Magnify Your Vision for the Small Church
John Rowell Book Review
Book Review by Ian North
Interact Magazine 1999
Volume 10 Number 2
It has been rightly said, “A church which is not mission-minded has ceased to be the church. It has lost the Gospel and is dead to the Cross.” John Rowell’s deeply moving book, Magnify Your Vision for the Small Church, is the story of the evolution of Northside Community Church, a small church in the USA. It moved from the typical approach to missions, applying $12 000 to world missions from the general budget, to being a church which mobilised its whole membership into church planting teams, adventuring by faith into a dangerous and desperately needy part of the world to reach an unreached Muslim group.
Their journey began by exploring ways of maximising the impact of their limited financial resources by identifying and partnering with gifted national evangelists on the front lines of evangelism in Africa and Asia.
Then came the next step, moving from supporting to sending. By adopting the ‘faith promise’ approach to mission giving, resources grew to fund the challenge of sending someone from their own membership into the field. Laurie Nelson, a skilled computer programmer, became the first full-time missionary mobilised by the church. Within just a few years Northside had members serving as new missionaries or tent-makers in Russia, Singapore, Germany and Japan.
The third step was the call to adopt an unreached people group. ‘Professional missiologists taught us that as a mission-minded church, we should give priority attention to identifying a specific unreached people group target of our own – one for which we could pray and to which we could plan to take the Gospel.’
Tears and excitement move the reader as the story unfolds of how God used the ordinary praying people of Northside Community Church to plant a church among the faraway and largely unreached Muslims of Bosnia, a culture so different to the culture of suburban Atlanta.
Part 2 of this book begins with Isaiah 54:2: ‘Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not …’ and is titled Principles for Church Based Missions.
This half is packed with a wealth of instruction for pastors seeking to disciple the people of their churches into productive Christian living and leadership, with a view to making an impact both in the local community, and over the horizon where millions live who have no way to hear the gospel.
Under the heading “The Small Church, God’s Key to World Evangelism” Rowell states that ‘the most advantageous missions alternative is a model that succeeds by using a pattern of church growth which is indefinitely reproducible’.
Success has so often been measured in terms of the mega-church, and more lately the meta-church, emphasising the ‘bigger is better’ mentality. However the mega-church is not easily reproducible, nor is it conducive to the in-depth, personal, all-member involvement in the church-planting, church-reproducing mission to which every church is called. Rowell points out that 94% of the world’s churches have less than 350 members. Therefore, ‘in the real world, smallness is an observable characteristic of the overwhelming majority of churches in every culture’. On the other hand, Dr Richard Halverson discovered when serving as pastor of a 7,000 member church that it would require only 365 to do the work that was required to maintain the program of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. Rowell observes that in such a situation where most of the church is inactive, the strength of the local body declines and the ‘muscle tissue’ atrophies.
‘Community ecclesiology’ is put forth as a healthy alternative and must precede a change in missiological practice. The local church must recover the original mandate of Christ to the church to ‘make disciples’. All too often good pastors have had to leave the professional ministry of the institutionalised church in order to find the time ‘to make disciples’. The average church member can go from month to month and year to year without ever being in an accountability or discipleship group, let alone being active in evangelism or church planting.
The training scope and sequence chart on pages 252-255 is a brilliant format for the mobilisation of the entire membership of the small church, taking them from the level of Active Members to becoming Aspiring Leaders, to being Ministry Leaders, to Congregational Leaders, to Mentoring Leaders and then Church Planters. And this is happening at Northside Community Church!
The later part of this book deals with relationships between agencies and the churches, how to develop a powerful synergism as the various expressions of the body of Christ learn how to cooperate and mutually prosper in the fulfilment of the Great Commission.
John Rowell, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and with years of proven experience, has created a book which is not only a work of art and a prophetic contribution to both ecclesiological and missiological theory, but also a powerfully practical textbook for both pastors and missionaries. He closes his call to the church with a prayer ‘that both churches and mission agencies accept the challenge and blessing of the synergistic mission model and in the process form strong partnerships to finish the task that remains’.