Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Book Review: On the Verge by Alan Hirsch & Dave Ferguson

ON THE VERGE by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson is a book about what the church once was and what it could be again.

When Jesus created the church from a small band of ordinary people 2,000 years ago, it was a grassroots missional movement. Life-transformation was normative for the lives of those committed to the movement. And the movement was growing rapidly as a result of the movement's devotion to bringing people close to Jesus and his community. Structure was low and innovation was high.

Fast-forward to today, and the majority of churches in the West look more like an institution than a movement, with hierarchal structures, extravagant buildings, and a culture that unfortunately stifles innovation and is in sharp consistent decline as they fail to get outside the walls and embrace the apostolic mission of the New Testament church begun by Jesus. Thanks to the marriage of church and state by Constantine in 320, the church in the West often stands as an unaffecting monument of what used to be, a constant reminder to those most dissatisfied by it that the church is one of the only social movements that doesn't seem to move forward into the future. As the authors say, "What was largely an illegal, underground people-movement was now given money, status, power, and legitimacy. Everything changed."

ON THE VERGE gives a lot of hope for what the church could be -- a movement once again. The authors give us a step by step process for churches to become what they call a Verge church. The book suggests that every church has all the potential built into its DNA by God to be a missional movement. In fact, every single believer has everything inside of them they need to create a movement. The authors call this latent potential Apostolic Genius, and it is composed of the six elements of what they've termed mDNA:
1. Jesus is Lord
2. Disciple-making
3. Missional-incarnational impulse
4. Apostolic environment
5. Organic systems
6. Communitas

A commitment to and embracing of these six elements, which were foundational to the church as Jesus designed it, will inevitably transform the church into an apostolic movement. But commitment to these elements doesn't come natural to churches mired in institutional Christendom. The church needs a paradigm change, which is the subject of Part 1 of the book -- Imagination.

The Imagination portion of the book is worth the price of the book. The authors show us that the process of change from institution to movement must begin with changing the way people in the church think. The same thinking that got us to where we're at won't get us to where we need to be. I loved the part about the 2% of people who are innovators in a group of people and the 13.7% of people who are early adopters. If we can win over the innovators and the early adopters -- 16% of the people in a church -- to the Verge paradigm, then we will reach a tipping point that will cause the paradigm to spread throughout the entire organization. This is great news, especially for someone like me who is part of the 2% of innovators. It gives me hope for the burning desire inside of me to see the church become a gospel-driven movement that draws people to the heart of Christ again. Part 1 gives some great ideas on how to change the hearts and minds of the people in your church to a missional church paradigm.

Part 2 goes into detail about Apostolic Genius, a subject that Alan Hirsch has obviously devoted much focus on. I loved Dave Ferguson's elaboration on the Disciple-making element as Apprenticeship. Jesus' disciples learned from Jesus by living their lives with him in apprenticeship. It was more that just information transfer; they were living the mission out with Jesus. The authors make the crucial case that all believers need to be expected to live on mission, not just hearing information about mission, but actually putting it into practice. The church has for too long relegated ministry to the church leaders and the members have been left with nothing to do. Life transformation occurs when people are genuinely becoming a vital part of the movement. Hirsch suggests defining your church's core values and assigning practical actions for your people to live those core values out in their everyday lives.

Part 3 is about Innovation. Innovate or die, as one of the chapters is called. Churches are called to move forward. Practices that work today may not work tomorrow. Churches need to be constantly taking risks for the sake of innovation, or the church will eventually become outdated and obsolete. Dave Ferguson points out that God is always doing a new thing. He gives some great examples of how to discover innovation.

Finally, Part 4 is called Move. This is about putting the theory of the first 3 parts into practical application and create momentum. The Blink test to determine if you're heading in the right direction is great.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is, "Christianity is designed to be a people's liberation movement, a social force, a viral idea passing from person to person through the medium of gospel and discipleship, creating gospel communities in its wake." This is the movement God designed to spread his love and rescue throughout the world.

There's not much to not like about this book. It's packed with incredible insights and ideas to put into practice. Above all, it gives great hope for the church becoming a movement that draws people to Jesus.


  1. Thanks for this in-depth review Tom!

  2. Tom,

    Thanks for this very thorough and thoughtful review. I would be happy to interact with your readers if they have any questions about OTV. And if you could post this on that would be very helpful to even more people. Thanks again. Dave

  3. Thanks. It was a very encouraging read. Really gave me hope for the church, and is definitely a book I'll go to repeatedly.