Dustin D. Benac
Baylor University Press, 348 pages | Published August 16, 2022
As someone who will soon (I hope!) lead a church, I was eager to read Dustin D. Benac’s Adaptive Church: Collaboration and Community in a Changing World for insights on how to lead a faith community. I admit that a tiny part of me hoped for the “magic approach” to boost a congregation’s membership and Sunday worship attendance. Instead, Benac offers a realistic and actionable framework for how church leaders can find resources and create networks to strengthen congregations in a post-Christian America.
Benac studies two entities – the Parish Collective (PC) in Seattle and the Office of Church Engagement (OCE) in Spokane, Washington – and how their partnerships with religious and educational organizations and nonprofits benefit individual churches. PC and OCE are “hubs” that offer resources for how to lead after COVID, inviting pastors to learn new ways to develop disciples and build community. For example, church planter Lauren Goldbloom attended PC’s Inhabit conference, which introduced her to their leadership program. The program affirmed her as a pastor, sparked new ways of imagining and instilled in her the value of connections, which can make the often isolated work of planting a new church more relational.
“This book tells the story of two communities in the Pacific Northwest who are adapting to the challenges they face through collaborative approaches to Christian education, organization and leadership,” Benac writes. The Pacific Northwest – a region with one of the highest percentages of “nones” in the U.S. – is often seen as a preview of further declines in American religious participation. “To be a religious organization in the region requires an entrepreneurial spirit,” Benac adds. As I search for a first call, I already see how that “entrepreneurial spirit” is essential to churches everywhere.
PC and OCE emphasize partnerships, and some of the most compelling were with educational institutions. OCE is housed at Whitworth University in Spokane, a PC(USA)-affiliated university, and the PC counts among its partners the Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. These hubs provide links to the brainpower and resources of institutions of higher education and offer personal connection and relationships. Reading Benac’s examples frequently reminded me of NEXT Church, an organization that coaches PC(USA) leaders in strengthening congregations, among other things; there is clearly room for the Presbyterian Church to learn from these examples.
Adaptive Church is academic and will likely appeal to educational and religious professionals. While it is accessible to anyone interested in the church, the casual reader may find it dense at times. Benac’s writing is strong and engaging particularly when he relays anecdotes, and the book comes alive when he shares stories and commentary from people he interviewed.
I hope organizations like PC and OCE will sprout up around the country to offer church leaders resources and inspiration. I plan to engage with these two groups and learn from them — and I hope that in time, they may learn from my experiences
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