Transforming Your Congregation into a Powerhouse for Mission
- ISBN: 9780664264789
- Published By: Westminster John Knox Press
- Published: February 2019
God is present and comes near. With God there is abundance. God’s nature—incarnational and bountiful—has driven Krin Van Tatenhove and Rob Mueller to consider how the church, like God, can be present in the experiences of their neighborhood. From the outset, one senses that the impetus for Neighborhood Church: Transforming Your Congregation into a Powerhouse for Mission is about more than the idea of mission or community outreach. To be sure, this book is about that. Yet, it is much more. Van Tatenhove and Mueller call on the church to engage incarnationally as a way to be a God-force for those whom the church serves.
With Neighborhood Church, Van Tatenhove and Mueller identify several exigencies for mission, and they offer an asset-based community development [ABCD] model for mission to address the need. The first of the exigencies relates to the decreasing church presence of Millennials. Van Tatenhove and Mueller offer this sobering diagnosis: “[o]ur failure as a church to capture the imagination, authenticity, and risk-willingness of this generation is crippling our incarnational capacity. It is symptomatic of our reluctance to get messy with the problems of our communities, and to Millennials it communicates a disinterest in real and lasting change” (4). The authors envision asset-based conversations as a means of responding to the need.
With this title, Van Tatenhove and Mueller have two clear objectives: (1) to “kindle new relevancy” for the church and mission (5); and (2) to provide “find practical tools for developing … incarnational relationships” (7). As they achieve these two objectives, the authors anticipate that readers will be interested in the results of ABCD-modeled mission in a diversity of neighborhoods. They acknowledge this as they state, “every community has its issues” even if “our locales may not be plagued by inner-city ills” (5). On matters related to changing neighborhoods, the authors posit that the impetus for incarnational mission remains, even in light of these changes. Van Tatenhove and Mueller do not offer a deep-dive on the effects of gentrification on local-church success—or lack thereof—with ABCD. Indeed, that is a conversation that occurs beyond the scope of this work. Still, the authors do well to note that the church’s imperative for beginning the conversation and adopting a culture of listening.
Neighborhood Church acknowledges differences that can exist between congregations and neighborhoods. “These differences can be economic, educational, ethnic, religious, or cultural, separating us into enclaves that have little to do with one another” (58). These distinctions demonstrate the authors’ awareness that neighborhoods are not monolithic—that approaches for mission need to mirror the diverse experiences of the neighborhood. Further, contextual differences between inner-city and suburban or rural church commitments and opportunities exist. The authors note that some of these locational differences prevent churches from intentionally creating the “brave spaces” seen as important for incarnational mission (59). Van Tatenhove and Mueller suggest that addressing these differences requires that the church listen to a diversity of persons. In this way, members of the neighborhood become the teachers who actively help shape mission, instead of the object to whom mission is done. Again, the ABCD model is imaged as a resource for facilitating conversation.
With Neighborhood Church, the authors propose ABCD as a solution for encouraging commitments and revitalizing mission ministry. In keeping with the abundant nature of God, churches are reminded that each person has something to offer, including those whom the church seeks to help. As the name suggests, ABCD is viewed as a way to identify church assets, including the people and the physical plant. The ABCD model encourages listening as a way to identify intersections of church assets and neighborhood needs. Anecdotal evidence abounds throughout to support the effectiveness of ABCD-informed mission and its impacts within the authors’ neighborhood.
Neighborhood Church is distinct given the authors’ development of the idea of incarnational mission. Van Tatenhove and Mueller acknowledge that an incarnational relationship—the inauguration of the kingdom of God in our respective places—“requires risk and radical realignment” (3). They conclude that risks and realignments can be overcome when the church makes its mission the embodiment of incarnational theology. On this point, Neighborhood Church offers a theological perspective of the local church’s imperative to resist the ease of inward and isolated ministry. Indeed, as God is incarnational, so too should the church be incarnational. Practical tools for developing incarnational relationships abound. This includes each of the appendices: Appendices 1-3 offer immediately practicable resources for individuals and communities interested in ABCD; appendix 4 identifies additional conversation partners for developing neighborhood relationships.
Local church leaders and congregations seeking resources to connect with their neighbors are the right audience for Neighborhood Church. As a primary asset, the ABCD model has the potential for church start-ups/plants and established, neighborhood churches. The accessible language, concise anecdotes, and practical advice also help make Neighborhood Church a manageable and relevant resource for mission-minded churches. Though understated by the authors, this reviewer notes that successful implementation of the ABCD model depends, in part, on a skilled individual who can facilitate necessary conversations and shepherd congregations toward the suggested posture of listening, and thus a chance for implementation success. Mission-minded churches will also be helped by each chapter’s lessons-learned, “Discussion Starters,” and concluding prayers. Each of these can ignite a church’s incarnational mission.
Larrin Robertson is a doctoral student in the African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric Program at Christian Theological Seminary. Larrin is also the pastor of WORD For Life Church Ministries in Fort Washington, Maryland.Larrin RobertsonDate Of Review:October 15, 2019