Book review: “Designing Contemporary Congregations,” by Laurene Beth Bowers

Laurene Beth Bowers, Designing Contemporary Congregations: Strategies to Attract Those Under Fifty, Pilgrim Press, 2008.  128 pages.  Available at Amazon.

Occasionally, I come across such a great book that I must review it for our readers here at Baptist Spirituality.

Abstract: In her second book on healthy church growth, Laurene Beth Bowers intends to inspire mainline churches to become vibrant communities of faith by integrating historical-liturgical faithfulness with contemporary and postmodern church trends that emphasize spiritual formation rather than consumer-driven worship gimmicks.  She does so by maintaining the integrity of contextual ministry–that is, ministry that speaks to each church’s identity without having those same churches forfeit their past by replicating “mega-church” or conservative, fundamentalist church models.

I enjoyed Designing Contemporary Congregations because Bowers’ small, but informative book is one of a few that fits my particular congregation.  As a pastor of a small, thriving moderate congregation, I know that my church does not easily fit any one category in modern denominational life–traditional, blended, or contemporary.   This is intentional: We design our worship services to communicate themes that arise from Sunday’s Scripture texts.

But most church-growth books say, in effect, “Out with the old, and in with the new.”  That kind of thinking, however, fails to integrate a multi-generational community of faith that still prides itself on liturgical worship in a culturally savvy and diverse county.  In short, finding a church-growth book that accommodated our church’s needs was all but impossible, enter Designing Contemporary Congregations.

The book defies its genre precisely because it is written by a progressive, mainline (female) pastor. In doing so, the author encourages churches to reach out to a lost generation without selling each church’s “soul” to “contemporary” or ill-fitting mega-church, designer-coffee toting church trends or consumer-driven church models.

Instead, she encourages churches to reach out by intentionally weaving together both traditional (read: historical-liturgical) and postmodern church dynamics to form a patchwork quilt that speaks to the identity and core values of each individual congregation.  She understands–and advocates on behalf of–slow-growth methods that emphasize spiritual formation over numerical prestige.

Additionally, Bowers provides a fresh and intelligent voice for a market flooded with shallow, if not pretentious, books regarding church growth.  She limits her use of anecdotes to speak to the heart of the matter, knowing full-well that pastors do not have time to read books with superfluous illustrations. The book, therefore, tops out at about 120-some-odd pages.   One of my favorite aspects of the book!

I am so impressed with this book and find it so relevant to my unique congregation, that I am making it a required text for a leadership team that we’ll be forming next year for the purpose of casting a vision for our ministry.  It fits our church (in fact, Trinity is already doing many of the things she recommends in the book), and our church will be blessed because of Bowers’ insights.   I hope your church will too.

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

2 thoughts on “Book review: “Designing Contemporary Congregations,” by Laurene Beth Bowers

  1. Thank you for your review and recommendation of “Designing Contemporary Congregations,” by Laurene Beth Bowers. I first read for your review here, slipped over to to purchase the book and happily found your review posted there too. You are to be commended for alerting many of us to Bower’s work in both places. I look forward to the book’s arrival at my home in Barnesville and trust that it will be a genuine resource for me and my parish in Griffin, GA. Once again, thanks for your recommendation; your posting are always good.

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