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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"Deep and Wide" (Andy Stanley)

TITLE: Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend
AUTHOR: Andy Stanley
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (354 pages).

This book comes with a single big idea: creating churches that unchurched people love to attend. It is a paradigm shifter, a comfort-zone shaker, and 354-page showcase of creative ways to breathe new life into an old story. Beginning with a powerful statement that calls for leaders not to be fixated on filling the cups of others, but to be focused on emptying one's own cup, Stanley urges leaders to create churches, not events. He shares intimate details of his relationships with his family, especially his father, his interactions with Church leaders, and the lessons and risks he has learned and taken, to bring North Point Community Church to where it is right now. Two questions guide the flow of the book.
  1. What is Church?
  2. Who is the Church for?
Part One, "My Story" covers some of the most intimate details of the author's relationship with his famous dad, Charles Stanley, how both of them work together, lunch together, and minister together through fighting and hugging. He tells of his extended family struggles over divorces, and dysfunctional relationships, as well as his ups and does in and out of churches.  Part Two, "Our Story" talks about the historical Church from the first Century to Constantine, from the Reformers to the Present Age, Stanley poses more questions for the modern Church.
  • Is the Church moving or simply meeting?
  • Is the Church making a real difference in the community or neighbourhood?
  • Is the Church organized around a mission that is up to date?
  • Is the Church letting the hope of Christ drives their ministry, or the limits of modern constraints dictating the programs?
  • Is the Church a living organism of an archaic organization?
Key to Stanley's approach to Church is to ask what will draw unbelievers or the unchurched into churches. Practically, he opts for something that works more than something that must be true. Theologically, he seeks to apply a "full dose of truth along with a full dose of grace." Realistically, for the Church to be a life-changer, it needs to adopt radical ideas that may seem unconventional. For example, some ideas include things like putting young leaders early in leadership, or to accept people without formal theological training, or to try anything to stimulate creativity and change for the better. Stanley weighs his approach as follows:  "Our doctrinal statement is conservative. Our approach to ministry is not." (81)

Part Three forms the core of the book as Stanley talks about the five "essential ingredients" of spiritual formation, called "Five Faith Catalysts." The first catalyst is "Practice Teaching" which comprises tips on communications, like practical applications at the end of each message, speaking to the minds of people who are more interested in what-works rather than what's-true, helpfulness, and growing people's faith. The second catalyst is "Private Disciplines" that challenges people to allow their private devotional lives to develop according to the priority-progressive-percentage framework. For example, applying that to giving, one gives first, saves second, and then lives on the rest. There is an emphasis on getting people to read the Bibles, not just Christians, but unbelievers as well. The third catalyst is "Personal Ministry" that pushes backward people's fears in order to bring forward a step of faith. The key advantage is that when people are thrust into the forefront of ministry work, in such an environment, a ministry that looks like a plain program becomes filled with faces and real lives of people. Stanley justifies this approach by saying:
"Ministry makes people's faith bigger. If you want to increase someone's confidence in God, put him in a ministry position before he feels fully equipped." (130)
While the first three catalysts are something that people can choose to do, the next two are things that "choose" us. The fourth catalyst is "Providential Relationships." This is when people tell their stories, they invariably bring in a whole range of people who have in some way played a part in their conversion experience. They relate it back to God. Such initiatives are not restricted only to believers. Even unbelievers can play a part in Church ministry, in small groups, and in serving teams. The fifth catalyst is "Pivotal Circumstances" where one shares about defining moments of their lives. It can be a crisis of faith, a sudden revelation or an interpretation. Some of the ways relationships are formed are through:
  • Baptism to showcase how God works in individual lives;
  • Mentoring on the ratio of 2 to 1 to guide individuals or couples;
  • Small group structure for relationship support
  • Family ministry group structure where a mature believer can guide a group of younger believers.
 Section Four deals with practical ideas on what attracts unchurched people to church. Like,
  • Creating an environment where people want to come: The setting that is inviting, a presentation that is engaging, and a content that is helpful.
  • In engaging, purpose must determine the approach
  • Determine what are the kinds of measurable wins for each ministry each weekend
  • Moving from engaging -> involving -> challenging people
  • Five template elements: Pre-service experience, the Opening, the Welcoming, the Singing, and the Baptizing, the Special events, the Messaging, and the Closing. 
  • Preaching that is "double-barreled" to preach to both believers and non-believers with one central message. Key to this approach is to focus on "approach" and "presentation" over "content."
Section Five deals with the challenges of transitioning a status-quo church to one that is "Deep and Wide." This is perhaps the hardest to tackle for many churches stuck in the old paradigms.

My Thoughts

A book like "Deep and Wide" is an honest sharing of the journey of North Point Community Church, especially the ministry philosophy and approach of the author. One can see that while he tries to break new ground, like tapping into the unchurched people group, or the radical practice of what-works over what's-true, it is a road less traveled, simply because the status-quo churches are too entrenched and too comfortable in their existing structures. By starting a new church afresh, Stanley is able to put a lot of these new ideas into play. More importantly, the pioneer group of charter members are people willing to give these new ideas a shot. By constantly questioning the old structures and old ways of ministry with new possibilities and new ways of reaching out to people, Stanley has boldly replaced a backward-looking "Why?" with a forward-looking "Why not?"  If an idea is controversial to human preferences, but helpful for drawing people into the Church, or to pique one's curiosity to check out the church, the opportunity to share the gospel is widened. Some readers may be skeptical about the book's unabashed emphasis on what-works over what-is-true, but I think there is a merit to that. If what-works can draw them in, they can very well find out what-is-true in due time. Perhaps, there is the unfortunate comparison of practical ideas over theological truths. That said, what works may not necessarily be false. What is true may not necessarily spring up any hot application right away. As long as the Church is aware of its identity, its mission, and who it lives for, there is hope. "Deep and Wide" may very well be one of the biggest paradigm shifters or difference makers for anyone of us wanting to bring our churches to the next level.  More importantly, this book is immediately useful, gradually helpful, and overwhelmingly hopeful.

Kudos to Andy Stanley for sharing this gem.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan and EngagingChurch blog tour without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.


  1. Thanks for posting this excellent review, Conrade. As always, I appreciate how much thought you put into your reviews. I think they truly serve the church.

    1. Hi Andrew,

      Thank you for your kind words. Deeply appreciated, and thanks to your role in linking us with the ministry at Zondervan.

      With grace and peace,