The 10 Most Influential Church Trends of the Last Century

The following is a foreword I wrote with my friend Warren Bird for Elmer Towns’ new book, The Ten Most Influential Churches of the Last Century. You (and I) won’t agree with everything that each of these churches did (or do), but their influence is hard to deny. Also, feel free to suggest others that might be on the list—Elmer Towns picked this 10 and asked Warren and me to comment on the list he created.

At some level, all Christians want their churches to be influential in carrying out the work of God. One pathway to increased influence is a road we often overlook—the one behind us.

Looking back can be good. It can give us wisdom and perspective. It can also help us look forward to what God is doing next in your churches and ours.

This helpful book looks back at 10 historic spiritual shifts of the last century and identifies a church closest to the center of each one. You may not have heard of these pioneering churches and their leaders, but we suspect you have been influenced by them far more than you realize. And we strongly suspect that after reading each of their stories, you’ll be glad you did—and you’ll have a better perspective on your own church and how God is at work in and around it.

It is hard to imagine anyone more qualified to identify and describe these trends and the personalities behind them than our friend, mentor, coauthor and fellow researcher Elmer Towns. Starting in the 1960s he became the nation’s leading figure in creating “top 10” lists and narratives about influential churches. Both of us have a shelf full of his books and magazine articles that we’ve underlined and dog-eared, gaining important insights about where we’ve come from and therefore where we’re headed.

His motive in this book is to help expand your impact. As he was formulating the idea for this book, emailing us with his thoughts, it was very clear that he believes the most influential churches in the last 100 years can motivate every church to become a church of greater influence. Even his title, The Ten Most Influential Churches of the Past Century, is designed to capture people’s attention and help them become more influential.

At some level, all Christians want their churches to be influential in carrying out the work of God.

Overview of the Top 10

The first chapter is about the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. Even if you don’t identify with that approach to Christianity, you need to know that roughly one in four people globally who claim to follow Jesus Christ identify with it.

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Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.

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