Book Review: Can These Bones Live?


519F84nmcRLChurch revitalization is one of my areas of special interest, as I have pastored two different traditional churches in East Tennessee and currently serve as a Director of Missions in an association of mostly older, established churches.  When I heard that Dr. Bill Henard was writing a church revitalization book, I was anxious for its release. Dr. Henard is the pastor of Porter Memorial Baptist Church and teaches in the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Ministry at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is also from East Tennessee (I’m biased) and he pastored a church in my high school town for a number of years. I know that he is familiar with ministering in established churches in the Bible belt and was eager to hear what he had to say. Can These Bones Live? did not disappoint. An immensely practical book with sound foundational theology and methodology, Can These Bones Live? deals with the tough issues in the area of church revitalization.

Dr. Henard begins by laying a theological foundation for church revitalization. He stresses a commitment to the authority of Scripture, reliance on the Holy Spirit, and the ministry of prayer. Chapter two deals with evaluating the church’s current situation and assessing the challenges involved in leading an established congregation through the revitalization process. The rest of the chapters each deal with different problems concerning church revitalization. The chapter titles may at first glance sound pessimistic, but they represent problems that are dealt with by each chapter. The final chapter introduces The Change Matrix, a helpful system of bringing about lasting change in an established organization.

Can These Bones Live? is a very practical book that offers several concrete steps to revitalizing the local church. One of the most refreshing aspects of this book is Dr. Henard’s candid approach to the task. He doesn’t make grandiose claims, or unrealistic promises. Henard assures the reader that church revitalization is difficult work and is a spiritual warfare. However, he doesn’t just leave the reader discouraged, he jumps down into the trenches and begins teaching how to facilitate change in the church. Henard recognizes that some churches simply have no interest in growing, but even in cases like this, there is no cause to give up. Henard says, “If the church does not want to grow and the reason lies in the lack of spiritual growth in the church, the pastor needs to set aside most any major plans or vision and concentrate on developing disciples” (pg. 58). This is but one example where wisdom meets realism in Can These Bones Live? and I found this quite refreshing.

One might criticize Can These Bones Live? for being pragmatic and not dwelling enough on theology. However, this misunderstands the purpose of the book. It is written to address the oft-neglected practical aspect of ministry in a declining church. If one is interested in church revitalization, the practical considerations will have to be dealt with and this is exactly what Henard accomplishes. Each chapter is replete with practical wisdom and you can tell that Dr. Bill Henard has gained much of his knowledge through “on-the-job training.” Can These Bones Live? belongs on the reading list of anyone involved or interested in church revitalization.