Neil Cole and Phil Helfer

Church Transfusion: Changing Your Church Organically " from the Inside Out

Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 2012.

ISBN 978-1118131282 (hardback)

"This is a constructive resource book about how organic principles can help existing churches to revitalise. If I could put one book into the hands of every pastor and leader seeking to cooperate with God in revitalising their local church, my top pick would be 'Church Transfusion'."


Neil Cole and Phil Helfer are founders of Church Multiplication Associates - an organic church planting movement that has planted thousands of churches in more than 40 countries and trained 50,000 people in church planting principles. They are well known for their championing of reproducing healthy disciples, leaders, churches and movements.

But their interest is not just in newly planted “simple churches”. Cole was a pastor of an inherited church for eight years, and Helfer has pastored the same medium-sized traditional-looking church for the last two decades (described as “a church with a traditional skin and an organic soul”). Their heart is to cultivate organic principles in all sorts of churches. Their agenda is not to turn existing churches into house churches, but to help any and all models of church become simpler, more organic and focused simply on disciple-making.

Contemporary missional literature has helped leaders be aware of the disconnection between church and culture and the need for change and new models. Many leaders and churches accept the need for change. But they are often unsure how to process a transformational journey in existing churches without undue bloodshed. “It’s far easier to give birth than to raise the dead” say church planting advocates, but God is a God of Easter and Resurrection as well as Christmas and birth. The Western world needs many new church plants to reach all sorts of sub-cultural groups, but we also need help with ‘re-planting’ existing churches that are not living up to their calling.

Cole and Helfer reframe revitalisation not as a set of organisational steps and transitions, but about a transfusion of new life and missional purpose into a church’s DNA. It is not about helping a church become more attractive, but empowering members to let their faith spill out in the streets. The goal is not getting people in but sending people out. It starts not with a grand vision statement but acknowledging weakness and dependence on God. It is not about a quick-fix seven step plan to identify strengths and weaknesses from a consultant’s indicators, but prioritising disciple-making and healthy rhythms of leadership and church life. It is not about control and structure but trusting God’s Spirit to speak to every believer, and unleashing them to follow Jesus’ call. It is not about destroying old structures, but cultivating new wine and new wineskins alongside the old. It is not about self-preservation, but being prepared to turn off a church’s artificial support and die, anticipating what new life may be born.

Part 1 starts the book with four chaptersabout how change and organic principles are possible in existing churches, with case studies of where it has worked. Part 2 has nine chapters that develop principles for how to foster change “from the inside out”. I most appreciated the practical advice on how to foster revitalisation; especially in acknowledging who is in control, in empowering innovators to dream outside-the-box, and to measure success in terms of influence rather than institutional numbers.

Cole and Helfer invite pastors to hand over the keys of the church to Jesus and repent of taking control themselves. This can be an actual event in a church gathering. The pastor might confess they feel important when church members need and like them, but want to leave co-dependence and focus on helping members hear from God themselves how to foster the Kingdom of God in their world. The pastor and church might then freshly invite God to be in charge, and make time in meetings for listening to God’s agenda. It is a refreshing reminder that revitalisation is not about the pastor’s agenda but releasing the whole people of God to follow Jesus. Cole and Telfer suggest we also under-utilise the presence of Christ in the church and world and tend to try and control things rather than asking what Jesus is doing and wanting to do.

My favourite chapter was 'Water the Green Spot' which encourages pastors to pour their energy where there is life and to foster creative options with “skunk works”. Like engineering and business groups creating new technology, church transfusion can be fostered by a carefully selected group of innovators who explore out-of-the-box solutions and ask “why not?”. Cole and Helfer suggest giving them permission, if you have to set boundaries make them few, start new ministries beyond the walls of the church building, mentor leaders, ensure good communication, and block criticism. As new life emerges celebrate their stories to the broader church, invite early adopters to join, block criticism, and don’t expect everyone to fully support experiments. Ultimately, the important thing is to trust Jesus to guide the church into new life and mission and not try to control or over-manage.

Another helpful point was to measure success as influence rather than institutional numbers. True fruitfulness of church transfusion is not how many people come, but who goes. It’s not about seating capacity but sending capacity; not how many people attend church but how much they transform the world. Success is not firstly mega numbers but doing what Jesus says and measuring to what extent the Gospel spreads in influence. The aim of a transfused church is to make disciples and equip them for their ministry in the world, not just to help the pastor “run a church”. The most important reference point is not the Sunday meeting but the weekday marketplace where God’s people are sent. This is why the most important focus of a transfused church is to make disciples.

This is a constructive resource book about how organic principles can help existing churches to revitalise. If I could put one book into the hands of every pastor and leader seeking to cooperate with God in revitalising their local church, my top pick would be Church Transfusion.

This review was originally published in Australian eJournal of Theology 20:2 (August 2013), pp.155-156.

To buy this book, follow this link-Church Transfusion: Changing Your Church Organically - From the Inside Out.