Book Review-It: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It

Title: It: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It
Author: Craig Groeschel
Publisher: Zondervan

Have you ever seen a church or a ministry that just seemed to have “it?” There’s huge numerical growth, lots of people becoming Christians, crazy innovation… Whatever the reasons, there’s something really special going on.

And you may not know what “it” is, but you know it when you see it.

Craig Groeschel doesn’t try to tell the readers of his latest book, It: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It, what “it” is—he readily admits that he doesn’t know. But he does offers some practical insight into what it means to be a ministry with “it” primarily from his experience as the pastor of

The Good

There’s a lot to like in this book, particularly Groeschel’s  candor. He’s extremely open about his failures in ministry,  particularly when it comes to getting distracted by the things that really don’t matter.

I believed we needed our own building and all the other things real churches have—like a sports ministry, concerts, conferences and our own church van. I thought those important elements would give us it. Then we’d be a real church. Little did I realize, we already had it. God was doing something very special. Lost people were being found. Found people were growing. The church was spiritually vibrant. All without any of the things I thought necessary (pp. 61-62).

He goes on to say that eventually the church accumulated all those things he dreamed of—the building, the sports ministry, the conferences & concerts. Even the church van! “Then one day I realized that everything I’d always wanted was slowing killing everything we already had. Our church had it and we didn’t know it,” he writes on page 62. Programming that didn’t align with the vision of the church nearly ended it.

The Great

Perhaps my favorite chapter in the book is all about a kingdom-mindset. Too often, there’s a temptation to see other ministries and churches as competition, and rather than rejoice in their success, we make snarky comments (and sometimes accuse them of not being “real” Christians because they don’t do things like we do). It’s a divisive and heartbreaking attitude.

But ministries with it won’t ultimately succumb to this. They’re far more concerned with what God’s doing everywhere than only what he’s doing in their own ministry.

Those who have it know it is not about them. It is not about their personal names. It is not about Willow Creek Community Church. It is not about North Point, Elevation Church, Newspring Church, Mars Hill, Vintage Faith, First Baptist, Wesley United Methodist, Lord of Life Lutheran, Holy Ghost Temple of Righteous Praise, or whatever your church is called. It is not about your student ministry, your children’s ministry, your new logo or website. And it is certainly not about your name. It is about Jesus (p. 144).


The Not-So-Great

There’s one thing that really drives me up the wall about Groeschel’s writing. It’s that it is very… cute.

He tries really hard to be funny, frequently inserting parenthetical statements for humorous effect. Sometimes I got a good laugh, but more often than not the humor fell flat and wound up being distracting.  There was honestly just too much.

The Curious and the Conclusion

Curiously, Groeschel’s book seems to give the impression that a church or ministry with “it” will always be experiencing astounding numerical growth. Every example in the book of a church with “it” is a church that’s exploding numerically. They’re places where (as far as I can tell) Jesus’ name is made great, and their success is worthy of praise.

But what does it mean for churches and leaders that are faithful to their calling, who point people to Jesus, love & serve their community as best they can… but their ministries are full of toil and difficulty?

I can’t help but be reminded of Hebrews 11. The author writes of the Old Testament saints, men like Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets “who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight” (Heb 11:32-34).

That’s a powerful testimony to their faith, to be sure.

But then the tone shifts:

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (Heb. 11:35b-38, emphasis mine).

The world was not worthy of these unnamed saints who gave their lives as a testimony to Christ. They were faithful up until death.

Maybe that’s what “it” truly is.

It: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It is a very helpful and practical book on leadership. While not everything may be applicable and some content might be debatable, it’s a book that’s worth your time reading.

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  • Sean Chandler

    I like a lot of Groeschel’s stuff. I read his blog, and in fact a couple of quotes from him cause me to constantly re-evaluate our ministry. I love that their church gives away all the resources they produce.

    However, he seems to play the numbers game a lot.

    I don’t think he would ever say it, but a lot of what he says has the feeling of, “If you do the following things you’ll experience Lifechurch’s success….here’s my secret to success.”

    I’ve listened to several conference sermons from Matt Chandler over the last month. One thing I’ve appreciated about him is that he openly jokes about how the only reason he gets to speak at conferences is because his church grew. He makes a big point of the fact that he hasn’t really done anything innovative or original. He has no secret to achieve success. At conferences, he almost always speaks against the Christian superstar scene.

    • Aaron Armstrong

      Well said, Sean. Did you catch the SBTS chapel by chance?

  • Sean Chandler

    I did.

    One of the elders at my church emailed it out. It was like getting beat up, but in the good way.

  • Wes

    I have a hard time with this type of topic because, like Sean said, it seems to always come back around to numbers.

    My question is: how do we define “success” in a church? Haven’t read the book, obviously, so I don’t know how Groeschel defines it, but I can’t help but think that it’s all about numerical growth rather than qualitative, spiritual growth. I hear this type of message a lot from several different camps and backgrounds. To me, stressing numerical growth is akin to the prosperity Gospel that you talked about the other week, Aaron. As if the main point of the message is “God will bless us if we make our whole mission on how many seats we can fill every Sunday morning.”

    I don’t buy that.

    • Aaron Armstrong

      Wes, that’s a huge question. And you and Sean are right on that it definitely isn’t numbers.

      Numbers are good from the perspective that we all want more people to know Jesus. But you’re right that if the number of butts in seats is our sole defining metric, we’re running dangerously close to a variant of the prosperity gospel.

      I would guess that the ultimate indicator of “success” in ministry is whether or not people are growing in faithfulness.

      If a pastor shares the gospel, preaches the Bible, cares for and counsels his people, and they reject that, he’s no less successful than one who pastors a megachurch in which the people are growing in their knowledge and understanding of Christ.

      That’s what I’d think would be a good definition of “success” within the church.

      Am I out to lunch on that?

      • Wes

        Absolutely not! I think you’re spot on. The biggest problem with measuring “success” within the church is, like I said, that it’s a qualitative figure. And quality is very hard to gauge if there’s not some kind of standard to be had. I think it’s possible to form a standard to measure this success by, but I really don’t think that’s the point God wants us to focus on. Because as soon as we do, it becomes the sole purpose of our faith.

        People seem to struggle more with grasping ideas when they’re not tangible; or, at least, they’re less tangible than we’d like them to be. The definition of success in the church is obviously tangible (ie. practicing things like love and service and compassion), but I think people overlook that. It’s much easier to look at numbers.

        I long for the day that we can get past this.