Thom Rainer’s Breakout Churches is the result of an extended research study into churches that have experienced significant and extended evangelistic growth after a period of plateau or decline. After surveying, contacting, gathering information, and comparing, Rainer examined 50,000 churches for the book (13-14). His selection process required that churches retain the same pastor through both the decline and the growth, that they have had at least 26 conversions annually since their growth started, that they have a 20:1 or lower conversion ratio, and that they have a significant impact in their community (20-21). Out of his initial pool of 50,000, Rainer found only 13 churches that clearly met this criteria, and from his interviews at those churches and from similar comparison churches he has written this text that attempts to distill the key factors that contribute to their success (22,24).

His findings, while useful, were not significantly surprising. They included the character and drive of the pastor of the church—that he be missional, bold, passionate, humble, and forward-thinking, what Rainer calls the “Acts 6/7” leader (27-28). While Rainer chose churches that retained their pastor through the ordeal and into growth in an attempt to dissuade churches from always solving problems with pastoral replacement (21), it will be tempting for many church members of struggling churches to read this and assume that their church will never recover without a different pastor. Nevertheless

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, the presence of such a pastor in each case reminds the reader that to lead a church in glorifying God requires that the pastor first seek to glorify God in every area of his own life. The pastor or minister that thinks they can “go through the motions” or simply implement a strategy or model without personal transformation and holiness will fail to inspire change in his congregation.

Rainer also reminds his reader that this growth and breakout of stagnation did not happen without crisis and pain. In his chapter “The ABC Moment”, he talks about recognizing a problem and facing the crisis that will erupt at confronting it (29). Following God and being transformed, whether as the church or as an individual, requires painful choices and faithful perseverance. In an individual, such choices often include self-discipline and abandoning pleasures and lifelong habits. In a church, they almost always involve confrontation and conflict with other believers, often with the result of broken relationships and significant church disruptions. However, persevering under God’s guidance will result in sanctification and growth, whether as an individual or as a church.

While several of Rainer’s observations were evident just from his selection criteria (for instance he talks of the evangelistic focus of the breakout church and its involvement in the community as factors in being a breakout church, but he himself made that a criteria to make the list), Breakout churches is a good reminder of the dedication and perseverance that is required to take a church, and an individual, from an average life to a passionate obedience.