Change Your Church for Good (Brad Powell): Review

28 May 2010

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

Brad Powell’s experience as senior pastor of NorthRidge Church has been distilled in the form of a book: Change Your Church for Good.  The premise of the book is simple: many churches need move beyond entrenched irrelevance to be relevant, vibrant communicators of the gospel.

To that end, Powell’s ministry philosophy strongly reflects an “attractional” model, which will simultaneously appeal to some readers while alienating the more “missional” crowd.  I say this neither as criticism nor praise (I personally see value in both models), but only that readers be aware of this philosophical leaning.

THE GOOD

Powell writes from obviously first-hand experience.  There’s never any question that the issues he raises are anything less than issues with which he has personally dealt.  Readers will also be appreciative of Powell’s clear writing style and frequent reference to scripture.

THE BAD

The problem with the book is not its content, but what I felt the book sorely lacks: traction.  Powell uses generalities (such as “often…”, “many people,” etc.) rather than the types of concrete examples that would better illustrate his case.

While Powell admirably balances his experience with scripture, the book is noticeably lacking in footnotes, appendices or outside references.  Discussions of the problems with the contemporary church must be substantiated with objective data in order for such claims to have their merit.  Additionally, there is a wealth of available data (from such as the Barna Group, Lifeway Research, etc.) that could be used to support what is (or is not) considered culturally “relevant,” and such data could also be of infinite help in evaluating how best to reach the present and future generations.

Though Powell  makes clear that the church “change without compromise” (p. 73), the boundary between “relevance” and “compromise” is never firmly established.  The result is that there is never an explanation of why certain forms of ministry are better than others (and again, here is where research data would have been helpful).

Additionally, while his use of scripture is to be commended, there is never quite a bridge between the text and concrete reality.  For example, on p. 48 Powell suggests that 1 Peter 3:15 (“give the reason for the hope”) teaches the church to answer our culture’s great questions.  True, he cites a few examples, but this is another case where research data and concrete illustrations would be of enormous help.

Finally, Powell’s book does not adequately address the life and internal dynamic of the church, such as small group ministry or plans of discipleship, issues that have as much (if not more) impact on the unchurched as the main service.

THE SKINNY

We must be clear that the book is meant to be prescriptive, not merely descriptive.  Therefore we must measure its worth on its ability to inform and communicate not only the need for change, but the mechanism thereof.  Unfortunately, Powell’s work falls significantly short of providing a helpful ministry model.

The reason I am so demanding of research data is simply that without it, readers have no real way of knowing whether Powell’s ideas have any merit outside the context of his church and ministry.  Given the widespread availability of such data, this would have been a simple and worthwhile inclusion.

I want to be clear that I appreciate Powell and believe his ministry to be a success.  With so many books like this on the market (e.g. works by Ed Stetzer, Thom Rainer, etc.), this is a very difficult field to be writing in.  While I wish he and his ministry continued success, I simply cannot recommend this book to those seeking to implement change in the local church.

I am grateful to Thomas Nelson Publishers for providing me a complimentary copy to review.

28 May 2010

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

Chris is a writer and speaker. He currently serves as teaching pastor at Tri-State Fellowship and as a research writer for Docent Research Group.

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