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Book review: Reforming Church: How God is at work in revitalisation ministry by George Crowder

08 March 2024

A would-be revitaliser reports a tough task, says Mike Starkey

ONE of the tools in the church-growth toolkit is revitalisation, an intentional strategy to bring new life to an existing church that is struggling or has closed. The usual model is for a new priest with fresh vision to be appointed, and for members of a larger congregation to relocate to help provide momentum.

A key word in the literature on revitalisation is “partnership”. For the model to be effective, there needs to be good will between old guard and incomers and a sense of shared mission. During my time in Manchester diocese, we saw revitalisations transform the life and witness of a few ailing churches.

George Crowder (Diary, 16 February) tells the story of his own appointment to revitalise a struggling Cheshire church. He is disarmingly honest, saying that his account is not a success story. The congregation remains fragile, with no outside resources, and the journey remains “raw and slow”. The most moving parts of the book are stories of individuals who find faith rekindled through the changes in the church.

Crowder’s book has two distinctives that give it a different flavour from most revitalisation narratives. One is that he writes from a defiantly Reformed perspective. The clue is in the title. Crowder’s approach is shaped around Bible and Covenant, and uses theological categories such as God’s preceptive and decretal will. His role-model is the Puritan Richard Baxter.

Similarly, his understanding of the parish has more than a Puritan tinge to it. Far from seeing inherited folk religion as something to build on, he compares it to Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones, and the incoming leader to Jeremiah buying land in the destroyed city of Anathoth. When Crowder uses the term “churchiness”, this is not a compliment.

The other distinctive is that Crowder takes no team with him. This is revitalisation as solitary vocation: an Evangelical minister called to revive a non-Evangelical parish.

Crowder’s story will be welcomed by those who share his core assumptions. Those with a different vision for saving the parish will find here much to tut-tut over.

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

Reforming Church: How God is at work in revitalisation ministry
George Crowder
Church Society £6*
*available from churchsociety.org

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