Uncommon Church: Community Transformation for the Common Good, By Alvin Sanders
Uncommon Church
  • Length: 176 pages
  • Dimensions: 5.5 × 8.5 in
  • Published: October 13, 2020
  • Imprint: IVP
  • Item Code: 4162
  • ISBN: 9780830841622

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How can the people of God develop churches in ways that help and don't hurt poor neighborhoods? In urban ministry, Christians too often treat the poor as goodwill projects instead of people. Because of this mindset, many remain unchurched. Healthy, local, urban churches are needed because they combine personal empowerment and community transformation.

Every poor neighborhood needs uncommon churches that will seek the common good of their communities. Alvin Sanders engages hard truths about these neighborhoods and provides a model for how to do ministry in difficult conditions. The local, urban church is the key to community transformation, as it plays three crucial roles of empowering, partnering, and reaching.

Pastors and church planters interested in Christian community development will find here practical insights into the power of the local church, which is often underrated. Churches can serve their communities and improve the quality of life of every facet of the neighborhood.

"Alvin Sanders has spent years as an urban church planter, public theologian, denominational executive, and urban missions leader. He has a deep passion for the church, racial reconciliation, and the empowerment of indigenous urban leaders. This book provides transformative insights for a church that can serve as a force for kingdom advancement in the city. Allow this resource to challenge you, change you, and equip you so that you might serve God's mission for our cities."

From the foreword by Efrem Smith, pastor and author

"Alvin Sanders is a leader who knows of what he writes because it comes out of the very story of his life and ministry. His leadership and focus on the gospel at work in urban communities and communities experiencing the effects of poverty and injustice have translated into a book that will be inspirational and challenging to those who are willing to muster the courage to respond to what they read. Perhaps most importantly, Sanders connects the presence of the local church—enacting the gospel on the sidewalks and intersections of neighborhood life—to the possibility of experiencing something of a common good in our time. I appreciate the narrative focus; stories that weave throughout the wisdom Alvin has left for us to learn from as we read. It reinforces the credibility those of us who know Alvin can observe, even from afar, and provides a context to the insights he shares. Uncommon Church resists the temptation to cave to an overly spiritualized vision of the kingdom that sees no compulsion to deal with the injustice of the world while still maintaining a vibrant and nourishing spiritual center that comes from his many years of pastoral experience. We all would do well to read it, share it widely, and then get to work living out the wisdom we find."

Adam Gustine, author of Becoming a Just Church: Cultivating Communities of God's Shalom, and assistant director, Center for Social Concerns, University of Notre Dame

"The message of Uncommon Church is clear and simple: the fundamental way that God means to heal and transform impoverished communities is through the presence and loving witness of healthy churches. That argument, however, hinges on an understanding of what it means to be the church that lies beyond many of our assumptions and dominant paradigms. Grounded in keen biblical insights, supported by practical strategies born out of experiential wisdom, and replete with stories that are as instructive as they are inspiring, this is a must-have book for anyone desiring to join God's church-based agenda for healing the brokenness and combating the evil and injustices of our world, especially as they are manifest in the hood."

JR Rozko, national director, Missio Alliance

"Uncommon Church is a must-read for anyone who senses God's call to do ministry in an underresourced community. I'm convinced that healthy churches working for the common good of their communities for the glory of God are an indispensable ingredient to seeing underresourced communities thrive."

Philip Abode, lead pastor of Crossover Bible Church, Tulsa, Oklahoma

"Alvin Sanders's book shines a spotlight on the power of the local church to transform whole communities when the gospel is lived out in our neighborhoods. At a time when many are predicting the demise of the church in America, Uncommon Church charts a path forward that leads to deep and lasting transformation for individuals and whole communities. This book is deeply theological, refreshingly practical, and needs to be read by every church leader."

Jeannette Cochran, executive pastor of Seneca Creek Community Church, Gaithersburg, Maryland

"Alvin's extensive experience and expertise in leading churches toward engaging in effective community transformation shines through in this work. He takes complex principles, tensions, and best practices and communicates them in accessible and practical ways. If you are seeking to see the church live out a transforming presence within communities of material poverty, you will find this book to be an essential tool. I am eager to get this book into the hands of every leader within the ministry I serve."

Ruth Evans, executive director, Unite Network

"In Uncommon Church, Dr. Alvin Sanders combines his three decades of experience planting, pastoring, and empowering urban churches with his academic expertise to argue for a new approach to starting and maintaining local congregations. Sanders calls for churches to stop seeing 'certain people' as projects but instead recognize their full humanity and role as fellow believers in the body of Christ. In the midst of societal crossroads when many are questioning the role of the local congregation, Sanders offers a key perspective on how the church can live out its mission by supporting its neighbors and fighting for justice for all."

Junia Howell, assistant professor of sociology, University of Pittsburgh

"Alvin Sanders has a heart for the urban poor and a passion for the church. He has planted and pastored a church in the heart of a community of urban poverty, trained and mentored urban ministry leaders, and now leads a ministry that is empowering urban leaders and partnering with local churches to reach their communities with the gospel. In his book Uncommon Church, he draws on the truth of the Scriptures and his personal experience to challenge local churches to be the foundation from which God's people can pursue the common good in communities. His focus on personal holiness and justice along with declaring and demonstrating the gospel is both refreshing and powerful. If you love the local church and want to make an eternal difference in your community, his message is one you need to hear and put into practice."

Kevin Kompelien, president of the Evangelical Free Church of America

"The voices are many these days—some loud, some soft, some angry, some confused, and some silent and afraid to speak. Uncommon Church is written for these times. It is full of grace and guidance to all the voices, synthesizing the answers within the power of the local church. Every pastor and aspiring pastor should read this book! It will bring inspiration, information, and opportunity for the Spirit to move, unlocking the potential in the local church. The results will be exponential in healing and empowering communities for the common good."

Jo Anne Lyon, general superintendent emerita, the Wesleyan Church

"Alvin Sanders provides a way forward for those desiring to bring social justice and spiritual conversion together in their local church. This is a challenging and practical resource for those engaged in urban church work. Alvin's vision should also capture the imagination of the rest of the church. How might a generous church help without hurting? How might the American church marry charity and witness? Alvin leads the way. Do not read this alone; invite your team along on the journey."

Tyler McKenzie, lead pastor of Northeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky

"Uncommon Church paints a vision and provides a roadmap for revival in America's urban centers. Alvin Sanders is a practitioner of this work, so his approach is proven and not just theory. This is a must-read for every leader with a heart for the poor and a desire to see revival in your community!"

Chuck Mingo, Oakley campus pastor, Crossroads Church/Cincinnati

"Uncommon Church is an uncommon book that integrates passion for social justice with Christ-centered spirituality. Dr. Sanders has produced a readable primer on urban ministry that weds community development with the development of healthy, disciple-making churches."

Craig Ott, professor of mission and intercultural studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"It is critical that the body of Christ supports, resources, and equips healthy local churches within urban poor communities. Alvin writes with decades of both theological reflection and practical experience in community development and local church leadership. This book is an important tool for cultivating vision and strengthening leaders to do the important work of church ministry in urban poor communities."

Dennae Pierre, codirector of City to City North America

"Despite all the loud sirens about the rise of the 'nones' and the 'dones,' Dr. Alvin Sanders, a committed churchman whose life and ministry demonstrate his total and complete love for the church, declares a prophetic message for the church. The church is still God's chosen vehicle for community transformation, but only if we take seriously both her theological and communal responsibilities. Dr. Sanders's exhortation is a much-needed message for us today!"

Felix Theonugraha, president of Western Theological Seminary

"Awake to the needs of the urban poor, Americans are ready to embrace solutions. With faith, wisdom, and experience, Alvin Sanders has one to offer: the healthy church in the hood. This book is everything that practical Christian theology ought to be: grounded in theology, clear-eyed about the real world, focused on godly outcomes, and expressed in plain language. There's not a shred of nonsense in this book: no false pieties, no simplistic formulas, no sugarcoating what is inevitably an unremitting struggle. But there is a truckload of hope on every page. Here is an agenda for an American church that may have lost its way but dare not lose its hope. And here is a rejoinder to those who would try again (and fail again) to 'fix' the hood with anything less than the power of God."

Jon Weatherly, provost of Johnson University

"The church has been trying different methods of reaching the urban centers in America and specifically the poor and disenfranchised neighborhoods in those cities for the longest time. Dr. Sanders provides a work for the church planter and local pastor that is both theologically sound and practical. Pulling from his experience of planting a church in urban Cincinnati, he shares both successes and failures. May pastors draw from and build on his experiences in the years to come as we seek to reshape the urban core around our country for the glory of God and for our good."

Chris Woodard, pastor of River of Life Church, Cincinnati, Ohio

"Alvin Sanders in Uncommon Church asks that we take seriously the common good of all God's people, both in a big-picture way—by engaging with the systems—and in the mustard seed way—by tangibly loving our neighbor as ourselves. Still as revolutionary, as uncommon today as it was back in the day of Jesus. Uncommon Church gives us inspiring examples from a hope-filled modern prophet."

Laura Sumner Truax, senior pastor of LaSalle Street Church, Chicago

"In Uncommon Church, Alvin Sanders reminds us that the church is called to be present, powerful, and purposeful in our engagement with our communities and the broader society. I encourage every church leader to read this book and be challenged to live out the words of Jesus in the disciples' prayer, 'Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.'"

Jonathan Brooks, senior pastor of Canaan Community Church, Chicago, author of Church Forsaken

Read an Excerpt


Foreword by Efrem Smith
Part One: Uncommon Church
1. Advocacy Is Not Enough
2. What Would Jesus Do? Poverty Is a Condition, Not an Identity
3. Jesus Did, Not Jesus Would: Jesus and the Condition of Poverty
4. The People of God: God's Plan for a Broken World
5. Doing Healthy Church: Seven Habits Toward Spiritual Maturity

Part Two: Seeking the Common Good
6. Faith and Works: Eliminating the Tension Between Evangelism and Justice
7. There Goes the Neighborhood: Understanding the Powers That Be
8. Championing the Community: Empowering Grassroots Leaders and Workers
9. Chasing Wild Dreams: Examples of Faith, Hope, and Love in Action
10. The Kingdom Is in Us


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