When I first began planning the book that was published  as www.congregationalresources.org: a guide to resources for building congregational vitality, I needed to find contributors who could bring fresh thought to the key issues facing congregations. Knowing that one of the chapters would be on “leadership,” I thought of a book I had read, Paul Chaffee’s Accountable Leadership: A Resource Guide for Sustaining Legal, Financial, and Ethical Integrity in Today’s Congregations (Jossey-Bass, 1997), which had skillfully woven together content and resources in a way that inspired my hopes for my book. I contacted Paul to see if he would be interested in writing the chapter on leadership.

Paul wrote that chapter, but he had a new approach he’d wanted to explore; it was called Appreciative Inquiry and he thought it had great potential for congregations.

The ideas he introduced me to long ago, however, found their way into more than one chapter in one book; they helped to shape the direction of our publishing program. Rather than focusing on deficits to be overcome, why not turn our attention to the practices of vital congregations and their leaders? Rather than addressing problems to be fixed, why not look at all of the assets we have in our communities? Rather than working harder and harder to do ministry better, why not admit that it may be time to do it differently?

As I look back on the past year’s books, I am pleased to find this orientation reflected in so many of the titles we published. The publishing department and I certainly don’t take the credit for this—the books are fully the authors’—but in the choices we made and in the editorial direction we offered, we have produced a list that holds together better than I would have dared hope. Under girding the entire list is a spirit of appreciation, of encouragement, of hope, that while perhaps not so program-oriented as some of our previous publications may well prove to be even more helpful.

In the survey of the past year’s books that follows, I’ve lifted up a sentence or two from each book that capture that spirit of encouragement. If you have not yet read any of these books, I recommend them to you. If you have read one or more of them, I hope that you have found them both helpful and encouraging.

When Better Isn’t Enough: Evaluation Tools for the 21st-Century Church by Jill M. Hudson

“Being on the cutting edge of the 21st century entails both joys and frustrations. Despite the rather steep learning curve on which most of us find ourselves, there is great opportunity. . . . Twenty-first century evaluation is not about looking at shortcomings and failures but rather about learning from them and planning for the next step. Twenty-first century evaluation is not celebrating success so that we can rest on our laurels but seeing success as the fuel that moves us on.”

Reflecting with God: Connecting Faith and Daily Life in Small Groups by Abigail Johnson

“In our theological reflection we join the disciples and the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, people who lived faithfully within their lifetime, who reflected theologically on lively issues and situations. The story of faith in our church history becomes our story as we continue the tradition of theological reflection as an ongoing expression of faithful living.”

The Power of Asset Mapping: How Your Congregation Can Act on Its Gifts by Luther K. Snow

“Congregational asset mapping starts by looking at assets. When we think about it, we recognize that we have been given gifts in abundance. Our cup is not half-empty; it is half-full. That is something to be thankful for. That half-full cup gives us power to do good things for ourselves, our neighbors, and in the world.”

Becoming Barnabas: The Ministry of Encouragement by Paul Moots

“The ministry of encouragement is the art of leading and supporting others in the discovery of their own spiritual gifts and call to discipleship. While some people have the spiritual gift of encouragement to an extraordinary degree, I believe encouragement is a gift all of us in the shared ministry of the church must take seriously. We are all capable of developing this gift, and we are all called to do so. We can all ‘become’ Barnabas.”

40 Days & 40 Bytes: Making Computers Work for Your Congregation by Aaron Spiegel, Nancy Armstrong, and Brent Bill

“The technology you want is something that fits your congregation’s life and mission and helps you be more effective in peoples’ lives. Start by matching the capabilities of the software with your congregation’s practices. Think about your congregation’s culture—how you do things, what practices and features create the identity for your congregation. These include worship, teaching, and stewardship—everything that touches your congregation. Looking at and understanding your congregational culture helps you pick technology that meets your needs, rather than making you fit your needs to what technology can do.”

Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change by Mark Lau Branson

“Appreciative Inquiry assumes that all organizations have significant life forces, and these forces are available in stories and imaginations. By discovering the best and most valuable narratives and qualities of an organization, participants can construct a new way that has the most important links to the past and the most hopeful images of the future.”

Preventing Sexual Abuse in Congregations: Resource for Leaders by Karen A. McClintock

“This book is based on four guiding principles about sex. They are that sex is powerful, relational, situational, and complex. In describing each of these areas, I will show that there is both goodness and danger in each aspect of sex. As you consider the blessings and challenges of sexuality, I will show you ways to increase the blessings and to decrease the potential for damage.”

The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church by Diana Butler Bass

“This book does not argue that mainline churches should change. Rather, it argues that mainline churches are changing and have already changed. . . . It also argues that a new kind of mainline congregation—the practicing congregation—has been born because of these changes. Practicing congregations weave together Christian practices—activities drawn from the long Christian tradition—into a pattern of being church that forms an intentional way of life in community.”

The Hidden Lives of Congregations: Discerning Church Dynamics by Israel Galindo

“While the organizational nature of cong
regations provides real challenges to their ever achieving the ideal of what they aspire to be—that is, an ideal, local expression of what the Church is intended to be—nevertheless, congregations can be authentic and fully realized communities of faith that shape the lives and faiths of its members. To the extent that congregations can provide the critical components of a genuine formation community, they can both impact positively the lives of their members and be the redemptive force in the world that is God’s intent for the Church.”

Becoming a Blessed Church: Forming a Church of Spiritual Purpose, Presence, and Power by N. Graham Standish

“When the leaders of the church, both pastoral and lay, become awake, aware, and alive to God’s presence in their midst, they create the conditions for astonishing things to occur. People begin to experience blessings in every part of their lives, and especially in the church. . . . They become aware that God is with them, blessing them despite the pain and suffering of their lives. In the midst of suffering they experience faith, hope, and love.”

Practicing Right Relationship: Skills for Deepening Purpose, Finding Fulfillment, and Increasing Effectiveness in Your Congregation by Mary K. Sellon & Daniel P. Smith

“Faith communities believe that God has dreams for our world and that God, through us, attempts to bring those dreams into embodied reality. Our commitment to God’s work in the world provides the motivation to understand what God is trying to do through us. We are one of the vehicles through which God works. Self-management allows us to be clearer channels of God’s creative Spirit.”

Your Brain Goes to Church: Neuroscience and Congregational Life by Bob Sitze

“Glial cells function as a separate network of brain cells to support the brain, sometimes in unknown or invisible ways. In congregations, glial cells might correspond to unknown and invisible networks of members who work quietly to support you as a leader—in prayer, for example—or whose unnamed ministries in your congregation under-gird its visible institutional life. (Consider, for example, the knots of conversation at the end of a worship service, where care and comfort are extended, ideas generated, gratitude expressed.)”

Designing Worship Together: Models and Strategies for Worship Planning by Norma deWaal Malefyt and Howard Vanderwell

“Healthy collaboration requires trusting people who respect one another, listen to one another, express their thoughts openly, and continue to grow together. A collaborative team is, in short, a microcosm of what the body of Christ is called to be. But primarily, developing healthy co-laboring takes time. The collaborative planning process cannot be rushed, so time may be one of the biggest gifts that we give each other.”

www.congregationalresources.org: resources for building congregational vitality edited by Richard Bass

“Congregations connecting to resources are participating in a theological reconnection to the source of all wisdom, hope, and help. The use of resources can be understood theologically as connection to divine forces. Using resources can revive (add new life!), resuscitate (reawaken), and renew a congregation by reconnecting it to the Source of faith and hope. (From John Wimmer’s “Connecting Sources of Wisdom and Help.”