Excellent Protestant Congregations: The Guide to Best Places and Practices. By Paul Wilkes. Westminster John Know, 258 pp., $18.95.

Paul Wilkes's book on Protestant congregations and its twin, Excellent Catholic Congregations, are well written, appealing and instructive--but their seductiveness is potentially dangerous. Wilkes has divided the book on Protestant churches into three major sections, each both helpful and problematic. The first, about two thirds of the book, spins out dramatic stories describing aspects of life and ministry in nine "excellent congregations." This is followed by the author's reflections on the "points of excellence" these stories illustrate, points which first appear as sidebars in each story. A final section, called an "Index of Excellent Congregations," lists 300 best churches.

Wilkes and his two associates used a procedure commonly called "reputational research" to identify the "very best" congregations. They asked about 30 informants to name such congregations, informants "in congregational renewal, those who studied church life, denominational and nondenominational experts, religion reporters, and those who addressed certain constituencies (Asian or African American, rural, inner-city, for example)." From these, they chose nine churches to profile, a panorama of vital congregations that have a clear impact on the lives of their members and their communities.