Book review -- A New Kind of Big: How Churches of Any Size Can Partner to Transform Communities


A New Kind of Big: How Churches of Any Size Can Partner to Transform Communities
by Chip Sweney Baker Books, 2011

As United Methodists, collaboration is our tradition. It is who we are, right? Well … we haven’t always been successful working together within our Methodist connection. And collaboration across denominational lines to build the true Body can be even more difficult. I’ve been fortunate over the last few years to become a part of a collaboration of churches in Atlanta called Unite! The experience has changed my ministry and my church forever.
Unite!’s leader Chip Sweney has a new book out that tells our story. A New Kind of Big demonstrates how churches, large and small, have come together to achieve what we can’t on our own- community transformation. The book is an easy, quick read with real-world examples and stories. Whether you are a pastor or lay leader in a small or large church, this book will lead you forward in the Kingdom task that our Lord has given us. While it is written by a Presbyterian, I think it can help us be better Methodists and Christians.
Sweney contends that the local church has responsibility for the welfare of its community and leads churches step-by-step through the process of becoming a catalyst for community transformation. Sweney paints the vision for churches coming together as the Body to accomplish a task too large for any one church- taking a city from floundering to flourishing.
I gained four key revelations or reminders reading the book:
  1. The emphasis on partnerships. So often a church wants to start and run a ministry by itself. Sweney advocates for the power of working alongside the experts already in the trenches, organizations that know the needs more intimately and have already strategized effective ways to help. It’s important to point out that churches shouldn’t just dump money and ask for an update every so often. Instead, churches should find a lay champion and engage their people in the ministry.
  2. Real ministry is done through relationships: relationships with those in our community, relationships with other churches’ leaders, relationships with partners, relationships with the people we serve.
  3. The Kingdom call to become an externally-focused church of influence in our city.
  4. The concept of “Channels of Cultural Influence” (Chapter 10). These eight channels- education, health care, business, art and entertainment, media, nonprofits, government, and law/justice- are the playing fields for our Kingdom work. By leveraging the members of our churches who are already living and working in these channels, we can increasingly reflect the characteristics of the kingdom of God throughout society and that is when true community transformation takes off.
Rev. Brett DeHart is Pastor at Austell First UMC. His blog is He can be contacted at