Sister Churches: American Congregations and Their Partners Abroad

by Janel Kragt Bakker

Oxford University Press, 198 Madison Ave., New York, NY, 10016, 320 pages, 2013, $29.95.

Reviewed by Benjamin Espinoza, director of youth and community life, Covenant Church, Bowling Green, Ohio.

With the onset of globalization, the fall of colonialism, and the rapid expansion of the Majority World Church, new models of mission have emerged, including the so-called “sister church” model. Sister churches are those congregations who partner together across the globe for the purpose of mutuality, solidarity, and mission. In her groundbreaking study, Janel Kragt Bakker puts forward both historic and ethnographic research on sister churches, providing one of the few in-depth studies on the subject in existence today.

In her opening chapter, Bakker locates the sister church phenomenon against the broader backdrop of the rise of Global Christianity. This backdrop gives context to Bakker’s next chapter, which chronicles the development of the sister church model in North America since the 1980s. From here, Bakker launches into the core of her book, describing twelve congregations engaging in sister church partnerships. Bakker profiled Catholic, mainline Presbyterian, evangelical Anglican, and African-American Baptist congregations in her study. She compares and contrasts the theologies and cultures of these congregations, examines their cross-cultural partnerships from the perspective of individual church members, evaluates the outcomes of such partnerships, and explores the challenges that these partnerships have navigated successfully. Particularly, Bakker recounts the difficulties that sister churches share in their mutual mission in terms of fostering cross-cultural relationships, navigating cultural barriers, and managing logistical concerns.  

Bakker’s dense, thorough, and informative study demonstrates the exciting ways that God is working to bring about redemption and reconciliation in this world through sister church partnerships. Through this barrier-breaking model, churches are forming fruitful partnerships that facilitate personal and social transformation across global contexts. In addition, congregations are finding new ways to minister in their own contexts. Bakker concludes her book by highlighting the results of her study, particularly the strengths of the sister church model. She acknowledges that more research needs to be done on the effects of these partnerships outside of North America, and offers several proposals for further research.

Scholars and thoughtful practitioners will benefit from Bakker’s findings as they navigate the contours of Global Christianity and its emerging models of mission. Congregations and missionaries interested in this exciting approach to mission will benefit from the numerous case studies Bakker puts forth, as they detail the initial challenges of securing a sister church partnership and carrying out fruitful mission. While Bakker’s writing is very academic and leaves no stone unturned, her text is full of real-life individuals and congregations whose lives have been transformed by partnering with other believers across the globe. Since this work is among the first in this emerging field of study, we can expect to see a boom in the literature on sister churches in the years to come.

Check these titles:
Heffernan, Tara. 2007. Twinning and Faith Development: Catholic Parish Partnering in the U.S. and Haiti. Bloomfield, Conn.: Kumarian Press.

O’Connor, Dennis P. 2007. Bridges of Faith: Building a Relationship with a Sister Parish. Cincinnati, Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press.

Wuthnow, Robert. 2010. Boundless Faith: The Global Outreach of American Churches. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.


EMQ, Vol. 50, No. 4, pp. 379-380. Copyright  © 2014 Billy Graham Center.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.


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