Book Review: Multi: The Chemistry of Church Diversity

IMG_0640Multi: The Chemistry of Church Diversity
By Paul Nixon

When Paul Nixon’s most famous book — I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church — came into my pastor world, I so appreciated its congregational vitality message that the title became one of my own ministry mantras. So, I looked forward to reading and reviewing his newest book. 

My first glance at the cover of the book raised questions: 

  • “Is the title — Multi — ‘short’ for multi-something-more?”
  • “Is church diversity adequately described as a chemical process, or informed by one?”
  • “Is the topic of this book adequately addressed by this white man who is not currently serving a local church?”
  • “Is it significant that all the names on the outside of the book (author, reviewers) belong to men? And is that problematic for this work?

My short answers:

  • Actually, yes
  • Surprisingly, yes
  • Perhaps
  • Yes, indeed/Yes, afraid so

Paul Nixon highlights a variety of current “multi” congregations while proposing that future alive churches will be populated by many (multi?) multi churches. The ‘multi’ in Multi Church encompasses three main “capacities” of congregations: multicultural, multifaith, and multilocational. Nixon also explains why these are not hyphenated words. These main capacities include more congregational multis: multilingual, multinarrative, multiethnic, multigenerational, multitheological, multiliturgical, multisite (meeting locations), and digital gathering. What a compelling vision of church!

Nixon’s “chemistry of church diversity” refers to a congregation’s valence or capacity to bond with groups or ways that are “other,” that is, outside the congregation’s current identity. In chemistry, some molecules have a valence of one and can only attach to one other (unlike) molecule. Other molecules have a valence of two or three or four, increasing the capacity for bonding and growth. Nixon notes the high valence of carbon, the basis for organic chemistry and all living things. As someone with both a science and a seminary degree, I found this chemistry-painted picture of church life original, credible, and full of potential. Assessing a congregations capacity for new connections (valence) offers a congregation the chance to increase its valence and, therefore, vitality.

The book promises to provide “an encouraging and practical resource to equip churches for transformational relationships and multivalent ministry” (back cover). Nixon warns of a future populated by even more dying churches, dying because they lack the capacity to make new connections in their changing local and global contexts. He also calls congregations to be clear about why they exist and to be unashamedly centered in the gospel of Jesus Christ. These commitments alone would increase a congregation’s vitality capacity. The practical resources include evaluation checklists and practical ways to implement many of the new (or renewed) ideas proposed in the book. 

But . . . and this is a big but  . . . 

As “multi” as this book claims to be, and to be about, it is overwhelmingly male-centered and male-referenced (hypenations mine). Along with the two aforementioned men’s blurbs on the back cover, the book opens with a man-authored foreword. As I read on, my count of the people referenced in the book came to 30 men and four women. Though the count may be unscientific, the imbalance is truly overwhelming. His failure to include, much less center or spotlight, women’s experiences reveals this book to be a clueless, unconfessed perpetuation of the male-centered, male-led church. 

In 2019, it is indefensible that a book about multianything, written by a man who has been in the midst of church life for multidecades, casting visions for a multifuture, came off the press so fully man saturated. 

Paul Nixon is an experienced and appealingly evangelical church consultant, In Multi, he has given the church a worthy challenge and many helpful resources. However, with so few women included in Multi, he significantly undermines a stated purpose, that “this book is an exploration of how diverse people partner together to be church” (p.xv). Men only — no matter how diverse — cannot make multiparterships. Multi requires more.

Nixon, Paul. Multi: The Chemistry of Church Diversity. Cleveland OH, Pilgrim Press, 2019

I received a complimentary review copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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