Book Review: Next Sunday by Nancy Beach & Samantha Beach Kiley

I received an Advance Readers e-copy of this book thanks to the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. Pubdate was 14 June 2022.

The subtitle of this book is “An Honest Dialogue About the Future of the Church”. The dialogue here takes place between mother and daughter, Nancy and Samantha. Nancy was a longtime staff member of Willow Creek, a megachurch based out of Chicago, founded by Bill Hybels. Part of the Baby Boomer generation, Nancy raised her children, including her daughter Samantha, in this church. After growing up in the evangelical church, Nancy was drawn to the creativity and innovation of Willow Creek. Years later though she was part of a group that came forward to speak against some of the abuses of power that occurred there.

Samantha grew up surrounded by and immersed in the creative Christian world of Willow Creek. She thrived in the space created for innovation and the arts. But as an adult she also struggled to come to terms with some of the experiences that occurred at Willow Creek. Living now in Austin, Texas, Samantha has ended up also working in ministry at a church.

These two differing generational perspectives offer a unique picture of the church over the last fifty years or so. As a millennial like Samantha, I could relate to a lot of her experiences, particularly surrounding the growing divide between church and secular culture and the often frustrating ways that the church in North America seems to fall on the wrong side of history. At the same time, I could also relate to some of Nancy’s experiences of seeking out a church culture that supports creativity and innovation.

While the Church has basically suffered from internal conflict since the disciples in Acts first argued over the question of circumcision, there is a particular struggle that seems to be occurring in the evangelical church over the past few years. With the rise of Christian nationalism that Trump’s election seemed to bring to the forefront to the brave men and women who have come forward to speak about abuse experienced within the church, Christians are faced with the question of how they are going to react to these issues. And we are deeply divided. These divisions run deep, even within a single church. This is something I’ve experienced myself within the past couple of years (which is what drew me to request this book in the first place).

As a human being and a Christian myself, I bring my own biases and experience to reading this book. I’ll admit that I have my own opinions about megachurches and bristled a little when I realized that was Nancy’s background. But I appreciated her perspective and particularly how she spoke on the pros and cons of a church as large as Willow Creek.

This is probably a book that will appeal to a reader already interested in the transformation that the church in North America is currently undergoing. Some may call this desconstruction but I prefer to think of it as a chance for reconstruction, a moment of reckoning from which the church can emerge refined and more focused on Christ than ever before. And, ultimately, I believe this is what Nancy and Samantha are striving for too.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Next Sunday by Nancy Beach & Samantha Beach Kiley”

  1. This sounds really interesting and right up my street. I have never been part of a megachurch but I think the church where I grew up had aspirations of being one (or at least some of the leadership did). We therefore faced some of the problems that go along with it. I’ve been at a New Frontiers church for the past decade and I’m now at a small local church, which is a very different experience, and have therefore been thinking a lot about the future of the church – I’ll definitely be picking this up when it comes out here! Thanks for reviewing it as I doubt I would have heard of it otherwise.

    1. I grew up in a pretty large church but I wouldn’t classify it as a megachurch and I’ve never been a member of a large church as an adult. Personally, I start to question it when church leaders put a big emphasis on numbers. It just seems like the wrong focus when you’re trying to get people in seats rather than thinking about engaging the people who are showing up.

      I’ve also made a denominational switch recently, though for me it’s actually a return to a Baptist denomination that I’ve been part of before. I’m realizing that my preferences lean more to the liturgical and traditional but for now I am also having to balance that with what works best for our whole family.

      I hope you get a chance to read this!

  2. The Catholic church I attended as a kid was very small. It could hold probably 75 people total, and I loved that building. However, because Catholics take their children to church as soon as they’re born, you don’t get much say in anything. Something I would have liked out of church is more community goodness: volunteering, having picnics, arranging a visitation list or phone tree to check on elderly and vulnerable people in the community, maybe even babysitting for free for single parents struggling, etc. Church should be something bigger than Sunday, in my opinion. I do wonder if a big shift in Christianity in North America would actually find itself lining up more neatly with the ideals of liberals who are more likely to be anti-church. I don’t think liberals are anti-religion, but anti-church, because, as you mention in your review, there is so much corruption. It’s a cliche, but if Christian church-goers (and many who don’t go but like to mention God/thoughts/prayers) lived like Jesus, church would be a whole different ballgame.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree that I want to see churches doing more in their communities. The Bible and Jesus are pretty clear about the importance of helping the poor and vulnerable, particularly those who are looked down upon in society. So in that way I think the church could line up more with a liberal ideal. At it’s best, I do think churches should be places where those of differing political views can meet and do God’s work together but it’s obviously hard to find that in practice. (And by God’s work I mean a lot of the stuff you mention because I believe that stuff matters to God.)

  3. I’m happy to hear that a dialogue is continuing, and that there are a significant group of Christians willing to look at their own faith and perhaps reconstruct it as you say – we often don’t get to see that side of Christianity in the mainstream as part of a secular society. And there are clearly divisions within the church. It reminds me of when a downtown church in Calgary decided to leave the red handprints up on their front door – they are still there actually – when the bodies were discovered around the residential school last year. Clearly, this church is open and ready for dialogue, which I really appreciated.

    1. I remember reading about that church in the news when it happened! I thought their response was so thoughtful and really spoke to their willingness to dialogue, as you say.

      There is a real shift occurring in churches right now, in a way I haven’t personally witnessed before. But the church at large has gone through many changes in its history and so I don’t think this needs to be a bad thing. But it requires a lot of hard conversation and being honest about the ways we’ve done wrong.

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