Just so that you know where I stand at the very beginning of this review, I will fill you in bluntly: I only need one book, the ‘Bible’, to live my live out! Unless a religious book is a reference book to aid my studies, I am not a fan of it. Fortunately when I look at Francis Chan’s book, I see it as a ‘Biblical Reference Book That Raises Hard Questions’ more than anything else. One thing of special note is that Francis Chan focuses on many very important New Testament verses that so many other churches and bible teachers want to overlook because they make hard statements. This is because it is cross-grained to the American quest for a life of ease.
The key question I believe this book addresses is, “What is meant by church growth?” In America, it almost always means how many people attend a church and are they attracting more and more. It’s all about the numbers, no matter what means is resorted to in order to grow those numbers, even if the numbers are transplanted from other churches. But what if church growth means, first, that a church is becoming more and more pleasing to the Lord? Second, the people that comprise the church are becoming more and more unified in love? And third, through this process more and more people are multiplied into the kingdom? In other words, quality first, then quantity as we would say in American consumerism. These are some of the important topics that Francis Chan looks at.
I am very pleased of how this book aligns with the New Testament and how the early Church operated. I found that when Francis Chan brings out the multitude of Biblical truths in Scriptures laced throughout his book, I find myself saying “Amen” over-and-over, again-and-again. This is because so much of what he writes you will find also in what I try to bring out in this website and naturally so, for when uncompromised Biblical truth is relentlessly sought, unison will be evident.
Every member of the early Church was a participant, and not a spectator or consumer. Francis Chan writes:
“We’ve built our modern churches on the assumption that God works through a few talented, impressive, and wealthy people. And we give all the other people comfortable seats from which they can be blessed by what God does through the leaders and influencers. We have read Scriptures clear statement about the Holy Spirit manifesting Himself through every Christian, but we’ve decided we know better.”
One of the areas that I am not in total agreement with Francis Chan is in the area of love and unity. He was searching for the love and unity that he saw in Scripture and didn’t find it in the churches in America. The way he writes takes on a tone of condemnation. But to be realistic we must take a 360 degree view. The environment of a ‘traditional church’ versus a ‘house church’ is quite different. The intimacy within a ‘house church’ allows for the opportunity for those that are a part of it to love each other to a much greater extent because of the family like environment. They are with each other to a much greater extent and with a much greater closeness. And the biggest factor is that the size a ‘house church’ is usually much smaller than a ‘traditional church’. You can almost appear invisible within a large ‘traditional church’ whereas you are extremely visible and engaging in a ‘house church’.
I believe so many of the other reviews I have read have been tainted by the tinted glasses of those who have been shaped by the Americanized Church. I promised myself I would take off my tinted glasses and use only the Bible to review this book, while also trying to keep a realistic view of the American Society I live in with all its quarks. Four examples that I saw ruffled people’s feathers were, first, how the author points out how that if the same Holy Spirit power resides within children who are saved, why don’t we recognize that and utilize their faith more. Second, that if someone is truly living out their faith, THEY WILL SUFFER PERSECUTION! And what about not only PERSECUTION, but MARTYRDOM? Will someone abandon their faith if they face it? Third, living a holy life is not an option, but is demanded by our Creator. Fourth, a fully committed life of sacrificial love and unity is supposed to be the norm.
The early churches (Acts 2:42-47) were not housed by expensive, dedicated buildings led by a paid head pastor and a paid staff that mainly held a 90 minute service once a week. The early church consisted of extremely close knit house churches led by unpaid elders. They concentrated on studying the Word, prayer, fellowship, and breaking of bread. They loved each other with a love they would die for with a unity that was evident to all. WOW!
The core of the book stems from the author resigning as founding pastor of a mega-church he built from scratch, known as ‘Cornerstone Church’, and moving on to starting a movement of small house churches known as ‘We Are Church’. After 16 years of being head pastor, he looked out and saw a mega-church that was dependent on one human being with well over 90% of the congregation nothing more than ‘consumers’ that came to be fed for 90 minutes a week. Then when he looked at the Bible, he saw what was supposed to be something totally different.
Francis Chan points out that he is not there to write a guidebook to form the perfect functioning church. What he clearly tries to do is raise questions from how the early church operated and how he saw the church operating in persecuted countries he toured for five years after resigning from ‘Cornerstone Church’. Then he compares it to how the institutionalized church in America actually operates. He does this without an attitude of condemnation, but with true compassion. It is really up to the reader to dig into prayer, fasting and obedience to the Word of God and say, “Where do you want me to go from here, LORD?” Are you being pulled toward the ‘restoration movement’ of ‘house churches’ or are you pulled to stay within what has become the ‘traditional churches’. Or could it be ‘traditional churches’ that have ‘house churches’ within them. Whichever way, you must obey the following verse:
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25 NLT)
In conclusion, I want to point out that these early churches were filled with tremendous Holy Spirit power that went out and turned the world upside down. When I view what is on TV and media depicting the so-called spectacular things happening in these present day mega-ministries, I become grieved in my spirit. I mostly see twisted entertainment that keeps the masses locked in their cages as if in a zoo, as Francis Chan refers to it. Maybe it is time, as Francis Chan suggests, we unlock the cages and let these people free to be the wild animals (capable Christians powered by the Holy Spirit) they were meant to be. But don’t give up on the institutionalized church in America yet. That is why I give the book 4.5 stars out of 5 stars. God can still use traditional pastors and churches as we know them in a most remarkable and powerful way. So don’t stop praying for your local pastors and churches.
Here are two PDF’s that will give you more insight on the author and his book: