Andy Stanley’s Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend is part memoir and part instruction manual on how to create churches for those outside the church. Deep and Wide is divided into five sections, “My Story” is Stanley’s personal background, “Our Story,” is the story of the planting of North Point Community Church in 1995, “Going Deep,” covers North Points’ spiritual formation technique “Going Wide,” is about how North Point structures its programming for outreaching and “Becoming Deep and Wide,” is about helping churches to transition to the type of church Stanley advocates. My thoughts on what Deep and Wide gets right and what it gets wrong are detailed below.
What Deep and Wide gets right:
In section One, “My Story,” Andy Stanley shares his experience as a kid with a famous preacher for a father (Charles Stanley, for those who don’t know), his time as a youth pastor working for Charles Stanley, his father’s divorce and all the strife it caused between Andy and Charles as well as Charles and his church. Recounting a story about Charles coming over for dinner Andy writes,
By the time the night was over, we were standing in my driveway yelling at each other like a couple of middle-school girls. Meanwhile, we were getting up every Sunday in front of our respective congregations acting like everything was fine (p. 40).
Given that Andy Stanley and his father Charles Stanley are both famous preachers, the transparency in these stories is to be commended. Stanley begins his book by telling how God has used the broken situations of his life to lead him to where he is now and he doesn’t attempt to whitewash his past. He tells a story about being convicted during his morning prayer of a prank he played years earlier that he never confessed to for fear he would go to jail and talks about the anger he felt as a teenager towards people who didn’t respect his father. The first few chapters make it clear, this book isn’t written by a saint, and he wants you to know that.
Andy Stanley is, without a doubt, a masterful organizational leader. Deep and Wide’s greatest strength is the information Stanley shares on how North Point is organized. Chapter 9, “Creating Irresistible Environments,” is a particular highlight. Stanley points out that every single aspect of any organization, from the appearance of the parking lot to the quality of the presentation, communicates a message to outsiders. He asks, “Fair? No. True? Absolutely.” Stanley provides some helpful advice on creating this message and avoiding the inattentiveness familiarity brings. Everything we do or say communicates more than we intend for it to and it would be wise to learn to manage that communication.
Section five, “Becoming Deep and Wide,” also gives practical wisdom. Here Deep and Wide gives some pointers on managing change in a congregation. Anyone familiar with Stanley’s work won’t be surprised to find that the focus here is on developing and communicating vision. “The catalyst for introducing and facilitating change in the local church is a God-honoring, mouthwatering, unambiguously clear vision (p. 270).” He gives good definitions of mission, model, vision, and approach and discusses the ways confusing these things with each other can cause problems in a congregation (i.e. making your model your mission instead of creating your model from your mission). This is, in my opinion, the most useful section of Deep and Wide.
In Deep and Wide Andy Stanley gives one of the clearest and most concise histories of the word “church” I have ever read. Beginning with the New Testament, Stanley defines ekklesia (which means something like “called ones”) and then recounts the path of Christianity after the conversion of Constantine, the rise of Basilicas, the use of the Germanic word kirche (which is a holy place), and its confounding permanence in our translations as the word church. Here Stanley writes my favorite words in his whole book:
What began as a movement, dedicated to carrying the truth of Jesus Christ to every corner of the world, had become an insider-focused, hierarchical, ritualized institution that bore little resemblance to its origins (p. 63).
Stanley wrote that about the Church pre-reformation, but we should ask ourselves if we have done this in our own congregations.
What Deep and Wide gets wrong:
In section two, Deep and Wide gives the “Biblical justification for [North Point’s] approach to church (p. 16).” Within a page Stanley begins a false foundation that will taint his whole approach. He writes:
In the beginning, the church was a gloriously messy movement with a laser-focused message and a global misison. It was led by men and women who were fuled not by what they believed, but by what they had seen. that simple fact sets the church apart from every other religious movement in the history of the world. After all, it wasn’t the teaching of Jesus that sent his followers to the streets. It was his resurrection. The men and women who made up the nucleus of the church weren’t simply believers in an abstract philosophy or even faithful followers of a great leader; they were eyewitness of an event (p. 51-2, bold emphasis added)
There are two problems with Stanley’s interpretation of why the church preached. One is the great commission. They did preach because Jesus had taught them to. Jesus taught them another thing. In Acts 1:4 Jesus tells them to wait until the Holy Spirit comes to do anything. So they returned to the upper room where they were staying and prayed and waited. And in Acts 2 the Holy Spirit comes and Peter preaches and 3,000 people are baptized.
So, according to Acts, what sends the church out preaching? Commissioning from the Holy Spirit.
Deep and Wide completely misses this. In his whole discussion of the Church he only mentions the Holy Spirit while anticipating objections (saying things like “I know what you’re thinking, ‘Doesn’t having a service template limit the Holy Spirit?’” and answering with “You already have an unspoken template, I’m just saying make it purposeful.”) and in the epilogue. For Stanley, the Holy Spirit is an afterthought. This is telling. It changes the Church from an entity empowered by a Divine commission to a group of strategic reporters. When the early Church is believed to be based on what it saw in the resurrection then the current church can be based on what it sees. What can we see besides what works and what doesn’t work (and with almost 30,000 members what North Point does works)? This is a sly way to make utilitarianism the foundation of ministry instead of the work of the Spirit. The importance of this error can not be overstated. While his leadership and vision skills can not be dismissed, they must be taken in light of his incorrect theology of ministry.
Stanley sets out to answer a question which he rightly claims the church has been asking throughout its history. “Who is the church for?”He even rightly answers, “The unchurched.” But he still misses the point.
Stanley is asking the question in the wrong way and so his correct answer gives him wrong information. The question of who the church is for is meant to ask who the church advocates for or who it exists for. Like asking a friend during the Superbowl, “Who are you for?” When he answers he is simply implying that he wants them to win, not that he only exists for them.
Stanley asks it as if it means “What kind of people use this service I am offering?” It is shocking that after such an excellent explanation of the history of the church he still manages to miss that the Church is believers throughout time and history with the mandate to serve the world. Unchurched people, by definition, can not be the church.
The church, as the body of Christ that exists throughout time and space, is for the unchurched, but the local expression of a meeting for worship is not. The unchurched are welcome and should be made to feel welcome in our worship, but in Stanley’s attempt to make the church for the unchurched he advocates not asking people to worship. He asks,
“As a Christian, if you were attending a weekend gathering at a mosque, and the person upfront invited everyone to worship, what would you think? I know what I would think: Uh-oh! Can I do this? Am I betraying my faith? Putting unbelievers or differeing kinds of believers in situations where they feel forced to worship is incredibly unfair. It’s offense. Its bait-and-switch. It’s insulting (p. 215).”
Of course, if I were in a mosque for a religious gathering and they asked me to worship I would think “What did I expect? I came to a mosque during a time of worship.”
Taking the Deep and Wide approach, services are supposed to be as inoffensive as possible so that we can lull them into feeling comfortable so that the offensive nature of Jesus message and existence (Luke 7:23) can slip through their barriers. He plainly says as much when he writes “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.” Do you know what this is called? Bait and switch.
It is impossible for the church to operate in a way that makes reaching the unchurched the primary purpose of its gatherings without leading to a bait and switch. For all of Andy Stanley’s attempts to make people feel welcome, uninsulted, and untricked, he plays the most insulting trick of all.
Ultimately, the problem with the Deep and Wide approach is that it isn’t new. It is trying to create churches that transcend what most people think about church, but over the last 20 years the seeker sensitive mega church has become so standard it is the new stereotype. Look at the above picture. Does that look like anything besides a church? Meanwhile, 1 in 5 people who leave the church say its because they didn’t have any real experience of God (this was certainly my experience). Because of that the last decade has seen the decline of churches that downplay the religious jargon and the rise of churches that embrace it (Mars Hill, The Village, Mars Hill Bible, Bethlehem Baptist). The seeker sensitive movement put seekers above the One being sought. But when Christ is lifted up people come (John 12:32) and they stay.
In the same way Deep and Wide spot on history of the ekklesia and the kirche didn’t keep Stanley from missing the point of all of it, the transparency in early chapters didn’t keep him from sounding arrogant and off putting. Some examples:
on Pastors who don’t prioritize practical application over theology in their sermons :
“ . . . at the end of the day, you won’t make an iota of difference in this world. And your kids . . . more than likely your kids, are going to confuse your church with the church, and once they are out of your house, they probably won’t visit the church house. Then one day they will show up in a church like mine and want to get baptized again because they won’t be sure the first one took. And I’ll be happy to pastor your kids (p. 115).”
on Pastors who don’t preach for the unchurched:
You may have no desire to tweak your communication style so as to be more appealing to the unchurch and biblically illiterate in your community. That’s okay. There are a whole bunch of us out here committed to doing exactly that. And eventually we we will get around to planting a church in your community. And if you are like most church leaders, you’ll have a bad attitude. And we won’t care (p. 258).
to his children’s future Pastor:
“Please don’t steal their passion for the church because you are too lazy to learn. Too complacent to try something new. Too scared of the people who sign your paycheck.”
The thing that bothers me about this kind of arrogance is that it is dismissive of his critics. It isn’t an honest appeal to reach the unchurched, it is mocking those who disagree with him and don’t have churches of 30,000 people. Their theological objections should take a back seat to his utilitarian success.
Read Deep and Wide if:
Those who have a strong theological foundation and want some insight on leadership and organization would benefit a great deal from looking inside the mind of Andy Stanley. I plan on sharing the last section, entitled “Becoming Deep and Wide,” with leaders in my own church since it so clearly and concisely explains how to execute a change in your church based on vision, a topic on which Andy Stanley is an expert.
Don’t read Deep and Wide if:
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. You can purchase Deep and Wide here.