Martha Gay Reese Chalice Press, 2006

If you’re looking for a book with the newest and slickest evangelism and marketing tips, this is not the book for you.

On the other hand, if you’re perplexed why Mainliners have such a strong aversion to evangelism…and want to do something about it…this is the book for you.

In 2004 Gay Reese, as she’s known by her friends, set out with a Lily Endowment grant to study the state of evangelism in the Mainline. Her team interviewed over 1,000 pastors, lay people, professors, seminarians, denominational officials, and kids in youth groups. They spoke to long-time church members and brand-new Christians and studied 150 churches in seven different Mainline denominations who are doing the best job of reaching people with no church background. Her findings and her conclusions are startling, heart-wrenching, and heart-warming. It turns out that there are some reasons to hope that the Mainline could have a future.

One of the real gems in this book is the opportunity it affords for conversations about why Mainliner’s might consider sharing their faith. First, there’s the decades old de-emphasis on eternal security, getting “saved,” escaping the fires of hell, etc. Add to that the privatization of our faith and evangelism takes it on the chin. Gay devotes a chapter on the topic. And though there aren’t any surprises why Mainliners don’t do evangelism, it was eye-opening why those in the churches reaching the unreached do evangelism. This chapter alone is worth the price of admission.

If there’s a single recurrent theme throughout this study, it is the necessity of prayer. Not bookend prayers at the beginning and the end of the evangelism committee meeting, but prayer that sounds more like work than many may be comfortable with. And yet, church leaders of all stripes confessed that prayer was the foundation on which they built their growth.

This book could be one of the most important books you read this year, especially if you choose to read it along with a small group of leaders and the culturally influential in your church. So, it’s a particularly good thing that Unbinding the Gospel includes a study guide.