church Multiplication and head of the Church of England’s Myriad initiative for church-planting. This book seeks to offer a manifesto for the rebirth of the Church. Each of its eight chapters focuses on one practice that, the author believes, will characterise the thriving Church of tomorrow.

McGinley is at his best on strategies for growth in a culture that believes that church is old hat. In his chapter on church-planting, he notes that the UK already has around 40,000 church buildings, most of them far from full. So, why plant new churches? Answer: because new types of church reach new groups of people, who would never darken the door of our existing churches; planting also renews the Church as it ventures into new mission contexts. He makes a persuasive case for a mixed-ecology vision of church.

Similarly, his chapter on diverse leadership highlights the benefits of broadening the pool of those considered suitable to be church leaders — including a stimulating section on women leading churches in modern-day Iran.

Other chapters feel less incisive, however. The author discusses the need to hold on to the lordship of Jesus, dependence on the Spirit, and confidence in the gospel, besides being a disciple-making community, a holy people, and a people of prayer. These chapters offer a vision of returning to the energy and faith of the New Testament Church, contrasted with the tired and passionless Church of today.

Well, maybe so. But the content in these chapters is broad-brush and generic, with little that couldn’t be heard in sermons at any Charismatic church. McGinley is uniquely placed to hear and collate examples of cutting-edge mission across the UK; so to focus here on A. W. Tozer’s thoughts on lukewarm Christianity, or the failings of cessationism, feels like a missed opportunity. Some readers might also raise an eyebrow at the author’s enthusiasm for prophetic “words” about revival, cited at length as if carrying authority.

The mission of the Church in a changing world also concerns John Marsh, a retired priest and archdeacon, and member of the Leading Your Church into Growth team. Marsh’s central metaphor is exile. He retells the story of the exile to Babylon, exploring its biblical resonances. The current “exile” of the Church, Marsh says, has been hastened by massive shifts in society and ideas. These include the post-modern questioning of any truth beyond personal feelings, the demise of Christendom, and the loss of the Christian story across society. He also highlights the Covid pandemic as a kind of exile.

Marsh explores resonances between our current disorientation and themes in scripture, identifying passages that might speak with particular clarity to those who feel hurt and confused (“singing the Lord’s song in a strange land”). In his final section, Marsh thinks about mission in changing times. Like McGinley, he finds a model in the life of the Early Church. He highlights its members’ commitment to the faith and each other, to worship and prayer, to bridge-building and welcoming.

McGinley’s writing style is punchy and provocative; Marsh’s is gentle and anecdotal. Both are convinced that today’s Church is called to fresh creativity and ancient fidelity.

The Revd Mike Starkey is a freelance writer, and former Head of Church Growth for Manchester diocese.


The Church of Tomorrow: Being a Christ-centred people in a changing world
John McGinley
SPCK £12.99
(978 -0-281-08638-2)
Church Times Bookshop £11.69


Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land: Re-shaping the Church for a changed world
John Marsh
Sacristy Press £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.49

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