Building the Body

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 09 Mar 2018

Member Reviews

Every January the gyms fill up with people who made the New Year’s resolution to get fit.  It is a time that the year round gym rats do not enjoy, but what gets them through this season of the year is the fact that it will be short lived.  Before long they have their space once again as one by one people step out of their routines.  They do so because fitness is tough and it takes great effort.
In much the same way church fitness requires the same tenacity and effort.  In Building the Body:  12 Characteristics of a Fit Church, Gary L. McIntosh and Phil Stevenson attempt to show what it is going to take to build a fit church.  Realizing that not every church is at the same place, they have divided each chapter into a section of teaching about that particular characteristic, followed by practical advice on how to improve in that characteristic according to where your church was in the process.
Likening the church to a body that is getting healthy through cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and body composition, this book, published by Baker Books, takes you through a list of 12 characteristics that are needed for each section.
I found the teaching section with each characteristic to be rich with nuggets of truth.  I really thought that part of the book was well done.  Where the chapters lost me just a bit was when the authors attempted to give practical application on how to improve.  Because I do not pastor a church that they would describe as elite, advanced, or even intermediate I found myself feeling that this was not written to me.  I found myself struggling through those sections.
One of the parts about this book that was helpful was the chapter that allowed you to track your church’s progress as to its health by evaluating your church in each section. Following this evaluation is a short guide leading you to set goals on improving your health.
All in all I feel that this will be a book that I will refer back to at some point as I seek to build the church that I pastor.  In short I have read better written books on church health but I certainly would not discount this read either.
I was given a copy of this book for an honest review.
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How do you properly analyze the fitness of a church?  Authors Gary McIntosh and Phil Stevenson believe this can be accurately done by looking at 12 specific characteristics and discovering which of their 5 levels of fitness your church squeezes into.

The content of this book was incredible, well thought out and presented in a way that was both engaging and easy to use.  However I found it difficult to follow along at times as it appeared the book has too much application.  In fact a few of the chapters could have been combined into one and I can see how the 5 types of churches could have been decreased to 3.

That being said, i did find the information useful and will keep the book in my library for later access on a few areas.  If you are looking to improve the fitness of your church, or even understand the level you currently operate on as a leader, I encourage you to pick this book up.  You will find some strong biblical proofs as well as cultural (church) statements that apply to you, but maybe you’ve been missing them.


*I received this book free from Baker Books in exchange for an honest review.  These are my personal thoughts.
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Is your church performing at its highest level?

This is the question this book asks of its readers.

The authors state that whilst one may be physically healthy; one might not necessarily be fit.  Similarly, many churches may be ‘healthy’ whilst not being fit.

Now, the authors posit that a fit church is one that is not merely content to coast along avoiding obvious problems.  Instead, churches that are fit are those actively making disciples, maturing in faith, developing strong leaders, and reaching out into the community, for example.

Whilst it is certainly honourable that leaders do ask these type of questions of congregations, and certainly it is unwise to be merely content to coast along, the book does not even address a fundamental question of what a true church is.  Now, it may be that the authors are assuming this, yet in much current writing of a popular level on ecclesiology, this discussion is missing.  Building on this, is an understanding of the ordinary or ordained means by which Christ will build his Church.

Instead, this work looks a lot like and reads a lot like a ‘how to guide’ and self-help manual that could equally be applied to a business, community group, or a church by adopting a few Christian phrases.

As such each Chapter becomes predictable and tiring, and for this reader a chore to read and complete.

There certainly were some helpful comments; especially in terms of discipleship and leadership development.  However, the underlying current of goals, targets, strategies ultimately were a turn off for this reader.

If you are looking for something to read on characteristics of a ‘fit’ church, perhaps start with a classic work on ecclesiology and the confessions, specifically around the area of the keys and officers of the Church.


I received a free review copy of this book from the Publisher in return for an honest review.  My thanks to Baker Books.
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I like the authors' emphasis on a fit church as opposed to a healthy church. They draw the parallel to a healthy human, with low blood pressure and cholesterol levels, who is unfit and can't do physical activity. They identify five fitness levels of churches: beginner, novice, intermediate, advanced, and elite. Fit churches must be strong, able to endure, be flexible, and eat right (from the Word). Being a fit church requires being intentional and having discipline.

The authors go through the twelve characteristics of a fit church, including a Plan of Action for each fitness level of churches. They also include guidelines for developing ministry, such as effective evangelism. They give many church success stories and some enlightening stories of churches not being successful.

I liked some of their insights. For example, some churches assume, in error, that having  building in the community makes them present in the community. (Loc 671/3396) They also note that some churches learn to function well with their dysfunctions, their dysfunctions becoming the norm. (Loc 244/3396)

I did not like the emphasis on the paid staff. Paid staff is to be the financial priority in the church's budget. (Loc 1108/3396) The pastor is described as the SEO (spiritual executive officer) of the church. He is responsible for hearing from God and setting the vision for the church. (Loc 2025/3396) Lay people, I guess, are not invited to be part of the discerning process. I think that emphasis sends the wrong message to lay people who often minister several times a week in addition to their 9 to 5 job. This especially hurts when the pastor's salary and benefits are far above the average income of the lay people. Lay people are quick to conclude that they are not important. The authors had previously written, “Becoming a fit church is directly proportional to the degree the people of God are active in ministry.” (Loc 879/3396) Pastors and their visions come and go. It is ultimately the lay people who keep the church moving toward fitness.

Another area of the book puzzled me. When the authors write about worship, they include lots of characteristics and strategies. They recommend development by a team, evaluation, planning, paying attention to things like pace and flow, being culturally relevant, being Christ exalting, and more. The authors never mention intentionally seeking what pleases God in worship nor praying to God to ask the Spirit to lead the worship planning process.

The authors have left the importance of prayer to the last quarter of the book. I would rather have had prayer emphasized at the beginning of the book, as an initial foundation, not near the end. But then, this book is pretty much a facts and figures kind of book. For example, the authors describe the baseline of the health of a church as the number of salvations, baptisms, and funds invested in disciple-making initiatives. (Loc 1920/3396) 

For a book on the church to be really effective, I think it needs to be meaningful in all nations and cultures. It seems like this book concentrates on American churches. A fit Chinese underground church probably would not consider hiring a sound technician as part of their worship ministry, let alone even have a building that required sound. A pastor in Africa probably would not be able to plan out his sermons a year in advance nor think about hiring a paid worship staff person.

I did realize a couple of truths in reading this book. I found out that being a fit church takes a great deal of intentionality and work. It is not going to happen by accident. Just the development of lay ministry, including mentoring and encouraging, would be a full time volunteer job. I also understand that my discomfort with some churches has been because they were not fit.

I do recommend this book to lay people and paid church staff to get a good idea of what a fit church is like. There is a great deal of informative material in this book. Potential readers need to realize, however, that “fit church leaders” (Loc 1117/3396) may be few in number and not a reasonable expectation for your church. It may be up to you as a lay person to initiate the movement of your church to fitness. This book will give you a good start on that journey. I would recommend that you read this book along with another one that emphasizes the spiritual nature of a healthy or fit church.

This is a critical review from a lay person who has been active in churches for fifty years, on church boards, director of adult education, teaching adults classes (often twice a week), all while working full time at the small Christian bookstore I owned. My criticism of the emphasis on paid staff arises from the year our church was without pastoral staff. I was on the church board during that year, chair of the deacons. We had more people involved in ministry that year than I had ever seen. People stepped up and volunteered to preach, to lead worship, to lead ministries. People later told us they had never seen the church function so smoothly. It can be done if the lay people are well informed and included in every aspect of decision making, including seeking God for vision and direction.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.
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