Destiny For Downtown Churches

What’s Ahead For Old First Church, by Ezra Earl Jones and Robert Wilson (Harper & Row, 1974, 134 pp., $5.95), and Survival and Mission for the City Church, by Gaylord Noyce (Westminster, 1975, 162 pp., $3.95 pb), are reviewed by A. J. Conyers, doctoral student, Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

Led by Dean Kelley’s Why Conservative Churches Are Growing (1972), at least a score of recent titles have examined the mystery of how churches might expect to grow, or even survive, amid the difficulties of this age. Judging by the number of books, this is an important question for most churches, and it is especially so for the city church, where failing business districts, changing populations, and new traffic patterns are assuring that at least some churches will not survive. Which ones will, and how, and why, are the questions taken up in these two new books.

Jones and Wilson deal mainly with those pre-eminent city congregations typified by “Old First Church,” though they apply their study to other churches with a comparable city-wide outreach. Similarly, Noyce’s book concerns those central congregations that have long been the religious and cultural focal points of metropolitan areas. Neither book is marked by unbounded optimism; the authors of both are acutely aware of the great handicaps under which many city churches now labor. Both see a need for change—often drastic change. Both are honest attempts to seek answers, and, in their attempts, they are seriously and similarly flawed.

In What’s Ahead, Ezra Earl Jones of the United Methodists’ Board of Global Ministries and Robert Wilson of Duke University find a number of difficulties converging upon Old First Church. They note the alarming ...

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