Book Review – The Upside Down Church

Before I began to read The Upside Down Church I had already decided I was not going to like it. I’m not sure if it was the picture of Greg Laurie sitting on his Harley that turned me off (to my shame) or if it was that I had just read The Purpose Driven Church and I didn’t much want to hear another theory on church growth. My first two minutes of reading only confirmed my irrational preconceptions. Laurie begins his book by listing the accomplishments of his church (Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California). Over fifteen thousand attend the church every week; three to four thousand come to Christ every year through those services and so on. This all seemed a little self-serving to me. He then describes the unusual way he was thrust into the ministry.

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Laurie spends the next 200 pages laying out the principles he used to grow his church from a small Bible study of 30 converted hippies to a thriving fellowship of over fifteen thousand. What is shocking about the book is not the success of his church or that God could take a man from such humble beginnings and grant him great success. What is shocking is that the church exploded in growth and continues to grow without applying any of the principles deemed so important by today’s church growth experts. Harvest Fellowship has never advertised in any way. They have never done community surveys, have never sent flyers out to the homes around their church and have never even placed an advertisement in the local newspaper. Their growth has come entirely from the people within the church living out the Great Commission.

The title of the book reveals a truth about the Christian life and a truth about Harvest Fellowship. Christians are called to live their lives in a way that appears to the world to be upside down. Only an upside down heart could love an enemy and turn the other cheek. The other truth contained in the title is that Greg Laurie’s church has used church growth methods that are upside down when compared to today’s church grown models (The Purpose Driven model would be an example). Where these models insist that the only way to be relevant to a culture is to study it, interview the people and then meet their felt needs, Harvest Fellowship’s approach has simply been to live out the Great Commission.

What I undoubtedly appreciated most about The Upside Down Church is that every point the author makes is drawn from Scripture. His method of church growth is based very simply on a keen understanding of the early church and an emphasis on studying and applying Scripture. This compares favorably with a book like The Purpose Driven Church, which draws heavily on marketing and business models, at least as heavily as it draws on the Bible. Laurie spends a entire chapter of the book discussing the problems with treating the unbelievers a church hopes to reach as “consumers” rather than “communers.” Laurie also turns to prominent preachers of the past such as Tozer and Spurgeon, whom he quotes extensively, to lend support to his methods.

The only real disappointment in the book was that Laurie did not spend more time giving specific tips for growing and mobilizing a church. He provides many underlying principles but is somewhat short on specifics. But maybe it is better that way, as no two churches will ever be the same and the specifics of Harvest Fellowship may not apply outside of that congregation.

In the final analysis The Upside Down Church is a book I would highly recommend to any believer, especially pastors or aspiring pastors. I can not say if his church growth model is any more or less effective than the more popular models, the fact that it draws entirely on Scripture gives me confidence that God will bless it. It is well worth the read, and weighing in at only 219 pages it is an easy read.

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