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Book review: Building the Body

| by Bud Brown

There’s an important difference between being healthy and being fit. A physician will say you’re healthy if your weight and blood pressure are under control, the blood work looks good and you’re not beset by serious illness. But, as I recently learned from working with a fitness trainer, being healthy doesn't mean I’m fit! 

The same is true of churches. The church that focuses on health by avoiding chronic illness isn’t necessarily fit. It is merely coasting. Fit churches have the cardiovascular capacity, strength, and endurance for sustained effort in making disciples, developing leaders, and reaching its community for Christ.

 In Building the Body: 12 Characteristics of a Fit Church,Gary L. MacIntosh and Phil Stevenson identify characteristics that distinguish fit churches from the merely healthy.

MacIntosh (Ph. D., Fuller Theological Seminary) is president of the Church Growth Network and professor at Talbot School of Theology. Stevenson (D. Min., Talbot School of Theology) is the district superintendent of the Pacific Northwest Division of the Wesleyan Church and visiting professor at six universities and seminaries. 


Churches are much like people when it comes to health and fitness. Church leaders are enamored with the concept of developing healthy churches. Unfortunately, church health does not always result in making disciples (see Matthew 28:19-20). 

In reality, church health in and of itself does not necessarily result in fruitfulness. Just as an individual may be healthy living a sedentary lifestyle, churches are often content with a minimum level of health.

The book uses the fitness metaphor to sort “fitness” into four broad categories (cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, and flexibility). 

Each category consists of three sets of measurements: cardiovascular endurance consists of outreach, effective evangelism, and community engagement; muscular strength consists of personal ministry, God-honoring stewardship, and leadership development; muscular endurance includes Christ-exalting worship, disciple-making strategies, and pastoral leadership; and flexibility depends upon loving community, vision-directed systems, and divine empowerment.

Each chapter concludes with a recommended training regimen for churches. At this point, the authors’ extensive experience dealing with churches emerges. Diagnostic questions help readers to identify the fitness categories their churches belong to (beginner, novice, intermediate, advanced, elite). The training protocols will differ for each church, depending upon their fitness levels. 

The final chapter is a detailed diagnostic checklist of 49 specific questions that pinpoint a church's fitness level. The discerning reader will use this checklist to establish training priorities and track progress.


Building the Body is an eminently practical and useful tool that any pastor or church can put to immediate use. By following the 12 simple, clear exercise routines, they will make significant progress toward vigorous, robust and life-changing ministry. Their fitness levels will increase with surprising rapidity.

As a coach and trainer (for pastors, not athletes!), I am delighted to have found Building the Body.One challenge most pastors face is moving from theory to practice. Their cramped schedules provide little time to read on church leadership. 

More often than not what they select to read will be long on theory and short on practical application. If they’re fortunate enough to read a book that attempts application, it is often generic and resorts to the least common denominator.

I have already recommended this book to many of my protégés and intend to make it required reading for new clients. And, with the authors’ permission, I hope to incorporate portions of the book in our immersion training for pastors of plateaued and declining churches.

Bud Brown

An experienced ministry leader, writer and educator, Bud Brown is co-founder of Turnaround Pastors and co-author of the ground-breaking Pastor Unique: Becoming A Turnaround Leader. He is a change leader in many venues — small rural, upscale suburban and mega-sized churches. He brings special expertise to change leadership in the local church, mentoring pastors to become revitalization leaders, training churches how to find and recruit the best talent, and training leadership teams how to achieve their shared goals. Bud also trains pastors in conferences, workshops and coaching sessions. 

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This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow.
Isaiah 48:17 (NLT)
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