Book review: Churches That Make A Difference, Reaching Your Community with Good News and Good Works

This book, Churches That Make A Difference, Reaching Your Community with Good News and Good Works, is written to encourage churches to combine social outreach with evangelizing and discipling. To accomplish this, the authors broke the book into three parts. We will examine each chapter in turn.


Part 1. Understanding Holistic Ministry.

            This section deals with exactly what holistic ministry looks like. It also deals with the call to holistic ministry and the need to ensure evangelism remains the focus. Even so, holistic ministry include social outreach and activism.

1.      What Does Holistic Ministry Look Like?

The authors gave the examples of four very different congregations to show what holistic ministry looks like. We see large and small churches, with attendees who are White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, inner-city, downtown, and suburban.  Each one does holistic ministry in very different ways. Additionally, the authors provide us with patterns of holistic ministry focus: ministries of personal transformation as a path to social change; social service ministries as a door to evangelism; ministries of reconciliation that witness to unity in Christ; community development to express God’s love for whole persons and communities; justice ministries that embody the empowering message of the Gospel; reaching skeptics by demonstrating that the church makes a difference. (Sider, Olson, Unruh, pp 23-44)

2.      The Church’s Calling to Holistic Ministry.

The church is called to deal with man on all levels, which is another way of saying holistic ministry. To show this, the authors use the model of Jesus to show that the church is called to ‘share the Gospel through both Good News and good works.’  They examine Biblical Doctrines to show that salvation brings us into a right relationship with God, but also demands we seek right relationships with our neighbors. Finally, they deal with the practical benefits of doing Holistic Ministry: social ministry provides a vehicle or foundation for spiritual nurture; evangelism enhances the outcomes of social ministry; evangelism builds the church’s capacity for social ministry. (Sider, Olson, Unruh, pp 45-62)

3.      Making Evangelism Central.

The authors took special pains to expose the myth that non-Christians will come to Christ by rubbing shoulders with Christians. Evangelism must be the core of any ministry for people to accept Christ as their Savior. We see what evangelism is, different types of evangelism, and the need for training.  We also see that the fact that who Jesus is and what Jesus did does not change, but the presentation of the message can change for the audience. (Sider, Olson, Unruh, pp 63-83)

4.      Embracing Social Action – from Relief to Public Policy.

By performing social ministries, the church allows people to grow from spiritual and emotional and physical bondage to true freedom in Christ. The authors describe the four basic categories of social ministry: relief, individual development, community development, and structural change. The authors suggest doing focused social ministry well, rather than trying to do many different things poorly. Essentially, the need is to share God’s love in relationships, ensuring the Good News is shared. They point out that evangelism, social service, and structural reform complement each other, not compete with each other. “Through social ministries the church proclaims the coming reign of God in its fullness, helps people taste the goodness of God’s reign, shows people how to live as the Creator intended, and invites people to enter the kingdom.” (Sider, Olson, Unruh, pp 84-102).

5.      Integrating Evangelism and Social Outreach.

Social outreach without evangelism is insufficient. This chapter focuses on the need for the church’s social ministry to blend word and deed. The church needs to provide people the opportunity to embrace or deepen their faith in Christ, to be freed from bondage to shame, to rely on the Holy Spirit. (Sider, Olson, Unruh, 103-126)

Part 2 The Essential Elements of Holistic Ministry.

Then the authors deal with what is needed to do Holistic Ministry.

6.      Divine Love and Power for Outreach Ministry.

First there must be a right relationship with God – one must love Christ abundantly to be able to share this love with others. If we love God, we will obey Him – we will worship by sacrificing ourselves to God.  Every aspect of ministry needs to be bathed in prayer. (Sider, Olson, Unruh, 127-144)

7.      A Commitment to Community Outreach.

So many times, people ‘do ministry’ to not feel guilty or to meet some ‘requirement’, but do not actually feel committed to obey the Lord in this area. People have to have a genuine commitment to see God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. This chapter deals with the boundaries and barriers between the church and the community. (Sider, Olson, Unruh, 145-165)

8.      A Healthy Congregational Base for Ministry.

“Churches don’t exist primarily to provide services; outreach programs are not the only important activities of the church.” When we think a church exists just to meet the needs of the community, we set the church up for failure. The health of members is extremely important. The church can not help new members grow if it lacks strong ministries of discipleship and fellowship. This chapter looks at ways in which ‘out-reach’ and ‘in-reach’ support each other.  (Sider, Olson, Unruh, 166-185)

9.      Church Leadership for holistic Ministry.

Holistic church ministries need leaders who have faith, a costly and contagious love, a discipleship commitment, humility, flexibility, vision, ability to build people up, to serve as a catalyst, to connect people and to maintain perspective. Leaders must encourage and equip others to share the church’s vision and must recognize and cultivate the strengths of others. (Sider, Olson, Unruh, 186-204)

10.  A Ministry-Centered Organizational Structure.

Church structure must enable the church to handle accounting, pays bills and salaries, maintains facilities, as well as plans, makes and implements ministry-related decisions, facilitates communication, generates ministry resources, manages volunteers, plans for growth, respond to requests for emergency assistance. (Sider, Olson, Unruh, 205-223)

11.  Ministry Partnerships.

Partnerships allow more efficient and effective use of church resources by ensuring there are sufficient resources to carry out each church’s vision. Partnerships allow the church to expand its evangelistic relationships. Partnerships expose people to social issues and needs they are not normally exposed to, and can smooth the way to new holistic ministries. This chapter gives practical and theological reasons for pursuing ministry partnerships, and looks at the characteristics of good partnerships, as well as the different types of relationships. (Sider, Olson, Unruh, 224-245)

Part 3 Cultivating and Implementing the Vision.

12.  Developing a Holistic Ministry Vision for Your Context.

To be effective and efficient, there needs to be a plan for your church’s holistic ministry and a process of developing a plan: identifying your church’s unique character, potential, and hurdles related to holistic ministry; studying the community to understand your context for ministry; and cultivating a ministry vision to guide your next steps forward in ministry. (Sider, Olson, Unruh, 249-270)

13.  Rallying Support for the Vision.

In order to rally and nurture support for the vision for a holistic ministry in the leadership team and the congregation, one must communicate all the facts, capture people’s hearts to motivate them to action, empower them to be able to do the ministry, ask them to take part, and reward them for participating. There are many motivations for holistic ministry: compassion for individuals in need, yearning for a just society, longing to see people come to faith in Christ, desire to experience God in a deeper way and grow in faith, obedience to a sense of personal calling, gratitude for what God has done for you, love for the church, desire to meet the expectations of church leaders, and hunger to be part of a ministry that makes a difference (Sider, Olson, Unruh, 271-290)

14.  Dealing with Fears, Change, and Conflict in Your Congregation.

Moving toward holistic ministry involves change. Risk-taking leadership listens to God and moves the church past the normal next step. These changes involve the unknown, sacrifice, and loss. People resist and fear change. Leadership will have to deal with the conflict and fears and help others deal with them. Leaders have to help people count the cost while looking to Jesus to provide what is needed. (Sider, Olson, Unruh, 291-310)


This book states that evangelism without social outreach and discipleship falls short of what the church is called to do by Christ – evangelism alone would miss many people who can not see their need and would doom people who DO accept Christ to an ineffective if not tortured life here on earth. Simultaneously, social outreach without evangelism and discipleship also falls short of the calling of Christ – without evangelism, people often remain stuck in their earthly situations, but worse are doomed to eternal hell. The book begins the process of addressing the many concerns of a church doing holistic ministry. But I think each topic could be expanded into its own book. But the examples given in this book were priceless. Overall, the book is a good read.

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