Conversations, VOLUME 6

Reading and Conversation in Churches? [A Survey]

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B0071EY8KG” locale=”us” height=”300″ src=”” width=”199″ alt=”Reading and Conversation in Churches” ] One of the main reasons that we launched The Englewood Review of Books almost six years ago was to promote the practice of reading

(and the related practice of talking about books) as  immensely beneficial to local church communities.  This has been true for us at Englewood Christian Church, as reading has served as a catalyst for our ongoing Sunday night conversation (you can read more about our Sunday night conversation in the book The Virtue of Dialogue: Conversation as a Hopeful Practice of Church Communities ) and other conversations within our life together.



So, I’d love to hear more about the practices of reading in your church…

(Please use the comments below to respond.)


  • What is the latest book that you have read with your church?
    (or smaller group within your church: small group, women’s group, men’s group, etc)?

  • Did you find it helpful?
  • Also, what book that you have read as a church (or group within your church) would you say has been most beneficial to your congregation?
  • And for some background context, it might be interesting to know
    what denomination or faith tradition your church belongs to

Be sure to check back and see what others are reading in their churches…
(and invite your friends to share their experiences with congregational reading here!)

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

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Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

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  1. So here are my answers….

    There are two books that I have been reading with church groups here at Englewood this summer (not counting the SLOW CHURCH manuscript, since it is not yet available…)

    – The Little Book of Restorative Justice for People in Prison
    Barb Toews

    – Practicing Ekklesial Patience by Phil Kenneson
    (online here: )

    Both of these have been helpful, but I think it’s been more of a stretch to wrap our minds around the Toews book, since world of prisons and criminal justice are foreign to most of us.

    The most helpful book we’ve read (I think) is Gerhard Lohfink’s JESUS AND COMMUNITY.

    Englewood is an independent Christian Church (in the Stone-Campbell tradition, if you are familiar with church history).

  2. From Barry Harvey (via Facebook):
    “We’re doing a year-long study on scripture around N. T. Wright’s Scripture and the Authority of God.”

  3. right now, we’re reading Joel Shuman and Brian Volck’s Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine in the adult Sunday school class at church. It’s sparking great discussions!

  4. From Todd Edmondson (via Facebook):
    We’re getting ready to do a study on Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God;

    In January, I’m starting a long series on James Bryan Smith’s books The
    Good and Beautiful God, Life, and Community.

    In a group for young ministry-minded folks that I’m leading, we’re doing Nouwen’s Reaching Out.

  5. From Jeff Skeens (via Facebook):
    – The Drama of Scripture by Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew
    We read this after Drama…The Mission of God’s People by Chris Wright

  6. Second Baptist Evanston has had a series of “books of the year” for everyone in the congregation to read. This often includes an invtation to the author to come speak. The book this past year has been Radical Reconciliation by Allan Boesak and Curtis DeYoung.

    Last year’s (2012) book was The New Jim Crow.


  7. From Joshua Stoxen (via Facebook):

    – School(s) for Conversion:12 Marks of a New Monasticism,

    – Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most,

    – Prodigal God,

    – Hidden in Christ

  8. From Bob Henry (via Facebook):

    -Following Jesus: The Heart of Faith and Practice – Paul Anderson
    -When “Spiritual But Not Religious” is Not Enough – Lillian Daniel
    -Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim Tale – Ian Morgan Cron
    -The Nonviolent Atonement – J. Denny Weaver
    -What we talk about, when we talk about God – Rob Bell
    -Hearing God – Dallas Willard

    • The book “Following Jesus: The Heart of Faith and Practice” is the basis for my year long sermon series, “Become the Conduit: God’s Healing-Redeeming Work in the World.” Paul Anderson is professor of biblical and Quaker studies at George Fox University. Since we are a Friends (Quaker) Meeting, Paul’s exploration of what it looks like to be the body of Christ through a biblical lens – in the manner of the first Quakers – is very helpful. It also helps us to understand our faith in terms of a journey rather than simply denominational. So far people are really engaging with the concepts and the “heart” of what we consider our “faith and practice” – how we live out what we believe.

      After a summer of looking at “Corporate Prayer” – we chose Dallas Willard’s classic “Hearing God” as a more personal and yet more indepth exploration into the life of prayer and listening. It also has a DVD series and study guide for help in groups.

      Personally, Lillian Daniel’s When “Spiritual But Religious” is Not Enough” has been a book I have shared often on a “one-on-one” basis. It is not for everyone, but it really challenges those who read it.

      The Nonviolent Atonement – J. Denny Weaver has been a reference book for much of the debates on our Quaker views of Atonement. Since we are a “peace church”, I have spent many hours teaching a Non-violent Atonement in opposition to what many joining our Quaker circles have been brought up believing. I have utilized it to discuss aspects of Rene Girard, and also to look at the more classic view of Christus Victor instead of Penal Substitution theories. There is a lot in this book – but it is not for the average lay person.

      Chasing Francis – Ian Morgan Cron – was a very difficult read for me, be cause it was so personal. This book was like reading my life. I think it will be very helpful for many pastor who are struggling out there. If you need a book to relate to – this may be it.

      Rob Bell’s new book has been another discussion piece and I am hoping that it will be added to our Book Club list. I haven’t presented much of it, but right now it is sinking in and I am working on how and what applies to our meeting.

  9. Last year some of us read The New Jim Crow. This year a small group read Imagining the Kingdom. I’m looking at upcoming books from Edward Gilbreath and Christena Cleveland as possibliities for 2014.

    • I highly recommend the Christena Cleveland book!
      (Haven’t read the Gilbreath one yet, so can’t compare the two…)

  10. Hey Chris! The intentional community attached to our church recently read Longing For Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community by Elaine Heath and Scott Kisker. The book was extremely helpful (even for the non-Methodists in the community) for helping us cast a vision for community. We are now about to begin reading and discussing the book with a small group of lay leaders in the church. Our community and church are United Methodist.

  11. Our ladies bible study just read Small Things with Great Love by Margot Starbuck. It was helpful, but honestly, not really practical. Though the format was cute, it resulted in it being disjointed, and I don’t think many of us happened upon more than a few things we could really do. I really like Margot so was a bit disappointed. I’m newish to my church so we haven’t read a book as a congregation yet. We are a small non-denominational church on the emergent side of Christianity.

  12. Hello. I am the coordinator of something called the Opus Project on Faith, Work, and Culture at our church (Presbyterian). We have an ongoing reading group which sometimes takes the form of a monthly meeting and sometimes a weekly class. Currently we are doing a weekly class on Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating by Norman Wirzba. Recent readings include: C.S. Lewis: Till We Have Faces; Marilynne Robinson: Gilead, The Death of Adam; Frederick Buechner: Godric, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Comedy, Tragedy, and Fairy Tale; essays on work; essays on the church & the common good.

  13. A small group of guys and I met this summer and read through A.W. Tozer’s “Pursuit of God.” Excellent book; very challenging. Also, he wrote it in one night on a train ride, crazy.