The Mainliner's Survival Guide: to the Post-Denominational World
By Derek Penwell
"This is a pilgrimage worth making.” — Phyllis Tickle, author, Emergence Christianity
The Mainliner’s Survival Guide to the Post-Denominational World considers how the declining church should live into the hope of its legacy by living out the Gospel’s radical nature with reckless abandon. In a world where the fastest growing religious self-designation among emerging generations is “none,” the hope of the church may lie in worrying less about the survival of the church and aiming more toward living like Jesus.
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If you learned your world was ending, how would you respond? Terror? Grief? Anger? Nostalgia? Despair? Any of these responses are understandable. That’s human nature.
Consider an alternative: Embracing the liberating mindset that you’ve got nothing left to lose. The Mainliner’s Survival Guide to the Post-Denominational World considers how the declining church should live into the hope of its legacy by living out the Gospel’s radical nature with reckless abandon. In a world where the fastest growing religious self-designation among emerging generations is “none,” the hope of the church may lie in worrying less about the survival of the church and aiming more toward living like Jesus.
“I had never heard of Derek Penwell until I read his book, The Mainliner’s Survival Guide to the Post-denominational World. Now I’m a fan. He has something vitally important to say to the mainline church. Actually, he lays down the gauntlet and challenges its leaders to ‘embrace (denominational) death as a liberation from having to succeed, and learn how to live,’ by ‘rediscovering the radical Jesus of the Gospels.’ … This book is a response to the overwhelming ‘vortex of doom’ that is consuming the mainline church as it continues to decline towards extension. His ideas will make most denominational leaders cringe. Some will look for a way to dismiss his work. He boldly states that, ‘Whether mainline churches survive is largely beside the point.’ His point, he writes, is that the church’s constant focus on the problem is feeding the negative downward spiral. Penwell challenges his readers to move their focus beyond an over-reaching desire to save the church and instead to pour their energy into doing God’s work in the world. He says the church should ‘start celebrating the work of the faithful, and let God worry about the finish line.’ ... My only critique of the book is personal. I could have done without the church and American history lesson, harkening the church to the post-American Revolutionary days and the Second Great Awakening. ... But, I doubt it was necessary for him to build his book on the premise that the mainline church has been in this situation before, and confirming God continues to do God’s work despite the climate of the church. Aside from my own minor pique with Penwell’s book—when I finished it I had a long list of people I hoped would read this excellent work. ... [B]y encouraging me that I am not alone in my thoughts about the church. Second, and more importantly, Derek Penwell has challenged me to dare and be as bold and prophetic. When my resolve gets weak, I’ll need go back and read the book again.” –peregrini.blogspot.com, 09/10/14
“…..Derek Penwell's The Mainliner's Survival Guide to the Post-Denominational World has a few things going for it that sets it apart from the pack. While raised in an evangelical tradition, Penwell eventually was ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and as the title suggests, he seeks to address mainline denominations such as his own in particular. By "mainline," he means those denominations that largely had their heyday in the mid-20th Century such as the United Methodists, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church (USA), and a handful of others including his own.…..Penwell presents the issues facing mainline denominations with historical perspective and a casual, accessible approach to the modern incarnation of our situation. This would serve as a great introduction for a church-wide study. Even for those wearily browsing bookstore shelves, there is something new to be found.” —Jeff Nelson, Coffeehouse Contemplatives, 09/15/14
“While acknowledging the negativity about the future of the mainline Church, Penwell prefers to adopt a hopeful posture. ... I think Penwell begins strong with a reference to the historical contexts of the Second Great Awakening. He makes several good and salient observations of the postmodern climate and the potholes that the Church had fallen through. Unfortunately, toward the end, the momentum tapers down as he starts to take instructions less from the Bible but through the teachings of Buddha instead especially Chapter 7. ... This brings me to the next critique of the book, which is a lack of explicit biblical principles in the "survival guide." ... Finally, there is the almost uncritical acceptance that culture speaks louder than the denominational world. ... Apart from the above, throughout the book, Penwell writes in an encouraging manner for readers to press on, not to be drowned out by the staggering and depressing statistics, but to cling on to the hope that based on history, we are probably in a pre-revival stages. Rating: 4 stars of 5” —Conrade Yap, “Panorama of a Book Saint” (blog), 09/05/14
“I’ve been waiting for some time to read the book. I share many of Derek’s concerns, and I think that the denomination we share has some important resources that might help our denomination thrive going forward. As I read the book, I liked much of what I read. I agreed with most of his analysis. At times, however, I wrestled with the tone. Part of this has to do with the style, which is informal, almost blog-like. Part of it is generational. As a late Baby Boomer, I find myself conflicted about the nature of our communities. I believe in change. I've preached change. But I'm a bit more reticent to throw out some things that those younger than me might not see has having value. Perhaps the best way to put it is a feeling that at times Derek takes an overly argumentative tone. I realize that when it comes to tone, everything is in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, I will let others determine whether he gets the tone correct. ... While there are places that prove distracting, the conversation Derek seeks to elicit in this book should prove helpful to a church trying to find its way forward in a most challenging social/cultural context. There is much food for thought present in this book. There is also a great deal of passion – and we need some of that. All is not lost for the Mainline. The future is daunting however, and so we need prophetic voices like Derek’s.....” —Bob Cornwall, “Ponderings on a Faith Journey” (blog), 08/25/14
“In these pages, Derek Penwell manages to reverse completely the direction of Dante’s famous, opening admonition to his own readers; for the words over the entryway to The Mainliner’s Survival Guide clearly read: ‘Abandon Despair, All You Who Enter Here.’ Penwell not only effects that welcome shift adroitly, but he also does so by means of hard facts, keen observations, and experienced insight. This is a pilgrimage worth making.”
— Phyllis Tickle, author, Emergence Christianity
"Derek Penwell says it's time to put the new wine into new wineskins. In this long-overdue manual he offers mainliners sincere hope. And not just by pointing out the big picture (if you think it's rough now, check out the post-American Revolution decline), but by outlining the ways mainline denominations may be exactly what a new generation is looking for — if we can take up the challenge to articulate our convictions in new and compelling ways. A good read for clergy, church leaders, and the religiously curious."
—Chris Yaw, Episcopalian priest and founder of churchnext.tv
“All know that change is afoot, and some know that this change is good. But few have provided as clear a roadmap as Derek Penwell. This is not warm fuzzies hope; it’s ‘roll up your sleeves, there’s great stuff to get done’ hope. Penwell is right: this age of emerging Christianity is like one of the ‘Great Awakenings’ of the past. It’s a time for letting go so that the New can arise. Come to think of it, isn’t that exactly what you would expect from followers of Jesus?
— Philip Clayton, Claremont School of Theology, author of Transforming Christian Theology