Jossey-Bass (A Leadership Network Publication). 256 pages
Reviewed by Andrew Plocher
What about the inactive members? Where’d they go? If you’ve ever asked this question, deflected it during a tense session meeting or been frustrated with the challenges of developing a more active church membership, “The Other 80 Percent” is a must read.
Scott Thumma and Warren Bird delve into the challenging world of reaching congregation members who are on the fringe. Much like Albert Winseman’s “Growing an Engaged Church” (Gallup, 2007), they articulate vast quantities of well-researched data, and similar to Larry Osborne’s “Sticky Church” (Zondervan, 2008), they give strong practical suggestions. Portions of Thumma and Bird’s book may not seem new, yet, as a whole, with new research and innovative approaches it offers a provocative look at the failures and possible fixes of the church in reaching its own membership. It will leave you thinking and yearning to reach your own congregation in new ways.
Opening with a modified parable of the good shepherd, Thumma and Bird ask you to consider why the church and its leaders keep letting the sheep wander away, expecting new ones to come and take their place. Their answer to the question is an exploration of the Pareto principle: researching both the active 20 percent and the less active (or inactive) 80 percent. By interviewing thousands of active and inactive church members, Thumma and Bird are able to offer their own suggestions for missional and spiritual growth.
Thumma and Bird emphasize “that church leadership stands a greater chance of retaining its participants and generating more robust involvement if it can: solidify emotional bonds between persons; communicate a clear vision of the church’s ideals and give members ownership to these ideals; generate rewards for staying involved, such as acknowledgement, training, and leadership opportunities; [and] develop in members a sense of spiritual maturity, discipleship, and spiritual fulfillment.”
To those ends, they encourage the creation of listening and learning groups to find ways of helping inactive members move toward a life of discipleship. In the final four chapters of the book, they expound upon the four themes presented above, sharing ideas and opportunities as well as common pitfalls and stumbling blocks. They move you from listening and learning to concrete actions for church leadership.
Yet, for Thumma and Bird, the strongest emphasis of the book is that the health of the congregation corresponds directly with the potential to return less active members to the life of the church. A member’s decision to be less active in a congregation is often the manifestation of larger congregational issues. Every task they suggest is based on identifying the issues and strengthening the congregation.
Just as they began, they close with the parable of the good shepherd, only this time the question considered is whether you are seeking the lost sheep and training others to seek those sheep as well.
If not, give this book a read.
ANDREW PLOCHER is pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Olney, Md.