Book Review : The Great Evangelical Recession

recessWhen you hear the word “recession”, you get the idea that something is receding. The thought is of something shrinking. The thought is of something disappearing. The thought is of something going away. The image that comes to mind is that of an outgoing tide. Standing on the beach, for a period of time, there appears to be more and more sand and less and less water. We are hearing the word recession linked to our national economy almost daily since 2009. We are seeing less money available for loans. We are seeing a decreasing number of homes being built. Paychecks are shrinking and confidence is our national leaders to remedy the situation is going away. The principles of recession are also being applied to the evangelical church today. In his new book, “The Great Evangelical Recession; Six Factors That Will Crash the American Church and How to Prepare”, pastor and journalist John S. Dickerson writes about the current state of affairs plaguing the evangelical church in America today. Drawing on his years of journalism skills and pastoral passion, Dickerson paints a picture of the evangelical church in crisis and in the midst of deep recession. Dickerson writes, “The problem with the Great Recession wasn’t that nobody saw it coming. The problem was that the people who needed to listen, to put on the brakes, to adjust course, never got the message. Or else they ignored it. The American church stands today in a similar position, on the precipice of a great evangelical recession.”

Dickerson separates his book into two clear, concise, and logical parts. In Part One, Six Trends of Decline, he lays before the reader factors causing the present decline. He identifies the six problem areas of the church as Inflated, Hated, Dividing, Bankrupt, Bleeding, and Sputtering. He devotes an entire chapter describing the symptoms and causes of each. Dickerson describes the evangelical church as Inflated. He says the church is not as large as we have been led to believe and as a result, our significance and influence in a changing world in waning. Dickerson describes the evangelical church as Hated. He says that society’s ever-increasing pro-homosexuality agenda is making evangelicals hated due to their biblical opposition. Dickerson describes the evangelical church as Dividing. He says that rather than elevating the kingdom of God, evangelicals have elevated political parties and their platforms as their defining criteria. Dickerson describes the evangelical church as Bankrupt. He writes that as churches have become so dependent upon donations and faithful givers, that very dynamic has become an Achilles heel as current giving generations pass away with no replacement.  Dickerson describes the evangelical church as Bleeding. He writes that the church is not keeping its own kids as they reach early adulthood. He writes, “Research indicates that more than half of those born into evangelicalism are leaving the movement during their twenties. And the majority of them never return.” Dickerson describes the evangelical church as Sputtering. He asserts that the church s failing in its primary mission which is marked by the simple biblical litmus test: reproducing disciples that share the good news with others.

In Part Two, Six Solutions for Recovery, he identifies six recovery strategies to be embraced  by the evangelical church in order to stem the tide of recession. They are: Re-Valuing, Good, Uniting, Solvent, Healing, and Re-Igniting. I won’t go into detail here on each one, after all, this is a review and not a report. However, in each these six chapters, Dickerson offers the proactive steps the church can take in order to pull herself out of the recessional grip she has found herself in. Throughout these two parts, it is obvious that Dickerson is not shooting from the hip, guessing, speculating, or carelessly sounding an alarmist’s bell. He is precise and thorough. He is well-documented. He is scripturally on point. He paints a portrait of the evangelical church’s future that is both frightening and stirring, without crushing the hope of God’s people.

I believe most experts in their field want to know everything they can about their business; the good, the bad, and the ugly. I believe that is what John Dickerson has done here. As the pastor of an evangelical Southern Baptist church, I needed to hear what Dickerson wrote. I can identify with a great deal in this book. “The Great Evangelical Recession” is a clarion call to the church that is sleep-walking through a commission in which she should be sprinting. I rarely label a book as “must read”.  John Dickerson has written just that. I believe every church leader would benefit at some level from what he has written. Sobering, humbling, and tempered with a measure of grace and urgency, The Great Evangelical Recession will serve as that “stake in the ground” for righting the evangelical ship. Very well done.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Baker Publishing Group as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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