Deep & Wide is that rare book in which a successful church leader talks about how it all happened, including the flaws and unpacks the process for others to understand. No matter what your approach to ministry, it is a book that will benefit any pastor.
Andy Stanley is not your typical church planter. He was born into the home of a successful pastor: Charles Stanley, who has served for many years as senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta, and is known nationally for his “In Touch” television program. In a major section of the book, Andy talks about growing up in that home and learning about the church and leadership by observing his father. His own entry into ministry was through his father’s church, where he began to demonstrate significant gifts as a communicator.
He also takes the reader into the family drama that was his parents’ unraveling marriage and how that created a split between father and son for many years. The story of the tension between Andy and Charles is a vivid illustration of how emotions can stand in the way of understanding one another; in this case, Andy wanted his father to resign so the church could call him again with a clear recognition of his new marital status, while Charles could only hear that word resign and saw his son’s position as a betrayal at the time. That led to Andy’s resignation from First Baptist and, ultimately, launching North Point Community Church, which since has become one of the nation’s largest and most influential congregations.
There is much to learn from the way Andy and his North Point colleagues led this new congregation, although he’ll be the first to tell you that not many planters have the opportunity to grow a church that starts with 1,500 people on opening day. On that first day, he set the tone for what North Point would become when he told the group:
“Atlanta doesn’t need another church. Atlanta needs a different kind of church. Atlanta needs a church where church people are comfortable bringing their unchurched friends, family members and neighbors, a church where unbelievers can come and hear the life-changing truth that God cares for them and that Jesus Christ died for their sin. We’ve come together to create a church unchurched people will love to attend.”
The balance of the book describes a philosophy and methodology for creating a church that will attract and impact unchurched people. Andy takes a quick dip into church history early in the book, arguing, “the current confusion over the purpose and mission of the church stems from a dearth of knowledge regarding the history of the church.” That conversation leads into the nature of the local church, where he asserts, “It’s easy to create an all-truth church model. It may be even easier to create an all-grace model. But Jesus didn’t leave either option on the table.”
The effort to balance grace and truth, Stanley says, means, “We are inconsistent and at times unfair. Not on purpose. We just find that clinging to grace and truth creates tension. Tension we believe that should not be resolved, but managed.” Offering multiple examples of how this plays out in day-to-day ministry, Andy declares, “We believe the church is most appealing when the message of grace is most apparent. We are equally as convinced that God’s grace is only as visible as God’s truth is clear. It is pointless to tell me I’m forgiven if I’m not sure why I need forgiveness in the first place. That’s the beauty of grace and truth…They are two essential ingredients. Without massive doses of both, you won’t have a healthy gathering.”
At the core of the entire book is Stanley’s conviction that most churches have been designed to be comfortable for church people, when the church actually was created as a vehicle to reach out and engage those who are outside the church. He notes, “It’s a shame that so many churches are married to a designed-by-Christians-for-Christians-only culture. A culture in which they talk about the Great Commission, sing songs about the Great Commission, but refuse to reorganize their churches around the Great Commission. These are often the same churches where members talk about grace, sing about how ‘amazing’ it is, but create graceless cultures where only those who play by the rules feel welcomed.”
In a section called “Going Deep,” Andy deals with the issue of discipleship and explains how North Point approaches the issue of spiritual formation. He points out that spiritual formation doesn’t come from “a program, a curriculum or a series of classes…We don’t believe classes create mature believers. Classes create smart believers.” The North Point discipleship model, he says, is not built around “increasing people’s knowledge,” but around “growing people’s faith.” Their “five faith catalysts”—developed at length over two chapters, with many helpful insights—are: practical teaching, private disciplines, personal ministry, providential relationships, and pivotal circumstances. Given the struggle many churches have with growing healthy disciples, many leaders will find this section alone is worth the price of the book.
The fourth major section of the book is called “Going Wide,” and it deals with how North Point attracts and connects with unchurched people. He reminds readers of one of the real dangers churches face—we don’t see it anymore. We’ve been in and around our church so long that we no longer see the clutter, the lack of signage, the poorly designed children’s facilities. One key to reaching unchurched people, Andy notes, is creating irresistible environments: “Environments are the messages before the message.” He cites three essential ingredients:
• Is the setting appealing? (“The physical environment does more than leave an impression; it sends a message.”)
• Is the presentation engaging? (“The church isn’t suffering from a lack of truth-talks. What we are missing is engaging presentations.”)
• Is the content helpful? (“Will the audience find it useful? Will it change the way people think? Does it offer a fresh perspective? Will the audience know what to do with what they’ve heard? Is it actionable?”)
Stanley’s discussion of his approach to preaching topics will be helpful to many pastors. Defending his thematic approach, in contrast to regularly preaching through biblical books, Andy notes that with 1,189 chapters in the Bible, “If you taught a chapter a week, that would take nearly 23 years. And that’s assuming you never missed a weekend service. You get the point. Nobody actually preaches or teaches verse-by-verse through the entire Bible to the same congregation…[Because] we have to pick and choose anyway, why not pick and choose the passages and principles that are most appropriate for specific audiences?” He adds, “My goal has never been to teach through the entire Bible. My goal is to equip and inspire adults to become followers of Jesus.”
Church leaders who plan and lead worship services will find the chapter “Rules of Engagement” to be interesting and helpful. He deals with goals and methodologies, explaining that while they do not tailor the content to non-Christians, they do tailor the experience to non-Christians. Their win goal is for the “weekend services to be catalysts for personal life change.” Andy says the key is for each church to determine how its own “win for the weekend” looks. The chapter offers an extended discussion of the North Point template for designing engaging worship experiences.
Readers of this publication will find the chapter on “Double-Barrel Preaching” to be thought-provoking. Andy notes, “The key to successfully engaging unchurched people in a weekend message has more to do with your approach and your presentation than your content.” Countless preachers, he says, undermine their own purpose by the way they present their message.
Stanley’s strategic approach to preaching is to “entice the audience to follow me into one passage of Scripture with the promise that the text is either going to answer a question they’ve been asking, solve a mystery they’ve been puzzled over or resolve a tension they’ve been carrying. Once we are in the text, I do my best to let it speak for itself. I go slowly. I highlight words. I leverage the drama. I roll ’em around in the text till it gets all over them. I bring my energy to a text and I do my best to uncover the energy in the text. Once they are thoroughly embroiled with the passage, I take one carefully crafted statement that emerges from the point of the text and do everything in my power to make it stick.”
The final section, “Becoming Deep and Wide,” deals with transitioning a local church to become a place that will attract and engage unchurched people. This may be the most important section of the book for many who lead traditional churches designed purely for the care and feeding of believers. The end of the book includes North Point several resources that will prove helpful to other churches.
This is an extremely important book for church leaders, as one pastor openly shares how his church is reaching and engaging unchurched people in today’s culture. No matter what your church model or approach, if reaching people is your goal, you need to read this book.