After decades of anti-institutionalism, here is a book that is honest about the importance of congregations and our need for them in our lives. Despite our lack of trust in institutions, we cannot live without them and still hope to live together in communities, let alone a nation. For important reasons our neighborhood institutions of religion (congregations) hold hope not found in other places. Politics and the economy have proven themselves gridlocked and incapable of breaking the narratives of fear and scarcity that now divide us.
However, to step up into public space in order to offer what they hold as so important to these divided times, leaders of congregations need to understand why they are so countercultural and why being countercultural is an important role to play. This is not a time for congregations to try to fit into the culture and to worry about growing their membership and increasing their finances. It is not a time to let organizational anxieties determine next steps. What is required is courage – leaders courageous enough to speak openly with confidence of what they know, congregations courageous enough to seek new forms with which to offer the ancient wisdom that people still search for.
As much as religious institutions are now needed, old forms no longer work in a fast and deeply changing culture. Instead of trying to improve what is already known, this book will provide a way for congregations to thrive and fulfill their purpose by being countercultural.
Gil Rendle most recently served as senior vice president with The Texas Methodist Foundation in Austin Texas and as an internationally respected independent consultant working with issues of change and leadership in Protestant, Catholic and Jewish denominational systems. Prior to this position he served the Alban Institute as an author, seminar leader and senior consultant for twelve years. An ordained United Methodist minister, Rendle also served as senior pastor of two urban congregations in Pennsylvania and as a denominational consultant for The United Methodist Church.
He is the author of ten books, a contributor to four books, and the author of numerous articles and monographs. Recent books include Doing the Math of Mission (2014) and Quietly Courageous: Leading the Church in a Changing World (2018) published by Rowman & Littlefield. He was named as a Distinguished Alumni of the Boston University School of Theology in 2021. Gil is a resident of Haverford, Pennsylvania where he lives with his wife, Lynne.
An Introduction to an Argument
About the Author
Once again, Gil Rendle, our most able church observer and guide, has written a quite wonderful book for church leaders. Countercultural is packed with insights gained from Gil’s vast knowledge of organizational and leadership studies combined with his lifetime of life-giving counsel to hundreds of congregations. Gil offers astute analysis of the church’s present in order to help the church find its voice in a culture that neither wants nor understands the church. By confronting the ways in which our culture has infected Christ’s church with narcissism, individualism, and anti-institutionalism (sorry God substitutes, all) Gil recalls congregations to their God-given purpose and power. Countercultural is bound to save many pastors from despair and ignite the ministries of many congregations.
In this thoughtful and deeply personal book, Gil Rendle argues that our culture is in a season of “turning.” Now is the time for faith leaders to come out of the wilderness and re-claim the power and importance of the local congregation. Rendle helps us see what is right in front of us, but not obvious. The church by its very nature is a countercultural institution. He takes us on a journey to show us the simplicity on the other side of complexity, the importance of leaning into the “We” rather than the “I”, the discovery of treasure in clay pots and much more. Countercultural is the first step on the journey of God doing a new thing.
In Countercultural, Gil Rendle summons us to subversive acts, first modeled by the Apostle Paul and other early church leaders. These witnesses spoke and behaved God’s truth in community, with risky abandon. In doing so, they were captive not to culture or civil religion, but only to the adequacy of Jesus. The result was transformational mission as they lived out Jesus’ twin commands to love God and neighbor. Congregations today are called to a similar apostolic passion, depth, and faithfulness. Drawing on the best of organizational and theological praxis, Gil Rendle is a seasoned and articulate guide, eager to show us the way!
Based on a lifetime of attentive reading, keen observation, and thoughtful analyses, Gil Rendle offers us not only a perceptive evaluation of the current situation of churches, but a way forward that emphasizes the functions of congregations rather than their organization. Arguing that we are in a transition from an “I” centered culture to a “WE” centered culture, he urges congregations to be participants in their neighborhoods. This book deserves to be carefully read by everyone concerned with the decline in churches in the US.
Through a piercing and compelling analysis of the current state of things, Gil Rendle summons churches and religious institutions in the United States to the reorientation, resilient revisioning, and robust proactivity necessary to lead and reimagine a hopeful way forward through today’s multiple crises. With eloquent urgency, Countercultural calls for a rehabilitated grasp of the good of institutions as vehicles through which increasingly isolated persons (and communities) might rediscover the common good, neighborly connection, and life-giving hospitality. There is a dire need, Rendle exclaims, for churches to step up to this moment and live out the simple call of love of God and love of neighbor. Every church and religious leader should read this book, for it is a treasure—filled with astute historical framing, hopeful vision, and practical wisdom.
In his book Countercultural, Gil Rendle speaks an urgent, clarion call to action for the church to stand to its full height, to be its boldest witness, precisely because the human family, at this moment in our history, needs exactly what a local faith community can offer. Make no mistake, it is not a call to return to the nostalgic glory days of congregations. It is an urgent cry for the church to be courageously countercultural against the strong gravitational pull of a culture bent toward individualism over the common good. In his usual startlingly clear-eyed way, Gil lays out a compelling place for the present and future church. It is hands-down, the most hopeful (and challenging) message I have heard since I entered ministry thirty years ago.
Countercultural: Subversive Resistance and the Neighborhood Congregation is as prophetic as it is urgent. With deft historic analysis and exacting insight, Gil Rendle makes a deeply compelling case for the role of the institutional congregation as a "valuable partner necessary for the present work of humanity.” Countercultural is a serious and thoughtful blueprint for healing in our country and our culture which highlights the indispensable role bold and courageous faith communities can and must play.
Sally Hicks from Faith & Leadership interviews author Gil Rendle: