The Rabbit and the Elephant – a review

I recently finished reading The Rabbit and the Elephant: Why Small Is the New Big for Today’s Church by Tony & Felicity Dale and George Barna. This book offers the perspective that the church may be more effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ by multiplying rapidly rather than seeking to grow larger. The authors offer both practical tips and a thought framework for launching house churches and creating networks.

Tony and Felicity Dale share their stories of house church planting in both England and the United States. Some of their reminders include listening to God, focus on prayer and to model a simple pattern so that it can easily be repeated.

An outline for engagement in a house church is taken from Acts 2:42 – apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking bread together and prayer.  Each gathering includes conversation, a meal and prayer. None of these are to be the best possible (for example a gourmet chef) to encourage the participation of all. The authors suggest a framework for teaching which involves studying the scripture in a community and using symbols as a guide to the conversation.

  • Question mark – “something we don’t understand”
  • Lightbulb – “something that sheds light, either on that passage of Scripture or something going on in a person’s life”
  • Arrow – “represents God piercing a person’s heart – he or she has heard from God and needs to do something about it.”

The authors suggest that it is important to consider starting new groups with new people rather than assimilating others into existing groups. They suggest looking for a person whose leadership could be key in influencing a new circle of people to start the next group – a “person of peace” (see Luke 10:5-6). Finding this person of peace may be accomplished by telling one’s story as this can be a key opportunity to share the good news of Jesus Christ. They suggest this simple pattern for sharing (pg 135):

  1. What was life like before you became a Christian (or before your faith became real to you)?
  2. How did you meet Jesus?
  3. How has Jesus changed your life?

I found particularly important the reminder that there will be a difficult time of transition for persons who are moving from a more traditional form of church to a micro church. It will not be what it was, nor will it likely be exactly what is envisioned when first starting out.

Many of the themes in this book were quite helpful for those considering the possibility of living out one’s faith in a micro church. Unfortunately, the book did not flow smoothly from beginning to end and there were parts of several chapters that did not add to the advancement of the thesis. Nonetheless, this was a solid book and I recommend it for anyone considering a life of faith in a micro church.

America’s Shared Values and the UMC

In The Seven Faith Tribes, George Barna lists twenty shared values from across seven faith tribes that exist in the United States. A few of these are:

  • Represent the truth well
  • Develop inner peace and purity
  • Seek peace with others
  • Demonstrate wisdom
  • Be forgiving

This list helped me clarify the importance of proclaiming a Christian gospel. There are many values that are good and a part of the Christian life, but that are shared among many faith traditions.

What makes the United Methodist Church distinct?

The Seven Faith Tribes by George Barna

I was excited to read the latest book from George Barna – The Seven Faith Tribes: Who They Are, What They Believe, and Why They Matter. I deeply appreciate the work of The Barna Group. The research that they produce about life and faith is insightful and often quite applicable to the local church. However, I found myself to be disappointed by the trajectory of this book. The thesis is that the United States as a culture is in decline and that significant change is needed to avert the course toward self-destruction. Barna’s approach to this end is to examine different faith tribes within America, identify common values and seek how these common values can help shape the country in positive ways.

Barna identifies the seven faith tribes as:

  • Casual Christians
  • Captive Christians
  • Jews
  • Mormons
  • Pantheists
  • Muslims
  • Spiritual Skeptics

I found the research that on each of these tribes to be fascinating and helpful in understanding the landscape of faith distinctions with which we live in the United States. However, I found myself less excited by using commonalities among the tribes to renew the nation. I agree with Barna that understanding shared values among faith tribes is important, but am less excited about using these shared values for the explicit purpose of renewing the nation. I believe that renewal within each of the faith tribes will lead to renewal of the nation.

I recommend this book to those who are interested in the faith landscape in the United States and especially to those that are passionate about the United States regaining a more prominent place on the world stage.

You can download the first chapter and a discussion guide here.

Read an article by Barna outlining the book here.