Breaking the Huddle, Don Everts, Val Gordon, Doug Schaupp. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.
Summary: Explores how Christian communities can move from being huddled groups to become witnessing, and even “conversion” communities where growth through people coming to faith becomes the norm.
One of the realities of many Christian communities, whether they are churches, or campus groups or groups in other places is that they are huddled. It is not that they don’t believe in sharing their faith with those who don’t believe, but that’s not happening very often, and even less often does someone actually come to faith. If these churches or groups grow, they usually grow from people who already believe and have joined them after leaving another group.
The writers of this book (a pastor and two collegiate ministers) believe that can change and write in the early chapters of this book of how groups can go from being huddled, to witnessing to becoming conversion communities where most of the growth is through people coming to faith. In the first three chapters, they explore the characteristics of each type of community and what communities have done to move from one type to another. They also note the reality of entropy, and how vision for evangelism quickly leaks and energy is lost.
In Part Two, they outline two “macrostrategies” to help groups transition from huddled to witnessing communities. One is to nurture discipleship momentum through incorporating the discipleship cycle in which hearing the word is followed by making an active response, which is then debriefed. This third step is often neglected meaning that people have experiences but do not reflect on their significance and to what God might next be calling one. Only this kind of transforming discipleship can sustain witness.
They then turn to the need to mobilize relational witness. Here they draw on earlier work by Everts and Schaupp (I Once Was Lost) in integrating an understanding of the “five thresholds of post-modern conversion” into a community’s life. These steps recognize that in coming to faith, many people cross thresholds from trusting a Christian to becoming curious to opening up to change to actively seeking to entering the kingdom. In this book, they extend these ideas to how communities can respond appropriately to people at different points in their journey to faith.
Part Three is perhaps the most significant part of this book as the authors talk about the dynamics of conversion communities, where people are regularly coming to faith. They explore the significance of lingering in “God moments,” lifting up their eyes, and laboring in the harvest. In these ways, God moments become God movements. The most significant insight for me was the idea of not being content with individual conversions but looking for whether God may be doing something more in which many others might also come to faith. These communities also align their vision, their structures, and their efforts to develop people around these God movements. The concluding part talks about how one leads the change and in fact incarnates the change.
This is a hopeful book, even for the many who might still feel they are in the huddle. The authors write at the beginning:
“Every athlete needs to take a knee for some time as she circles up with her teammates to figure out the next play. But then the team breaks the huddle and heads back out to the playing field. Breaking the huddle is an inherently hopeful, purposeful thing to do. May all our communities break the huddle and engage in the next play God has for us.”
The authors give not only a number of practical how-to’s but share their own journeys of discovery along the way. They lay out the work to be done, but also the hope for real change in our communities. Each chapter concludes with a prayer, and questions groups studying through this book can use together, making this ideal for church or ministry leadership teams.
Doug and Val are colleagues and friends in the collegiate ministry which is my day job. What I most appreciate about what they have done here (along with Don Everts!) is to integrate into a seamless whole different “pieces” of ministry strategy, weaving them together with a narrative of transforming communities from huddled to witnessing to conversion, and moving from isolated “God moments” to ongoing “God movements.” They tell a story rooted in God’s gracious intentions to draw people to himself, and recover for us the wonder of being communities instrumental in seeing significant numbers of those people experience new life in Christ.