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Growth By Accident – Death By Planning: How Not to Kill A Growing Congregation by Bob Whitsel

July 21st, 2009 No comments

A Book Review
by Dr. Gayle Woods

It was the title of the book that first grabbed my attention. Don’t we normally think in terms of church growth by planning? As I stood at his book table, I knew that Dr. Whitesel, Vice-President of the American Society for Church Growth, had something on his mind that many had probably overlooked.

Dr. Whitesel, the founder and Senior Editor of Strategies for Today’s Leader magazine, and associate professor in the College of Graduate Studies at Indiana Wesleyan University is well equipped to write on the subject of church growth. Having studied under church growth guru’s such as Peter Wagner and Charles Arn at Fuller Theological Seminary, he is well versed in this subject. Knowing Dr. Whitesel’s excitement to see God’s kingdom increase through the auspices of the local church, I could not wait to study this volume.

The author looks at eleven missteps that churches have taken which have caused them to stumble on the stairs to success only to fall to the landing of defeat. These include: Staff Influence, Worship Celebrations, Prayer, Budgets, New Facilities, Innovation, Evaluation, Dysfunctional People, Staff Education, Small Groups and the Centrality of Christ. At the first of the book he charts his course so that the subject matter is graphically simplified. The chart divides the material into “Factors That Cause Initial Growth in Churches”, “Erroneogus Decisions That Lead to Plateauing”, and “Corrective Steps to Regain Initial Growth”. (pp. 14-16) Following this plan Dr. Whitesel unpacks the material chapter by chapter look at each misstep in turn.

By giving case studies for each example of growth and decline, Dr. Whitesel’s argument that local churches often grow naturally, only to decline when the leaders begin to structure their successful ministry, is verified. It is my suspicion that the problem can be understood in terms of mission and maintenance. The church in the excitement and momentum of mission grows as the people enthusiastically are involved in ministry. As the local church grows from movement to monument, however, mission also evolves into maintenance. Organization, departmentalization, and compartmentalization occur as the leadership attempt to streamline and control what seems to be a race car that is beginning to cough and sputter like a junkyard jalopy.

Dr. Whitesel does not just tell the exciting stories of church growth only to end with the discouraging news that the people have messed up something that God has designed. Rather, he goes on to give counter measures which will hopefully correct the downward spiral and bring the church to renewed growth.

This certainly is a work that every serious pastor needs to study carefully. For some it will bring inspiration to renew their efforts at revitalizing a church that has known better days. Some will begin to understand why their efforts may have gone awry. Others will be excited with ideas that have spawned growth in different fields. Whatever the case, the reader will not be able to lay the book aside without realizing a telling impact on his ministry.
Dr. Bob Whitesel ( is an author, professor, international speaker and researcher on the organic postmodern church, non-profit management and church growth. He is Associate Professor in the College of Graduate Studies at Indiana Wesleyan University (, training tomorrow’s leaders from dozens of denominations. And, he is president of Creative Church Consulting (C3 International) a church growth consulting firm in Winona Lake, Indiana ( Dr. Whitesel has penned over 140 published articles on church leadership and management, and is the author of four books in six years for Abingdon Press including: A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church (2000) with Kent R. Hunter, Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change, And What You Can Do About It (2003), Growth by Accident – Death by Planning: How Not to Kill A Growing Congregation (2004), and Inside the Organic Church: Learning from 12 Emerging Congregations (2006).Bob Whitesel is Senior Editor of Strategies for Today’s Leader magazine, and a church consultant affiliated with the Church Growth Center. He lives in Winona Lake, Indiana. (Biographic material borrowed from Abingdon Press website:
Bob Whitsel, Growth By Accident – Death By Planning: How Not to Kill A Growing Congregation, (2004). Abingdon, Nashville. ISBN: 0-687-08325-7.

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