One Book

One year, I gave all the elders this book for Christmas.  Clearly, I was a super fun pastor.  I love the idea of a whole community – small or large – reading the same book and having conversations about it together. 

HH’s church tried a One Book/One Church project this year, reading A New and Right Spirit by Rick Barger.  Not sure what percentage of the congregation really read it, but I know that many did.

Northwestern University chose Never a City So Real by Alex Kotlowitz this year and all incoming freshmen were expected to read it this fall before starting classes.

The City of Chicago is now reading The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak.

Our Presbytery program staff is reading Jim and Casper Go to Church by Jim Henderson and Matt Casper.

So, here are my questions:

  • Does this work?  Have you found that most people in your church, school, office, or city actually read the suggested books in these One Book programs?
  • What’s the purpose of reading the same book?  To introduce concepts that everyone can subsequently discuss?  To get everyone on the same page – so to speak? 
  • Do people ever choose female authors?
  • And most importantly, if you could choose one book that you’d want your whole office, school, congregation, or neighborhood to read, what book would that be?  (Feel free to choose different books for the different contexts.)

Note:  I first want my church to read the Bible of course. But what would be your second choice for your church?

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8 responses to “One Book

  1. The Welcoming Congregation by Henry Brinton.

  2. Hey Jan – Over the years I’ve had reasonably good success with our elders reading a common book and having good conversation about it. We’ve read Tony Robinson, Peter Stienke, Parker Palmer and currently have focused on Joan Gray’s work on spiritual leadership. A couple of times we suggested a novel for the congregation to read together but that didn’t have a wide readership, though the persons who did read loved the practice. We haven’t tried the whole congregation reading again. What book would I suggest for our congregation to read now? That’s a good question. I’m thinking “Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good” by Miroslav Volf, though some people find him very difficult to read. He is pressing Christians to think deeply about a how to live with religious pluralism, etc. Next year, I may have our leaders read Tony Robinson and Robert Wall’s new book on leadership based on I Timothy, “Called to Lead”.

  3. Roy – love it. Public Faith sounds like an excellent choice for suburban DC in an election year.

  4. Definitely worth while. It builds a common vocabulary which allows people to be immediately understood by referencing the vocabulary during other conversations. A good practice for any organization. Mission Trips that Matter [Richter] had a huge influence on conversations in my congregation. Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices [Wolpert], is another book I would recommend.

  5. Stephen Smith-Cobbs

    Jan: We’ve read (and preached on) Brian McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity” a while back and are now doing the same thing with Diana Butler Bass’ “Christianity After Religion.” Had a great experience with Brian’s book but it’s still too soon to tell about Christianity After Religion. A New Kind of Christianity was helped by its having one question a chapter format while Christianity After Religion is not quite as accessible – though our preaching on it has spawned a discussion group among that will start next week among some NCP clergy and others at Busboys. Wish you could come join us!

  6. Jan, one thing to note about the Northwestern One Book, they are following it up with “field trips” into the city this weekend (I believe). Something like 500 freshmen students are expected to explore neighborhoods and their neighbors to the south of Evanston that would likely not have done so without this.

    I think that is important consideration for any of these programs—what’s next and what are you hoping to accomplish? If it is just to get someone to think about the church (city, college, whatever) differently, they likely will have little to no impact. If it is followed up by an experience (or, frankly, better as part of action), it could be more impactful.

  7. We’ve done it several times with the most success numerically and with continued participation with anecdotal books like Philip Yancey’s. The books like Barger’s or others that are more essay than narrative don’t seem to keep the infrequent readers as interested. My group of about thirty and a pastor search committee all read “This Odd and Wondrous Calling” and it provided for great conversations about what we expect in a pastor and how we support one. It’s a great book during an interim period.

    I think the choice of a book depends on whether you’re trying to build community or tackle an issue. To build community, I’d read Kate Braestrup’s “Here If You Need Me.” It’s still the favorite of most groups I’ve led. I also recommend Barbara Brown Taylor’s “An Altar in the World.” Choosing a “non-religious” book like “The Book Thief” or “A Prayer for Owen Meany” often sparks more discussions about religion than traditional Christian books. “The Book Thief” made us talk about hospitality, confronting evil, and much more.

    If I were trying to form common language around an issue, I’d go with Diana Butler Bass. I also believe Eboo Patel’s “Acts of Faith” is a must read for every American today and wish more churches would read and discuss it. .

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