Book Review: Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley

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Andy Stanley is one of the most influential leaders in American Christianity today, widely read and listened to. Though he has published on his ministry approach and strategy previously, Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend (Zondervan, 2012) is the book that speaks most directly to his experience with North Point Community Church. He shares his own story, the story of how North Point began, and their approach to ministry.

The Big Idea

By the time you finish the book, I hope you will be as convinced as I am that healthy local churches can be, and should be, both deep and wide. It’s not either/or. It’s both/and. Local churches should be characterized by deep roots and wide reaches. (p. 11)

Who is the church for? The church has wrestled with the question since the early years of the Christian movement. That is the question behind each section of Deep and Wide, and the book’s answer is, for people not in the church. One biblical compass point for North Point’s focus on unchurched people and practical design of ministry settings, including worship, is James’ statement in Acts 15:19 at the Jerusalem Council: “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Andy asserts, “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.” (p. 63)

Going Deep: Rethinking Spiritual Formation

“We don’t believe classes create mature believers. Classes create smart believers. That’s different.” (p. 69)

Andy describes their model for spiritual formation as the “secret sauce” that makes North Point the church that it is today. Increasing knowledge does not have to be separated from increasing mature faith and trust in God but most church leaders know that it can be. (And we often know it from personal experience!) The critical move is from a set of classes that provide knowledge to a set of five catalysts that God uses to grow people’s faith. North Point’s design orients a discipleship path around getting those catalysts active in the lives of participants, to the best of their ability. The catalysts are: practical teaching, private disciplines, personal ministry, providential relationships, and pivotal circumstances.

Going Wide: Why Unchurched People Love to Attend

If you don’t create an objective standard [for excellence], evaluation in your church will rest on two legs: attendance and stories. While those are two good things to pay attention to, they are not enough. (p. 111)

Preachers love a full room and heart-warming story at least as much as the next person. Numbers and stories are important, but the processes are too if we are to stay true to our guiding mission. In order to cast a wide net for unchurched people, North Point asks three questions of each ministry environment: Is the setting appealing? Is the presentation engaging? Is the content helpful? And, in addition to the long-term “win” of life change, the immediate win for their weekend worship services is “when a regular attendee brings an unchurched friend who enjoys the service so much that he or she returns the following week.” (p. 134)

The Take Away

There are more assumption-challenging questions raised, practical nuggets, and highlight-worthy lines in Deep and Wide than can be hinted at here. In addition to the material described above, the chapter on preaching (within the “Going Wide” section) and the section on leading change are worthwhile in and of themselves. The book is ideal for clergy groups or church staffs to read and discuss together. Regardless of how much you agree or disagree with Andy Stanley’s approach to ministry, the questions and insights he raises are reason enough to read the book. Deep and Wide will likely inspire and inform. It definitely provokes, in a good way.

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Guy Williams is Senior Pastor of the United Methodist Temple in Port
Arthur, Texas. A graduate of Texas A&M University and Asbury Seminary,
he is married with three children. Follow him on twitter @guymwilliams
or find him online at guymwilliams.net.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for the review, Guy. I guess I am going to have to read the book, because right now I am a bit confused by Stanley’s approach to worship service and preaching. I have been listening to his podcasts for some time now, and he is a gifted teacher. However, I find more and more that his message is not a message of salvation through Christ alone, but a message of better life through activity, with maybe a little help from faith. Appealing to unchurched? Perhaps. Developing deeper Christians? Certainly not (heck, he goes through whole sermon series where the message really isn’t Christian, i. e. Christ-centric, at all).

    Like I said, guess I need to learn more about his style.

  2. Good review, good thoughts. Like you said, I really enjoyed the book even when I didn’t agree. I appreciate Stanley’s dedication to what he feels God has called their church to be and his insistence that you don’t have to do things his way but you should let your presuppositions, vision, strategy, and approach be challenged.

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