By Danny Franks
Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan (2018)
Reviewed by CHERI GATTON
Pastor Danny Franks presents a straightforward and polite analysis of the dysfunction many churches experience today. He says it this way: “In churches today, we ‘clutter up the court of the gentiles’ when we fail to make accommodations for the outsider in our preaching, music, language, the practice of our traditions, children’s programs, and parking and signage” (loc. 109).
According to Pastor Franks’ research, Nelson Searcy says, “Many first-time guests are dragged into church by someone else. When they decide to return for a second time, it’s usually out of their own volition” (loc. 186).
These two statements summarize the mission of this book. In the introduction, J. D. Greear, author and pastor of the Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, NC adds, “Your church’s preaching and worship styles may draw a crowd, but to keep a crowd, people must sense that you love them, that you expected them, and that you can’t wait for them to return” (loc. 128).
What is our purpose and mission on any given Sabbath? Is it to entertain each other? Are we excited about inviting others to meet Jesus and our church family? Franks points out that some churches go through the motions of worship without the Spirit and in others, the service may be more like the money-changers in Jesus’ day, whipping up the crowd for entertainment and selfish gain. We want our visitors (and members) to experience rich Spirit-filled, gospel-based, Sabbath worships but to make this happen it first requires an accurate analysis of our mission and effectiveness of our gospel presence. Popularity isn’t what Franks is advocating, but awareness and joy in the Lord are contagious. As we pay attention we will recognize the characterizations Franks uses in his book and strategic processes to become a more people-missioned, gospel-centered congregation.
Pastor Franks explains that most churches fall on or between these two examples:
[the] “Experience is Superficial” church . . . steeped in tradition. They pride themselves on the old ways of doing church and see themselves as primarily a protective bubble: it’s okay by them if they keep the saints in and the sinners out. . . . they tend to be heavy on doctrine and light on delight. Emotional expression during a church service is frowned upon. (loc. 217)
He summarizes it this way:
“While they give careful attention to what they say, they give little attention to what a guest hears. They may indeed preach truth, but they don’t accompany it with relational love” (loc. 225).
Church type number two is the “Experience is Central” church. In some ways they are a reaction to the traditional church. There are no stuffy-sounding names here, so we’ll call this fellowship “Tribe” (loc. 232). He goes on to describe the “Tribe” and its mission that is all about, well, adding you to their tribe. So, they pull out all the stops: handcrafted, fair-trade coffee stations. Rockin’ band. Parking shuttles. Swirly slides at kids’ check-in. They want to impact the world for Jesus” (loc. 232). They will also entertain you or do whatever else it takes to make sure you visit again. There is only one big problem with this approach. “They craft series around felt needs rather than the exposition of Scripture. In an attempt to show everyone how welcome they are, they relax standards for membership and accommodate lifestyles that aren’t yielded to the lordship of Jesus” (loc. 240).
Does this sound familiar? Many of our churches are struggling with these same questions. What Pastor Franks offers as solutions to this growing dilemma is profound. On Part 1, he calls it “Looking Out,” or the community-facing ministry of our churches. In Part 2, he calls it “Looking In,” with the “focus to inward discipleship: the gut check we must undergo if we’re going to pursue gospel-fueled hospitality” (loc. 274).
Franks was effective in offering ideas on how to do church hospitality that is gospel-centered and motivating to even the least social member. He also points to developing a solid foundation for our outreach by first knowing what it is that God has specifically called your church to do. We can’t please everyone and yet we must be aware of everyone. We have a God-given call and gifting that will give life to our mission.
I give this book a high recommendation for diagnosing your church’s attitude and aptitude on reaching the outsider and “to reckon with your own identity” (loc. 346). Being able to see the needs and understand the valuable gifts we can share will elevate the member’s reason for being engaged in the missional work of the gospel. We are all called to be part of the priesthood and it is attractive to an outsider when adequately demonstrated as this book so aptly describes.
Cheri Gatton is the Women’s Ministry leader of the Idaho Conference Seventh-day Adventists, Assistant Pastor at the Meridian, Idaho Seventh-day Adventist Church, and a MAPM (Master in Pastoral Ministry) candidate at Andrews University.