Liberating Hope: Daring to Renew the Mainline Church, by Michael S. Piazza and Cameron B. Trimble, Pilgrim Press, 2011, 230 pp.
It has taken me months to finish reading this book, which is not like me at all. I have read and reread chapters, and noticed that sometimes they fly by without impact, and sometimes I immediately act on the content. I think this is a book that is like “just-in-time training.” You need to reach for it at the moment you are preparing to act and change and work on a particular topic. When I started it back during sabbatical, I just couldn’t connect to it when I was away from church leadership. When I tried to read it all the way through like a monograph, I just couldn’t get inspired. Now that I’m back in the groove of transformational church leadership, I was ready and eager to absorb the content and make use of the ideas and information.
Piazza and Trimble are the founders of the Center for Progressive Renewal, an inspiring non-profit organization dedicated to helping people start new churches and renew dying ones in the mainline and progressive traditions. Both have extensive experience and a proven track record in starting and renewing. This book is a compilation of their best practices, critical questions, strategies and insights. It is a treasure trove for pastors and church leaders doing the work of congregational growth and transformation.
Liberating Hope covers an enormous range of topics—leadership, small groups, stewardship, mission, worship, administration, social media, databases, and more. Unlike many other books, Piazza and Trimble do not offer a formula or program for your church to follow. Instead, they focus on the big questions and important things a growing, thriving church must be doing, then leave the details of what that looks like to you in your own context.
For example, in the chapter on worship they emphasize that the experience must be transformational–it must bring people into a real encounter with God that will leave them changed. Worship that is transformational will be authentic, accessible to newcomers, of excellent quality, sensual, touching both head and heart, and it will demand a response. Any church, of any size or style, can aspire to offer that kind of worship. The authors do not offer steps to follow, but questions and measures to help a church improve its effectiveness and enhance its service to God.
This book is not new or radical information. What makes it different is the freshness of the material (in response to new media and technology) and the comprehensiveness of the content (every aspect of church life is included). It is a great starting place, foundational text and reference point for any pastor or congregation engaged in birth or renewal. It won’t tell you everything you need to know, but it will help you identify what you need to know, where to find resources, and how to figure things out in your own church. For exactly that reason, I recommend it highly.