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Churches and the Crisis of Decline

A Hopeful, Practical Ecclesiology for a Secular Age

series: Ministry in a Secular Age

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Named One of Fifteen Important Theology Books of 2022, Englewood Review of Books

Congregations often seek to combat the crisis of decline by using innovation to produce new resources. But leading practical theologian Andrew Root shows that the church's crisis is not in the loss of resources; it's in the loss of life--and that life can only return when we remain open to God's encountering presence.

This book addresses the practical form the church must take in a secular age. Root uses two stories to frame the book: one about a church whose building becomes a pub and the other about Karl Barth. Root argues that Barth should be understood as a pastor with a deep practical theology that can help church leaders today.

Churches and the Crisis of Decline pushes the church to be a waiting community that recognizes that the only way for it to find life is to stop seeing the church as the star of its own story. Instead of resisting decline, congregations must remain open to divine action. Root offers a rich vision for the church's future that moves away from an obsession with relevance and resources and toward the living God.

This is the fourth book in Root's Ministry in a Secular Age series.

1. When the Church Becomes a Pub, and the Immanent Frame Our Map
2. Brother-Trouble and Meeting the Exorcist's Son: The Beginning of Karl Barth
3. A Funeral for a Church--A Funeral That Remakes a Church
4. An Apple Tree and the Incoherence of "God Is God"
5. The Church Can't Know How to Find God
6. The Church Is Not the Star of Its Own Story
7. Welcome to Crisis Mode
8. Wedding Blunders and Brotherly Love
9. Say Goodbye to Being and Give Me More Busyness
10. A Shady Obituary and the Need to Wait
11. Waiting Sucks but Resonance Is Life
12. Waiting Is Living: The Church and Resonance
13. When Mozart Goes Straight Into You and Through You
14. Pietism and Its Discontents: A Dialectical Escape from Individualism and Religion
15. A True Ghost Story and the Birth of Watchwords
16. Getting Real with a Dialectical Demand
17. Deepening the Dialectic: Avoiding Sledgehammering the Ceiling


"Perhaps you've met Barth the intimidating theologian, but have you met Barth the pastor to pastors? Andrew Root introduces today's church to the Karl Barth it never knew, artfully putting this theologian in conversation with a church that is fearful about the future. Just what's needed by the church and its leaders right now--a lively theological dialogue between one of the church's greatest theologians and one of the church's most loving, faithful, bold leaders. If you are worried about the fate of your church (and who isn't these days?), this is a book you must read."

Will Willimon, professor of the practice of Christian ministry, Duke Divinity School; United Methodist bishop, retired; author of Aging: Growing Old in Church

"An engaging and creative work which draws us aside from the church's current crisis to plant us back in it with new vision and hope. I looked up from this book no longer feeling surprised by the crisis and my inability to solve it, no longer ashamed that I need the power of God to lead this church. I closed this book with a new imagination for what God can do in the crisis if we reach outside our own small efforts, over and over again. Andrew Root dares us to live and to lead as if God is actually alive and still cares about the world and the church."

Mandy Smith, pastor, St. Lucia Uniting Church, Brisbane, Australia; author of The Vulnerable Pastor and Unfettered: Imagining a Childlike Faith beyond the Baggage of Western Culture

"Churches and the Crisis of Decline is a marvelous achievement. Root argues that the principal challenge for the church in decline is not a loss of relevance or resources but the loss of a God who really is God. Root draws on the work of Karl Barth (the pastor), Charles Taylor, and Hartmut Rosa to identify the current captivity of the church to secular metrics. He proposes a way forward that waits on the hope that comes from outside of us and among us as one of us in Jesus Christ. Root's use of a possible-world story about a particular congregation shows his skill as a teacher and his hope for the church in concrete form. This is a must-read!"

Richard R. Topping, president and vice-chancellor, Vancouver School of Theology

"Andy Root is the guy in Matthew 25 with ten talents. He has been given a rare brain that can understand Charles Taylor and Karl Barth and explain them to others--the ministry of wisdom. He has also been given exceptional sight that notices and discerns where the church is, why we're here, and how we might find the next steps--the ministry of prophecy. But even more than that, he has been given a compassionate heart that cares about the state we are in, because of the impact this has on people--the ministry of the pastor. In this book, Andy has put his talents to work and gives us a great gift--this is theology that we need most vitally at this time. It's beautiful, applied, inspiring, kind, practical, deep, stretching, and, if we would only put it into practice, transforming. I don't know of another contemporary theologian who is continually serving up such applicable and helpful theology to the church."

Rev. Canon Chris Russell, Archbishop of Canterbury's Advisor for Evangelism and Witness

The Author

  1. Andrew Root
    Caroline Yang

    Andrew Root

    Andrew Root (PhD, Princeton Theological Seminary) is Carrie Olson Baalson Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the author of more than twenty books, including Faith Formation in a Secular Age, The...

    Continue reading about Andrew Root


Named One of Fifteen Important Theology Books of 2022, Englewood Review of Books