If the number of highlights in a book can serve as an indication of its worth, then The Compelling Community has already proven an especially valuable one to me. It is littered with notes and highlights (or the Kindle equivalent, at least) and many of its ideas and applications are still percolating somewhere in the back of my mind. There is a lot it taught me, and a lot within its pages that I intend to ponder and apply.
It was quite a few years ago that I first read Mark Dever’s 9 Marks of a Healthy Church. That book is a call for churches to pursue biblical patterns of health. It had a profound impact on me and on the other leaders at Grace Fellowship Church. We have taught and applied its principles in many different contexts and still attempt to be the kind of church it describes. The Compelling Community is written by Jamie Dunlop, associate pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, and his book is closely related to Dever’s. He says, “This book is about the type of community that I’ve seen form in the congregation I’ve come to love. In that sense, this is Mark’s book. The underlying principles, experiences, and approaches … are all his. He’s been conducting the orchestra, so to speak; I’ve been in the recording booth.” The Compelling Community is the result of their partnership in the gospel and a description of the kind of Christian community that can, and should, form within a healthy congregation.
This book is not a quick-fix or a church-wide program of change. It’s not a how-to guide and not a biographical account of a person or church. Instead, it is “a set of biblical principles that can guide gradual change in your congregation over several years. … It’s a book that attempts to focus on God’s purposes for church community instead of our own. … [It’s a] modern retelling of truths that have been discussed throughout church history, and especially in the centuries following the Protestant Reformation.” It is not theoretical but practical, drawn right out of the authors’ experiences with their own congregation.
As Dunlop begins, he shows that God’s plan for each local church is that it would form a kind of supernatural community. Then he holds out two different visions of community. He refers to the first as the “gospel-plus” community where all of the church’s relationships are founded on the gospel plus something else—similar demographics or shared interests. Because this community unites around something other than the gospel, it is a community that could easily exist apart from the gospel. The gospel may be present, but it is not necessary. He refers to the second church community as the “gospel-revealing” community. This community reveals the power of the gospel by the unity that comes despite all kinds of diversity. It is full of relationships that would never exist except for the truth and power of the gospel.
It will not surprise you to learn that Dunlop advocates the second kind of community, and calls for our churches to move away from affinity-based relationships to gospel-based ones. “My concern for the evangelical church,” he says, “isn’t so much that we’re out to deny the gospel in fostering community. Instead, my concern is that, despite good intentions, we’re building communities that can thrive regardless of the gospel.” The kind of community God desires is one that has both breadth and depth—it spans the most divergent peoples and demographics, and it brings these people into deep, loyal, and loving relationships. God chooses to reveal his gospel in the clearest way through this kind of church.
With all of that groundwork in place, Dunlop expends most of his effort in describing how a church can foster this kind of community: Through preaching, corporate prayer, and meaningful fellowship. He describes how to protect this community by proactively addressing discontentment and responding biblically to sin. And he describes how this community labors together in evangelism and in kingdom expansion, most notably by planting new churches or revitalizing old ones.
In The Compelling Community Dunlop channels the best of Dever, and provides a compelling case for a church that is marked by both life and health. This is a church that exists only, and obviously, because of the gospel, and a church that exists primarily to reveal the gospel. He defines it and describes it as a beautiful thing.
If you have read 9 Marks of a Healthy Church and wondered how to actually implement it, or if you have read the book and wondered what that kind of church really looks like, The Compelling Community is exactly what you have been looking for. Though it is written specifically and primarily for church members, it will prove valuable for any Christian. I benefitted from it and gladly recommend it to you.