Building Effective Ministry

Carl Dudley (ed), Harper & Row, 1983

Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff


        So it’s an old book.  But its message is as stimulating as the first time I read it.  The majority of people in the United States and in Canada have chosen to relate themselves to the Christian faith through local congregations.  Their faith is not found in extreme behaviour, opinion polls or pronouncements about religion.  They associate believing with the local church (p xi), they support more than 330,000 local congregations.  There are more churches than schools, more church members than people who belong to any other voluntary association, and more financial support for churches than for all the philanthropic causes combined.

        Building Effective Ministry is not a how-to approach, where congregations fill in behavioural blanks in self analysis; the writers sketch the general outlines of congregational study (psychology, sociology), suggesting components of a multi-disciplinary approach for a congregational perspective.  Brief treatments invite congregations to self-reflect; these treatments are frequently reduced to point form to help the reader focus the situation and a possible response from five disciplines (psychology, anthropology, literary symbolism, sociology and theology) (p 35).  ‘A congregation is profoundly shaped by its social context, but because of its relation to a religious or faith tradition, has the capacity to transcend the determinative power of the social context (p 109).  ‘Internal factors such as race, social class, national and ethnic backgrounds…. are more important variables than the particular denominational affiliation of that congregation.’ (p 164).  There is a two-way movement as the congregation is acted upon by forces in its environment and at the same time moves outward to affect and change its setting.’ (p 238).

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.