Dave’s book review of Ed Stetzer’s: Comeback Churches

If your church has been in a significant period of plateau or decline Ed Stetzer and his team did a study of churches that turned things around. Comeback Churches is a result of their findings when they interviewed pastors and leaders of comeback churches. Here are some of the quotes that I hope will whet your appetite and peak your curiosity enough to get the book.

Helping churches “come back” after being at a place of plateau or decline is the reason we are writing this book.

Three hundred and twenty-four comeback churches from ten denominations participated in a phone survey about revitalization. Comeback leaders described a process of intentional change, especially in the areas of leadership, renewed belief, lay ministry, and evangelism.

We have studied more than three hundred churches that have recently experienced renewed growth after a significant period of plateau and/or decline.

We wondered, “What principles from Comeback Churches could guide pastors and churches down the path of revitalization?”

We asked, “What can be done to change the direction of churches that are merely existing or that are dying?”

…don’t expect to read this book and conclude, “If I do A and then B, C will automatically occur.” There is no “plug and play” formula, and anyone who says there is wants to sell you a product and not help transform your church. Instead, read this book with others, listen to their advice, then seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Your leadership is absolutely essential in guiding your church to be a comeback church.

Church leaders get entirely too busy, and prayer is often what is neglected. We are so busy in the work of the Lord we have little time for the Lord of the work. Oswald Chambers puts it all in perspective when he writes, “Remember, no one has time to pray; we have to take time from other things that are valuable.

One of the most important conclusions we’ve drawn from our study of comeback churches is that they first had a spiritual experience that redirected and reenergized their lives, beginning with their leader.

First, most churches will not admit how bad it is. Second, most churches will not make the needed changes.

Of those churches that are “growing,” most of the growth is from transfer growth and not the result of making an impact among the unchurched.

Churches wanting change must discuss, discuss, discuss. The church really needs to take a realistic look at its current effectiveness. This does not mean just the pastor and lay leaders. The entire church must embrace its current state before it can move forward. It needs to take an honest look at its current situation so that it can make an honest effort toward revitalization.

If your church is like most churches, one of your greatest obstacles to growth is not one of vision but of visions. Every person who attends or has attended your church has an idea of what the church should be or do.

Leadership was rated as the number one factor by the churches that experienced revitalization. Leadership and vision are major keys to any type of turnaround in churches.

Leadership Journal studied 761 respondents from thirty-one churches to analyze the factors leading to church revitalization. They found five key factors, the first of which was helping the church get honest about its condition. They said that, “Turnaround leaders distinguish between obvious symptoms and underlying problems. The first step is helping the congregation admit there is a problem, and find the underlying (foundational) causes.”

Comeback leaders took the initiative for change.

Comeback leaders shared the ministry.

Comeback leaders made choices about those in whom they invested their time and how they invested their time.

Comeback leaders quickly gave away non-ministry tasks.

Bob Biehl has written, “In determining your leadership competence, your ability to delegate effectively is far more important than your innate intelligence.”

You can’t change a church without changing your schedule.

Comeback leaders intentionally used their time and the time of others differently.

Comeback leaders intentionally planned to spend more time doing “people stuff.”

Comeback leaders agreed that having a clear and compelling vision was foundational in the transformation of their churches.

Comeback leaders multiplied themselves.

Too often, churches are interested in the wrong issues. The Church Growth Movement has declined because people became tired of its perceived emphasis on endless lists of nickels, noses, and numbers.

A comeback requires at least three elements:

First, there is spiritual energy in the lives of individual believers and the church family as a whole, brought about by revival.

Second, the church is restructured around its missional purpose.

Third, there’s a long-term commitment to change.

We rated in the survey—intentional, specific growth goals, more strategic prayer effort, reconciling interpersonal relationships, a renewed attitude for servanthood, and a renewed belief in Jesus Christ and the mission of the church. While each factor is important, three stood out. We believe these Three Faith Factors help a church regain a missional focus and are always necessary to lead a comeback church:

1. Renewed belief in Jesus Christ and the mission of the church,

2. Renewed attitude for servanthood, and

3. More strategic prayer effort.

Most American churches today are well suited for ministry in a different era. All churches are culturally relevant; the question is whether they are relevant to a culture that currently exists in their community or to one that disappeared generations ago. Internationally known church consultant Lyle Schaller frequently asks the same question when beginning to consult with a church. Lyle asks, “What year is it here?” Every church is living in some era. The issue is whether it aligns with the reality of the era where the gospel needs to be proclaimed.

You can’t change a church suddenly and without the church’s permission. (Well, you can, but you will probably end up worse off or at another church.) Instead, involve them in the process.

Developing an effective evangelistic strategy requires a good plan and people who are willing to go “fishing” with more than one type of lure.

Comeback churches used strategies that help people stay and grow.

“Structure breeds confidence.”


Comeback leaders helped people to see the reality of the situation.

Ask the tough questions like:

How many unchurched people are we reaching?

Ask yourself, your leaders, your church:

When was the last time I witnessed to someone?

Are the programs and events we’re doing producing effective results?

Do we need to sacrifice some “sacred cow” ministries?


Dave: I know this sounds like self-promotion but I believe if someone wants to use this book as a resource and strategy to turn their plateaued or declining church around that this would be best accomplished with the help of an outside coach. If interested, send me an email.