Review of The Tangible Kingdom by @HughHalter & @Matt_Smay

The Tangible KingdomThe Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay provides a compelling picture of what the Christian church can be in contrast to the typical traditional, attractional church that is failing to engage many people today.

100 years ago Christians and those who are not Christians shared many of the same values.  As a result it was easier to find common ground.   However, “the shift in society’s view of the church has resulted in the marginalization of the church and the secularization of society.”  Many people no longer look to Christianity or the Christian church for spiritual answers.  “The world sees evangelicals… fighting to keep marriage between heterosexual men and women, fighting against gay rights, fighting against Islam, fighting to keep prayer in schools and so on…. People see us struggling hard to keep our way of life.”

While some people may have some positive view of church (perhaps from childhood experiences) and might consider coming to a traditional, attractional church.  Many people have distain for church and will never come to a church seeking God.  Halter and Smay argue that for them evangelism starts with changing assumptions.  The only way to do that is to leave our comfortable Christian bubbles, live and embrace the people around us, and love them as Jesus did.

Favorite Quotes

  • If Christianity was only about finding a group of people to live life with, who shared openly their search for God and allowed anyone, regardless of behavior, to seek too, and who collectively lived by faith to make the world a little more like Heaven, would you be interested? (P 10)
  • “Doing church differently is like rearranging chairs on the Titanic.” We must realize that slight tweaks, new music, creative lighting, wearing hula shirts, shorts, and flip-flops won’t make doing church any more attractive.  (P 130)
  • Church must not be the goal of the gospel anymore…  Church should be what ends up happening as a natural response to people wanting to follow us, be with us, and be like us as we are following the way of Christ. (P 30)
  • we specifically ask people not to try to be “evangelistic.” We suggest to them that if people aren’t asking about their lives, then we haven’t postured our faith well enough or long enough.  (P 42)
  • To be an advocate means that when people are in need, they know that we’ll be on their team, and that we’ll be there whenever they need us, for just about anything. (P 43)
  • The pressure [to meet the needs of consumeristic parishioners] is so strong, [pastors] find themselves frantically trying to update their presentation, increase programs to attract people, or lighten up the message of the gospel. (P 57)
  • Helping them make a personal “preference” for Christ and his life will always be more powerful than bashing their values. (P 67)
  • What causes exclusive community is fear.  What creates inclusive community is love. (P 71)
  • What people want is an entirely new grid that encompasses every aspect of their lives.  Values like meaning, sacrifice, simplicity, risk, adventure, benevolence and justice will sell.  But they have to be modeled, not just talked about. (P 75)
  • The convictions we need to rally around should be about life giving, community transformation, holistic personal growth, sacrifice, beauty, blessing and world renewal.  Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a people committed to something that brings personal meaning and makes the world a better place? (P 115)
  • “If you want to help people, we have to dive into people, wade into the sea of humanity.” –Patch Adams (P 124)
  • Whimsical holiness: Whimsy is the posture we take that allows people to be themselves.  Holiness is that quiet inner posture that shines through and subversively witnesses of an alternative way to live. (P 139)

Personal Thoughts

I was really blow away by The Tangible Kingdom.  As I read it, I kept thinking, “This is what Christianity is supposed look like.”

Somehow we’ve allowed Christianity to be mostly about going to church, when it should be about going out, engaging with the people around us, and becoming their advocates.

Church has become mostly about the pastors and staff feeding members good worship services and other programs, when it should be about celebrating what God is doing and apprenticing people to become missionaries in their own neighborhoods.

Christianity has become more about standing up for our values and protecting ourselves from the world, when it should be about sacrificing and opening ourselves up to the world.

I love the fact that as much as Hugh and Matt advocate churches change to a more missional approach to ministry, they don’t bash attractional churches.  In fact, they specifically say that if you lead or are a part of an attractional church, don’t bail.  Be the change.

That’s what I want to do, but…

I want to be a part of a community where people far from God are able to belong before they believe.  I want to hang out with my neighbors, invite them over for dinner.  I want to be the guy who will do anything for his friends, and proactively, not just when asked.

But to do that means I have to sacrifice my own comfort and convenience, and the truth is that as much as I think I’d like to live a missional lifestyle, over and over again I choose otherwise.  It’s not easy.  I have a job that never ends.  I’m married.  I have 3 kids.  I serve as an elder and small group leader at church.  Plus I’m an introvert, and when I carve out time in my schedule for myself I’d rather spend it reading or interacting with people on Facebook or Twitter.

Certainly it’s easier for some people than others, but ultimately those are just excuses.  I managed to carve out 2 weeks of vacation last month.  I’m spending 2 days at a leadership conference this week.  I found time to write this review, didn’t I?

Can you tell I’m wrestling with this big time?

If you’re a part of a attractional church (traditional or modern) I dare you to read The Tangible Kingdom.  It will rock your world if you’re open to it.  If you’re left the church or sworn off “organized religion” because it bears little resemblance to Jesus or what you think Christianity should be, reading TK may give you hope.

EDIT 8/10/2010: If you have questions about what incarnational community looks like and how to do it, check out this Incarnational Community FAQs page.


  1. Do you think Christians (and churches) need to change and focus more on going out and engage with people who are not Christians rather than waiting for them to show up at our churches?
  2. What do you think about living a missional lifestyle yourself?  One where you sacrifice your comfort, invite people with different values into your life, and accept them without pretense?
  3. Where do you struggle most with living a missional lifestyle?

Sorry, no book to give away.  But I hope you’ll join me in discussing the book by posting a comment, and invite others to join the conversation by sharing this post on Twitter and Facebook.

11 Responses to “Review of The Tangible Kingdom by @HughHalter & @Matt_Smay”

  1. Growing up as a Catholic, attending Catholic school and living in the Midwest, where every other block had it’s own ethnicity, I didn’t know other religions existed. Oh, except for the pagan babies that we had to donate to every Monday morning in school.(The donation was so Catholic missionaries could teach them the right way to follow God.)I have always believed in God and prayed, or I prefer to call it, talked to Him. I stopped practicing the formal Catholic religion shortly after I moved out of Mom and Dad’s home at 19, when I married. I saw too many inconsistencies in the Church and in my home. My church is my heart and soul, where God resides.
    This is a very thought provoking post. Thank you for sharing.

    • Hi Cynthia, thanks for your comment. I think a lot of people share your frustration at the inconsistencies between what a lot of people and churches practice vs preach. I believe being a part of a Christian community is an important part of following Jesus. So, I hope you won’t give up on His church and will seek out a place where you can love and be loved, know and be known, and serve and be served.

  2. We start our first TK primer group this week. I can’t wait to walk through this with 12 of our leaders. I loved the Tangible Kingdom book, as well as And. These guys speak my language, they write what I feel and preach. My paradigm from what church is has completely changed for the better. As my friend Andrew from Australia so beautiful tweeted last week. “Salt and Light, Salt and Light. This is impossible if you think that church is some place you go.” Love it.

    • That’s awesome! I’m going to buy the TK primer. Sometime I’d love to hear more about how your change of paradigm has/is translating into changes in your church.

  3. Loved this review and might even venture to reading the book (after I’ve read through a number of others in my evergrowing pile!).

    I am one of those who doesn’t attend a church for a number of reasons. 1 being a husband who isn’t a big fan of Christianity and got jealous when I was going regularly 2. because if you suffer with insecurities and unsaved husbands, well you just dont have it together enough to be a part of the church, do you?!

    YOu can’t help but feel sometimes that church is just another social club where you have to fit in, been the “right” kind of person. I’m not saying I’m perfect, far from! I have my own prejudices which aren’t great from a Christian perspective. But it just seems that its all about becoming part of the jelly mould that is Christianity as we know it in the West, certainly on the evangelical side of things (and I consider myself as Evangelical).

    Reading this review and the authors’ quotes, I felt a yearning to belong to that kind of a church. But it seems too good to be true. After all, this makes the assumption that flawed human beings, with all their prejudices and all their hang ups, can actually become something that attractive to the general populace.

    So whilst it sounds great, I’m sceptical that this could actually ever happen. Sad, isn’t it?

    • I don’t think its sad that you’re skeptical it could ever happen, because how many churches really look like this? Not many.

      What I think is sad is that your church experiences have given you the impression you have to “have it together” to a certain extent before you can be a part of a church.

      If Jesus hung out with people who didn’t have it together and they felt comfortable hanging around him, shouldn’t our churches be the same way?

  4. Well you’d think so Paul. But sadly that doesn’t appear to be the case. I think it doesn’t matter which church you go to, traditional or radical, this pervasive “Social club” thing is just something that inevitably happens when you get people together.

    I got hassled at one church for going to the pub with people. Hassled at another church for being friendly with gay people, hassled at yet another for not “evangelising” in the prescribed way. As a result I feel I can barely call myself a Christian anymore because I don’t do the standard beating of non-Christians heads with the bible. Its almost embarrassing to admitting to being a Christian sometimes because of the hamfisted efforts of the zealots who spend all their time saying that this, that and the other is wrong instead of focussing on the great stuff like the Creator of the Universe wants to have a relationship with us.

    I’m not saying rules aren’t important but there seems so little love in most evangelistic efforts that I’ve distanced myself from the main church. Too much Christianese is spoken. You can tell I was a regular churchgoer because, try though I might, I still find the flowery Christianese phrases flowing through my blog.

    We need to be relevant but,at the same time, we need to stop trying so hard (fewer programmes and more friendship). Stop doing these ridiculous “seeker sensitive” things. Just go out, be normal (if any of us can remember what that is like once the “church” gets hold of us) and treat others like human beings too instead of potential scalps for claiming.

    Wow, just read that and it sounds really bitter. Guess I need to go do some anger therapy and repentance!
    Thought-provoking book, Paul, and a good review. Thanks for this.

    • I think you’re right that the “social club” mentality (aka exclusive community) is pervasive in a lot of churches regardless of style. But your not alone in your frustration with this. There are millions of other Christians who are fed up with it as well. That’s why this book resonates with so many people.

      Call me an optimist, but I would hope you could find at least one church near you where the people are more interested in offering people grace and acceptance than trying to keep away everyone who thinks and acts differently than they do. 🙂

  5. Great review, and I was amused to see that you singled out the same quotes I’ve been underlining in my copy.

    I really, REALLY want to see the church become like this, but it will be a difficult shift. We’ve got generations of incorrect training to undo. Yes, there are churches working within the current model and who are being effective, but most churches have gone to a consumer oriented mindset and have convinced people that if they just get their Sunday dose of “going to church,” they’re good to go.

    We’ve ignored the fact that Christ hung out with people, with sinners, and loved them like crazy. People who were in trouble were drawn to Him. The Church is called “the Body of Christ,” and yet the Body of Christ today is not hanging out with “sinners,” and people in trouble are repelled by Christians, rather than drawn to us. They see how often our lives and our love (or rather our lack of) don’t line up with the One we claim to follow.

    I also want to be the guy hanging out in pubs with people, inviting them to my home, demonstrating God’s love to them. I’m so busy working for the Church that I hardly have time – and that doesn’t make sense. Something has to change.

    I hope that lots of other Christians will read these kinds of things, and not just agree that it’s good, but agree so much that they’re willing to make difficult changes.

    Thanks for bringing more attention to this great book.

    • It will be a difficult shift. The good thing though is it’s not our responsibility to change the entire Church or even change our own local churches.

      Our “only” responsibility is to be faithful to following Jesus each day. If we do that, then hopefully God will work through us and others around us will notice and want to make that shift too.

      Of course changing “only” ourselves is no easy task. It’s especially difficult for those of us who don’t have someone in our lives modeling it and apprenticing us. Maybe some sort of online TK encouragement/accountability group would help. (Of we’d have to be careful not to spend too much time there instead of hanging out with the people around us)


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