Andy Stanley’s new book, Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend, releases today. I had a chance to read a pre-release copy and walked away with a number of significant lessons. Despite coming in at 352 pages, it was a quick and engaging read. In fact, I read almost the whole thing in one day.
This will be a longer-than-normal post synthesizing the key takeaways and quotes from this book.
Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley is broken into five major sections. Here are the titles, subtitles, and my one-sentence summary of each section:
- My Story: Starting Up and Starting Over — How North Point Community Church began.
- Our Story: Walking Toward the Messes — What is the church and who is it for?
- Going Deep: Rethinking Spiritual Formation — How do people grow spiritually?
- Going Wide: Why They Love to Attend — How to create irresistible ministry environments.
- Becoming Deep and Wide: Transitioning a Local Church — How to lead people to embrace change.
FIVE BIGGEST LESSONS
1. God sometimes uses sin and pain to do remarkable things for his kingdom.
The first section of the book is remarkably personal and vulnerable. Stanley recounts the lessons he learned from his parents, particularly his high-profile father, Charles Stanley. He goes on to tell about starting a new campus for his dad’s church (long before anybody was doing multi-site) as well as the divorce that his parents went through. Stanley is honest about his own shortcomings and failures in handling these situations. He concludes:
And that’s how North Point Community Church got started. A high-profile divorce and a church split. For a while, I actually considered hanging a picture of my parents in the lobby of North Point. Nobody thought that was funny but me. I don’t consider myself a church planter. I never intended to start a church. God intended otherwise. (48)
2. Churches are for broken, sinful people. Period.
Surely among the most controversial questions I’ve encountered in my time in ministry is “Who is the church for? Christians or non-Christians.” The answer seems obvious to me: both! The church is made up of Christians and, thus, exists to build them up. But the church, made up of Christians, also exists to reach those who are far from God.
All people — Christian or not — are broken and sinful. Stanley argues that church is for them. However, he specifically wants to create churches that unchurched, irreligious people feel welcomed in. Anything else, he suggests, is hypocrisy:
Churches designed for saved people are full of hypocrites. You pretty much have to be a hypocrite to participate. (74)
Rather than just designing cushy environments for people who hypocritically think they are fine, Stanley wants to engage with those who know they aren’t fine.
One of our pastors, John Hambrick, has a saying that we’ve adopted organization-wide. He says, “We walk toward the messes.” (78)
Stanley argues that this conviction should direct our ministry:
[James said] “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19)…I believe James’ statement should be the benchmark by which all decisions are made in the local church. In other words, churches shouldn’t do anything that makes it unnecessarily difficult for people who are turning to God. (90-91)
3. The principles of spiritual growth are remarkably consistent across time and culture.
I have often thought about what makes people grow spiritually and I’ve written about it here. I was encouraged that I might be right. Stanley wants people to explore what he calls the “Five Faith Catalysts”:
- Practical Teaching (what I’ve called Relevant Equipping/Teaching)
- Private Disciplines (what I’ve called Personal Spiritual Practices)
- Personal Ministry (what I’ve called Taking Risks in Life or Ministry)
- Providential Relationships (what I’ve called Meaningful Spiritual Friendships)
- Pivotal Circumstances (what I’ve called Moments of Crisis)
Stanley’s titles are much stickier — it’s nice that they start with “P.” But the point is that there are only so many ways to grow spiritually. If you want to grow, you’ve got to make the most of these things.
4. Ministry environments should be designed with outsiders in mind.
The church is a family expecting guests. Almost every time the church gathers, outsiders are (or should be) present. The Apostle Paul makes this very point in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25. Therefore, Ministry leaders need to intentionally design each environment with outsiders in mind.
This is particularly difficult because the longer you are around something, the harder it is to be perceptive of what an outsider experiences. Stanley says:
“Time in erodes awareness of.” (159)
Designing environments with outsiders in mind means that we pay attention to how we talk — avoiding tribal, insider language. But it also means we care about what the physical setting is communicating.
Every Sunday people walk onto your campus and determine whether or not they will return the following week before your preacher opens his mouth. And that’s not fair. But it’s true. The moral of the story: Environment matters. (156)
The messages your environments communicate have the potential to trump your primary message. (158)
The physical environment does more than leave an impression; it sends a message. (166)
Every physical setting communicates something. There are no neutral settings. (168)
Some will disagree with this. They will say that this is catering to non-Christians. It’s compromise. After all, Jesus wasn’t concerned about making people comfortable. This is is the problem with modern American evangelicalism.
My reply is that the only people who really have this objection are those who never invite unbelieving friends to church. If you invite an unbelieving friend to church, you see and hear things completely differently.
Additionally, the gospel message is already offensive. So if we offend, let’s offend with the gospel — not our cold, out-of-touch environment or insider jargon. As Stanley says:
As a preacher, it’s my responsibility to offend people with the gospel. That’s one reason we work so hard not to offend them in the parking lot, the hallway, at check-in, or in the early portions of our service. We want people to come back the following week for another round of offending! (222)
5. The goal of discipleship — and the church — is to grow people’s faith in Jesus.
This may seem obvious. But many churches have other unstated goals that aren’t as compelling.
Some think the goal of discipleship is increasing knowledge. But every leader knows people who know a lot but aren’t spiritually mature.
Big faith is a sign of big maturity. We concluded that the best discipleship or spiritual formation model would be one designed around growing people’s faith. The model most of us had grown up with was designed around increasing people’s knowledge…We wanted to go beyond that. (107)
Many churches have another goal, one that they’d never admit:
The actual mission of many churches is Pay the Bills. No, you won’t find that written anywhere. But let’s be honest, most local churches don’t feel any urgency about anything until the money starts running out. (281)
That is tragic.
But we should feel urgency toward helping people grow their faith. Consider this staggering idea:
The only time Jesus was ever “amazed” was when he saw expressions of great faith and little faith. (106)
We want to help people grow their faith — trusting God with their entire lives. This is the goal of discipleship.
OTHER TERRIFIC QUOTES:
On the next generation:
- Like it or not, we are the stewards of the church for our generation. More daunting than that is the fact that we determine what comes to mind for the next generation when they hear the term church. (54)
- Somebody’s kids are attending your church. If you have kids, they are attending your church. Every Sunday you are either instilling a deeper love and appreciation for the church or you are doing what most pastors do and providing them with one more reason not to attend when they no longer have to. (258)
On the deity of Christ:
- In my opinion, James may be our most convincing proof for the deity of Christ. Think about it. If you have a brother, what would he have to do to convince you that he is the Son of God? (90)
On developing leaders:
- I don’t feel like it’s my responsibility to fill anybody’s cup. But I am responsible to empty mine. So I’ve always had a handpicked group of guys that I’m investing in. (103)
On personal devotions:
- There is a direct correlation between a person’s private devotional life and his or her personal faith. (117)
On engaging communication:
- We’ve gone to great lengths to protect our audiences from presenters who aren’t engaging. (178)
On leading change:
- In 100 percent of the cases, the leaders who can’t get their people to change can’t articulate their visions either. (271)
- The primary reason churches cling to outdated models and programs is that they lack leadership. For an organization to remain vision-centric, it must be led by a vision-centric leader or leaders. Problem is, church boards rarely recruit and hire leaders. They recruit and hire pastors, preachers, and teachers. (294)
My favorite quote:
- When people start with the, “Don’t preachers only work one day a week?” I have a good comeback…I say, “Think for a minute about the most stressful part of your job, the part that is the make-or-break for you financially. Imagine having to do that every week on a stage in front of your family, friends, strangers, and people who don’t particularly like you. Imagine not having the option to call in sick or reschedule because you weren’t quite ready for the presentation.” End of conversation. (228)
Which of these lessons do you agree or disagree with the most? Why?