The Sky Is Falling, The Church Is Dying, and Other False Alarms—what a delightful book title!
Many thanks to Ted Campbell, professor of church history at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, for writing a fun and non-alarmist book for ordinary, everyday congregations. Campbell’s lone voice counters many other voices that speak to church leaders about a cavalcade of member deaths, the death knell of denominations, and the need for more congregations to embrace the American megachurch example. Instead of replaying those messages, Campbell addresses the many thousands of churches that cannot become megachurches because of time, place, and history. More importantly, he speaks to the reality of congregational life.
His work is for me a reminder of the ministry and mission of the church in the first and second centuries. These small congregations—two or three or four households, perhaps 20-35 people—lived by faith and practiced discipleship by engaging in ministry and mission. No observers told the Galatian or Corinthian congregations that they could not succeed. No one told the cluster of churches in Thessaloniki that they were too small to matter. These early Christians simply lived and died in faithful ways despite opposition and persecution, meeting the challenges of their culture in ways that were new and untested. Their era was not a time of market-testing new ideas. They simply fed, visited, prayed, worshiped, and found ways to invite others to become part of the Christ movement
While many authors would treat this content in a heavy-handed way, Campbell’s book is fun to read. The text includes sound effects, such as the warning beep used when a vehicle is backing up, and the typographical treatment includes marked-through words and phrases that serve to remind readers of conventional understandings and interpretations.
The book’s movement is simple enough: myths, facts, legacies, strengths, and future. Campbell analyzes some myths surrounding Protestant churches and then offers research-based facts that counter these myths. Moving on, Campbell examines a few overlooked legacies of Protestantism. These include the ecumenical movement, social engagement, the importance of a lively and living tradition, and the Gospel. Strengths described by Campbell include doctrine and liturgy, music, discipleship expectations, cross-generational transmission of the culture through colleges, universities, retreat centers, camps, and more. He also looks briefly at the future of the church, seeming most genuinely hopeful in describing the engagement of new constituents through creative new ministries. Campbell also notes that, true to Protestantism’s basic tenets, the church is rethinking itself as denominations and ways of being Christian in the 21st century.
Campbell’s book speaks graciously and prophetically to the empowerment of ordinary congregations.
The Sky Is Falling, The Church is Dying, and Other False Alarms. Ted A. Campbell (Abingdon Press, 2015)