What to do when the church you love tries to enter the 21st century.

What to do when the church you love tries to enter the 21st century.

Christian - Living
229 Pages
Reviewed on 03/20/2009
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Anne Boling for Readers' Favorite

I can readily relate to Who Stole My Church, I am ashamed to say I have at embraced change at times and other times felt it overwhelming.  I “grew up” with choir robes, treasured hymns, silent reverence in the sanctuary where you wear your Sunday best worship services.  Suddenly, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, there were praise choruses that seem only to scratch the surface of worship.

There were blue jeans and shorts and a much more casual service.  I enjoyed the increased informality, yet the changes seem to come too fast.  Many members began to feel left behind and unwanted.  Just as MacDonald describes, these were the movers and shakers of the church--the core members, and the “traditional” members most in their 50’s and 60’s.  Most have adapted the changes, but there are still a few that are very unhappy.  I shudder to remember I uttered the words, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”  Pastor MacDonald does not know me; we will probably never meet, (except in heaven) but he has touched my life.  He has given me a lot to contemplate.

Gordon MacDonald author of Who Stole My Church uses an easy and simple to understand method to accentuate his point.  The plot is well-developed, and the structure flows smoothly.  The characters are very real and life-like.  The message of this book is extremely important.  I highly recommend that all Christians read this book, regardless of their age; some day even the young will be asking Who Stole My Church.

Darryl Dash

Who Stole My Church? is a book that's both the same as, and different from, other books on transitioning churches.

That's not particularly helpful, so let me explain. It's the same as other books because it covers some of the same ground: changes in culture, life cycles of organizations, the history of musical innovation within the church, and the bell curve that divides people into innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. This is helpful information, but it's ubiquitous. But that's not the unique contribution of this book.

Who Stole My Church? is different from any other book I've read on transitioning churches because it's a story, or parable, of real people who resist change in dialogue with an older pastor who leads them in processing what's happening. I said that they're real people, but I need to make it clear that this is a fictional book. But they're real in the sense that I've met every single one of them. In fact, sometimes I had to put this book down and shake my head. Was MacDonald spying on the church I pastor a few years ago? MacDonald writes as someone who knows how people struggle with change within a church. He's been there. I wish this book had been written ten years ago. As a work of fiction, it's very true to life.

This book may help the late majority and laggards to understand why churches must contextualize, even though this is a painful process. I especially like it because it's written by someone in their peer group. Those who are struggling with change will recognize themselves in the book, and will also probably feel that they have been sympathetically portrayed.

This book will also help pastors understand what's really happening as people react to change, and it may provide a model for both groups to come together and process what's happening.

I really hope that pastors who are thinking of going into an established church to lead change read this book. It will give them an idea of what they're in for.

Who Stole My Church? doesn't do everything. It doesn't help sort out what shouldn't change, and how much change is too much. It doesn't provide all the answers to what's faddish change versus significant change. It doesn't present a deep theology of the church, and it doesn't unpack all the resources of the gospel that will help us in the process. But it succeeds in what it sets out to do. It tells a story of a church that's struggling with change, helps both sides understand what's going on, and provides an example of how the resulting conflict could lead to greater health rather than disintegration. If you're in a church struggling with change, or thinking of pastoring one, you'll find this book helpful.

Troy Scott

Outstanding book! It's as simple as this. God is literally using this book to bring healing and hope to our church. It's helping our Senior Adults understand the consequences of their stonewalling behavior towards change and helping our young people empathize with the pain of our Senior Adults. God is using it to change hearts in ways I have tried and failed. We are passing about 20 copies around to our people. Many have come up to me, their pastor, and asked, "Are you sure you didn't write this. This is our church exactly."

Thank you Gordon MacDonald for speaking into the arena of church change in a way that people actually listen - a story - instead of facts, logic, and reason. God is bringing renewal to our 93 year old church. Thank God and Thank Gordon.

Mathew Morine

This book is a flowing narrative of the classic story of conflict in a congregation over change. The author writes a fictional account through personal experiences of being a minister for over forty years. The story resonates with reality. There are power struggles, control issues, dropouts, and healing, forgiveness, and unity. The power dealings with change in a church through the eyes of those who are against it. Most books about change are written by those seeking to change the church, while this book is written compassionately through the eyes of those who are hurt by change. The story ends well, unlike some real life accounts of complete disaster in congregations. Throughout the book the author provides methods and leadership styles that will help bring about unity and purpose within the congregation. This book is not dealing with the divisive methods of change agents, but if anyone who has gone through any type of change would realize, any change is always resisted within a congregational system. It seems the minister's job in a congregation is to change the church for the better, and unfortunately it seems that to some members of a congregation their role is to maintain the status quo even if the congregation is failing in God's desire to be a First century congregation. This is a great book.

Bridget Mccort

My husband and I co-pastor a church in a conservative denomination (you may see a review pop up from my husband when he remembers to do this) anyway...

We are in a cycle of change and we must change and change has been going well for the past three years or so. We've successfully become outward focused instead of inward focused, we are intentional about how we set up our worship space, what we call things, how we welcome people and quickly engaging them into the family. Our church is in a low income neighborhood in one of the most expensive cities in America. We attract 95% men, mostly homeless or previously homeless and a great deal of current and former addicts of all kinds. A mostly male church is not a normal thing in America, infact most are heavier on the female folk and place emphasis on women's ministry and outreach. We have some women... I think I can name 10 or so. Most of our men are divorced or never married so few of the women are connected to any of the men in the congregation.

Of the folks who come (male and female) most are completely previously unchurched and many others had negative experiences as young people and have been away from the church for a very long time.

Enough of that...

This book was phenomenal, fiction or not, because it brought to light what the older folks are thinking (we have a few of those) and what the younger people were thinking, how important is the name you call yourself as a church, etc. My husband and I bought one copy of this book when it came out and since we both wanted to read it right away he had to read it to me outloud so we could share it - which actually proved a great opportunity for both of us to share and discuss it (and turn off the television for the few days it took us to read this in the evenings). We have recommended this book to our pastor friends and those we know who are struggling with the church they attend but do not pastor. I have blogged about this book on Facebook, Xanga and Myspace because I believe it can be a great launching pad for the same kind of real discussion and possible rebirth for an older church the way the fictional story lays out. Please read this book!

Baron Smith

This book is not a typical "how to" book but a "why" book put into a story format. In my opinion it hit's a home run. Too many times churches become stagnant because they don't want to change to the point making a newcomer or an un-churched feel unwelcome or so awkward they will never come back let alone experience the love of Christ.
In today's culture where many do not know any Bible stories, why Christ died on the cross, or that God loves them so much that He gave His Son as an atonement for their sin. Oh yea, they also wouldn't know what "atonement" means.
Many churches insist on speaking "Christianize", singing hymns that make no sense to an outsider thus the church keep shrinking then gets into financial trouble because there are not enough people to support it.
If a church in today's culture is not looking for ways to bring in new believers they are missing the whole point - - to win the lost for Christ and make their congregants into fruit bearing Christians.
If your church has become "lukewarm" and not seeking the lost you are not obeying God's commandment and commission. There are many ways to make your church a better church. This book gives some pointers on how a church could do it in a good story format.

Max E. High Jr.

I just finished reading Who Stole My Church? by Gordon MacDonald. I could hardly put it down. I was iritated that my ministry interrupted my reading. It seems as if MacDonald has been the fly on my wall. The development of his story of a "fictious" church (a premise I find hard to believe) trying to change and come into the 21st century without falling apart, was absolutely spot on. I could not wait to see how the characters would react to issues in the church and with each other. I know those people! I wish I had the skill to guide my congregation that MacDonald had with his "fictious" congregation. Praise God for his insights!

J. Rolen

Gordon tells a fictional story that is all to real. It has been lived out in countless churches. Pastors that have, or are planning to lead thier churches through transitions will find "Who Stole My Church?" a tremendous benefit. Laity will enjoy it too, as they resonate with the pains of a people who are watching their church change before their eyes. I loved it and have all of the elders and ministry leaders reading it too!

Douglas Lucy

Gordon MacDonald has written a modern day parable that hits the church right where it lives, in the middle of a generation/culture gap. The younger generations don't get what makes the older generations tick and the older generation thinks the younger is ruining the church, killing it in fact. This book attacks those issues head on with the story of Gordon and Gail MacDonald pastoring a church teetering on the brink of of a split or worse death of the church. As a pastor, I find my church in the midst of this same cultural shift. This book 5 years ago may have helped us dodge a season of frustration and pain. Good writing, good story, great information.

Diane Mc

This book was recommended to me for some research I'm doing on the topic of how the "Builder" (senior) generation is frustrated with church -- especially as things are changing to attract/keep younger generations. The author has created a fictional church, where he serves as pastor, that reflects all of the common struggles of different generations trying to believe/worship/find God in their own way, yet at times disrespecting how OTHER generations do things differently. The dialog is realistic, the pastor's struggles/reflections are very honest. You can tell the author has been there in a real church! Great ideas for how to address these same challenges in your own church and to recognize a bit of what's behind it all.

T. Suzanne Eller

It's a rare book that challenges my thinking while I'm reading it, and continues in my thoughts days afterward. This book did that. It is written as a fiction book, but I recognize many of the characters. I don't know how Gordon McDonald met them, but they are in my church. Hmm, sometimes it might even be me. Thought provoking. Real. Definitely worth the read.

Diane L. Shores

"Who Stole My Church: What to Do When the Church You Love Tries to Enter the 21st Century." Wow... was someone standing behind me when I expressed these exact sentiments? Gosh, what happened to the hymns? Better yet, what happened to the hymnals? What happened to the choir? What is all this multi-media stuff going on up on the screens? Ok, I see the words, but where is the music? Doesn't anyone sing in harmony anymore? What is all this "praise" stuff anyway? Guitars, drums, singers dressed in jeans (and even some with holes in them...). Where'd the organ go? And what is all this clapping and swaying to the music... who stole my church?

This book really opened my eyes as to what is going on today in the church... and in the world. There are major changes happening in our younger generation. And I hate to say it, but I saw myself in this book and didn't really like what I found. I've been resisting all this change without even realizing how much I was distancing myself from the delightful younger generation... including my own family. Gordon MacDonald is right on with all the major events that are going on today. As he writes his book, he introduces us, chapter-by-chapter to the cast of characters. I guarantee that you will find yourself in one of them.

The delightful outcome of this book is that it helps us all to understand the various generations, and how to appreciate our differences. The end result is that if we hold to past traditions in the church, we will lose today's children. They will soon be taking over, and their lives were nothing like our childhoods. They were not raised in the stable 40s and 50s (or earlier). It's a totally different world today.

After reading this book, it was like a sudden "aha!" appeared. I now understand more of what is happening and have made the decision to switch from the more traditional service in our church to what I call the "praise" worship.... the contemporary blend. I don't want to feel "old"... I want to join the younger generation and get with it. They like to smile and be happy in church and not be so sullen and quiet. That can't be all bad......