Friday, August 26, 2005

What's your pastor reading?

If you’re wondering what’s wrong with the church, here’s a good place to start:


Survey Reveals The Books and Authors That Have Most Influenced Pastors

May 30, 2005

(Ventura, CA) – Books sales and book influence are two different factors. While bestseller lists identify the books that generate the greatest revenue, a new survey by The Barna Group, conducted among a nationwide, representative sample of Protestant pastors, shows that the most influential books often fail to reach the bestseller lists. That’s one of several key findings drawn from the list of books that pastors say have influenced them the most in the past three years. The survey also found that a relative handful of authors have the most consistent influence on pastors, and that a dozen or so books have had the most widespread impact during that time frame.

When pastors were asked to identify the three books that had been most helpful to them as a ministry leader during the past three years, more than two hundred different books were listed. However, only nine books were listed by at least 2% of all pastors; just ten authors were identified by at least 2% of pastors, and just three categories of books were named by at least 10% of the church leaders interviewed.

Most Helpful Books

Two books emerged as the most helpful of all: The Purpose Driven Life and The Purpose Driven Church, both written by Rick Warren. Purpose Driven Life topped the list, with one out of every five Senior Pastors (21%) naming it as one of the most helpful books they have read in the last three years. The larger a pastor’s church was, the more likely the pastor was to include this book among their top three. Demographically, the book had twice the appeal among pastors born during the Baby Boom generation as among pastors from the Baby Bust cohort.

Not far behind was The Purpose Driven Church, an earlier volume by Pastor Warren that was listed by 15%. Its appeal was pretty consistent across all pastoral segments except Baby Bust pastors, among whom only 3% included this book among their top picks.

The rest of the list of invaluable books was a broad selection of more than 200 other titles. Only seven additional books gained recognition from at least 2% of pastors – and each of those seven publications was chosen by 2%. Those books were What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Phillip Yancey; Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala; Wild At Heart by John Eldredge; Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels; Spiritual Leadership by Henry Blackaby; Next Generation Leader by Andy Stanley; and the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell.

Most Influential Authors

Although the numerous books cited by pastors were authored by dozens of writers, there were only ten authors who were listed by at least 2% of the pastors interviewed. Not surprisingly, Rick Warren was king-of-the-hill in this listing, as his books were mentioned by 30% of the pastors. John Maxwell was the runner-up, with books listed as among the most helpful by 5% of pastors. Five writers were mentioned by 3% of the nation’s church leaders: Henry Blackaby, Jim Cymbala, Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley, and Phil Yancey. The other influential authors were George Barna, John Eldredge and John Piper, each of whom was mentioned by 2%.

Another outcome of the research concerned the authors who had the greatest number of influential books listed by pastors. Six authors stood out as having multiple volumes that have helped large numbers of pastors. Researcher George Barna, who had ten influential books identified by pastors, headed the list. Following him were Max Lucado and John Maxwell, with nine books each; Charles Swindoll and John MacArthur, each with six books; and Phillip Yancey, with four acclaimed books.

Most Useful Types of Books

When the books designated as the most helpful were categorized, there were three types of books that pastors found to be most profitable. A majority of pastors (54%) listed at least one book regarding discipleship or personal spiritual growth. Books about church growth, congregational health or ministry dynamics were the next most prolific, listed by 23% of pastors. Leadership books were equally valued, identified by 22%. No other category was cited by at least 10% of the sample.

Less influential types of books included those about theology (9%), evangelism and outreach (6%), pastoring (6%), and prayer (5%). Books regarding charismatic perspectives (5%), trends and cultural conditions (4%), and preaching (3%) also generated noteworthy interest.

Different Segments Like Divergent Books

The size of the congregation led by a pastor was related to the types of books mentioned. Pastors of small congregations not only read fewer books than did pastors of larger churches, but also had more restricted categorical tastes. Discipleship books were their clear favorite, listed by half of the small church pastors, but no other category of books was mentioned by even one out of every five of those leaders. Specific leadership books were identified as among the most helpful by four out of ten pastors of large churches and by three out of ten mid-sized church leaders, but by only one out of every eight pastors of small congregations. In fact, small-church pastors were only half as likely as those from large congregations to include The Purpose Driven Life among their influential books.

Pastors of mainline churches were more than twice as likely as their colleagues from non-mainline Protestant churches to cite specific theology books while being less than half as likely to list a volume related to evangelism or outreach. Mainline pastors were also less than half as likely to mention any books regarding leadership thinking or practices.

Pastors who lead charismatic or Pentecostal congregations were by far the least likely to include books on theology among their chosen titles: only 2% did so.

The age of the pastor had a clear impact on the books they regarded most highly. Pastors in their mid-fifties or older were only one-third as likely as their younger colleagues to mention any leadership books. The oldest pastors also showed a preference for authors from their own generation, including men such as Dallas Willard, Charles Stanley and Warren Wiersbe among their favorites, although those writers did not make the national list.

Pastors under the age of 40, meanwhile, were more than twice as likely to mention books on prayer; only half as likely to include The Purpose Driven Life; and just one-sixth as likely to place The Purpose Driven Church in their top-ranked volumes. In fact, while one-third of all pastors over 40 mentioned at least one book by Rick Warren, just 14% of those under 40 did so.

The under-40 pastors championed several authors who were not ranked highly by older church leaders. Those authors included business consultant James Collins, seminary professor Thom Rainer, nineteenth century Seventh-Day Adventist icon Ellen White, and pastor John Ortberg.

Male and female pastors share many views, but there were some differences. Male pastors were twice as likely to include leadership books among their favorites, twice as likely to include theology volumes, and three times more likely to name books about evangelism and outreach. The list of most influential authors among female pastors took on a different shape, incorporating Henri Nouwen, Tommy Tenney and Leonard Sweet along with Barna, Cymbala, Lucado, Stanley, Yancey and Warren. However, Blackaby, Eldredge, Hybels and Maxwell were not included in the female rankings.

The Role of Books in Leadership

“One of the most interesting outcomes is the different taste of younger pastors,” pointed out research director George Barna, “Given the divergent points of view that they consider most helpful and influential, it seems likely we will continue to see new forms and strategies emerge in their churches. They lean toward books and authors that extol adventure, shared experiences, visionary leadership, supernatural guidance and relational connections. If their choices in reading are any indication, they seem less obsessed with church size and more interested in encounters with the living God. They are also less prone to identifying the most popular books in favor of those that are known for their passionate tone. The fact that less than half as many young pastors considered the Purpose Driven books to be influential in their ministry suggests that the new legion of young pastors may be primed to introduce new ways of thinking about Christianity and church life.”

Research Source and Methodology

The data described above are from telephone interviews with a nationwide random sample of 614 Senior Pastors of Protestant churches conducted in December 2004. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with that sample is ±4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Pastors in the 48 continental states were eligible to be interviewed and the distribution of churches in the sample reflects the proportion of the churches from that denomination among all Protestant churches in the U.S. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of including a statistically reliable distribution of pastors.

“Mainline” churches are those associated with the American Baptist Churches/U.S.A.; United Church of Christ; Episcopal Church; United Methodist Church; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

In this report, “small churches” were defined as those that attract less than 100 adults to their weekend events on a typical weekend. “Mid-sized churches” in this study were those that attract 100 to 250 adults; large churches were those attracting 250 or more adults.

Baby Busters are adults born from 1965-1983; Baby Boomers were born from 1946-1964; Elders are a combination of two generations, and represent those born prior to 1946.



  1. " a new survey by The Barna Group, conducted among a nationwide, representative sample of Protestant pastors, shows that the most influential books often fail to reach the bestseller lists. That’s one of several key findings drawn from the list of books that pastors say have influenced them the most in the past three years."

    It seems to me that a "key finding" is that pastors are reading virtually nothing of substance.

  2. Now I know why the church members in the SBC don't think there's anything wrong with the Sunday School literature.

    Scary and sad, ain't it.

  3. ELLEN G. WHITE? Anyone?!


    ... I'm gonna go lie down on the couch now ...

  4. BTW, Mr. Jackson knows a thing or two about serious reading. He's a one of the top 500 reviewers over at, and his standard fare is so heavy that it would make Shelley Winters seem positively anorexic by comparison!

    Sorry, Steve, but since you're much too modest to put in a shameless plug for yourself, I thought it was high time that somebody did!

  5. On a related note, check out this Yahoo! article I found a few days back regarding the marketing emphasis for pastorates these days.

    By G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
    Fri Aug 19, 4:00 AM ET

    A year ago, the Rev. Scott Schlotfelt was weighing job offers from three churches smitten by what he had to offer.

    But they weren't talking about his preaching or counseling skills. What they were seeking, like a number of churches across the United States, was some savvy marketing. And like a growing number of pastors, consultants, and volunteers, Mr. Schlotfelt was eager to do some branding for the Lord.

    "I've kind of had a heart for marketing, [and] I think a lot of churches are looking for outreach" specialists, says Schlotfelt, outreach pastor at Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, Md. He received his undergraduate degree in marketing, then studied for the ministry and helped congregations build up their images through advertising in Las Vegas and Amarillo, Texas.

    "It's the medium of marketing that's used to get a message across [in today's culture], whether it's an election or you're trying to sell a product," he adds. "But in this case, we're just trying to hear the hope of a new life that is eternal."

    To succeed, a number of denominations and local congregations alike are seeking marketing know-how, whether among church staff or from from hired experts.

    Churches' outreach to potential members as summer winds down. The United Methodist Church, for instance, will make its largest media buy of the year starting Aug. 30 - a four-week, $4 million effort. To get that marketing know-how, they're turning to those who know how to sell cars, houses, and other commercial products.

    "The church in more ways than not is mirroring Wall Street and the world and Madison Avenue," says H. B. London, vice president of pastoral ministries at Focus on the Family, a national resource network for evangelical Christians. "We're [lagging] behind them to a certain degree, but we're using all their techniques."

    In the past decade, several firms have honed a niche by providing churches with marketing professionals for hire. Aspire!One, a marketing firm in Sycamore, Ill., has branched out to serve church clients - who might need one mailer or an entire brand identity - alongside its corporate ones. At Church Marketing Solutions, Inc. in Centreville, Va., which offers low-cost marketing, 4 out of 5 staffers have masters in business degrees. At the headquarters of Outreach Inc. in Vista, Calif., 120 employees have brought corporate-style marketing to thousands of congregations.

    Seeking a snazzy web site
    Meanwhile, some churches with sufficient resources are doing as Mountain did and dedicating in-house staff to marketing. Six-month-old Kinetic Christian Church in Charlotte, N.C. noticed what the Rev. Scott Johnson was doing with lively images on the website of an Indianapolis congregation. On that basis, recruiters hired him away to Charlotte.

    "They saw what I'd been doing and said, 'What you've been doing there, we want you to do it here,' " Mr. Johnson says. Now an associate pastor, he uses his graphic-design background to create images for outreach marketing campaigns.

    The same visuals - for example, a plug in a socket as a metaphor for prayer - light up the big screen when the congregation gathers for worship in a former movie theater. On the side, he teaches church professionals from as far away as Florida and California to use graphic-design software in their own marketing efforts.

    More business background
    For many in church leadership, corporate-style marketing is nothing new. Among males enrolled in seminary in 2000, the most common educational background was technical science, including business, communications, and computer science, according to a study by the Center for the Study of Theological Education at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York. (For women, it's social science.)

    Another factor: almost 2 in 3 seminarians are over 30 years of age, according to 2003 data from the Association of Theological Schools, which means church leaders often have had business experience.

    Thinking in terms of customers and markets, however, might not always bring out the best in a church leader, according to Jackson Carroll, a professor emeritus of religion and society and former director of research at the Pulpit & Pew Project at Duke University in Durham, N.C. He cites the example of Southern preachers who took up the cause of civil rights in the 1960s despite vehement local resistance.

    "It didn't help marketing at all," Professor Carroll says. "People left churches in droves when pastors or leaders in the congregation took a strong stand in favor of integration, [but] they did it anyway."

    Today, he says, pastors who make marketing a top priority run the risk of fostering "a congregation that refuses to deal with issues of individual or social justice because it might offend someone."

    "Go therefore ..."
    Others, however, see marketing as a necessary part of Christ Jesus' great commission: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19, New Revised Standard Version).

    "Marketing and the church, they go hand in hand [because] we're called to bring our message to a community," says Kristal Dove, operations manager at Church Marketing Solutions. But she says not all church leaders should be involved.

    "We basically make it so ministers can focus on people and not have to worry about this stuff," Ms. Dove says.

    But in the opinion of Mr. London of Focus on the Family, any church leader's success depends at least in part on bringing the best of corporate-marketing tactics to bear on a righteous cause.

    "Nearly every pastor is a salesman or a marketer of one kind or another because ... we have a philosophy to sell," he says. "The best marketers and best salesmen will have more converts, will have more people, will take in more money.... Evangelicals are marketers because they're really passionate about their product."


  6. Too bad we dont have data on this from pastors 200 years ago. It would make for an interesting comparison. I have the feeling they would not have time or patients for these fluffy modern books.

    --Jim from

  7. Steve,

    Thanks for the compliment; but considering that I only read and review books (rather than write them) I guess I'm what Ayn Rand would call a "second hander."

  8. Ah, but like Pauline Kael, your reviews are often better the original! :-)

  9. I love Jim Cymbala! His books and sermons are incredible. What a passion for God! I visited Brooklyn Tabernacle and was blown away by his humility and down-to-earthness.
    I also love Keith Greens's music, I am a huge fan. Are you familiar with him?

    I am a musician and I would be honored if you would check out my music. All music on my site is free for downlad. Anyway, just thought that I'd share.

    "All music on my site is free for download."