Oct 4, 2012

Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley - A Book Review

A couple of months ago I saw a tweet where someone could get a preview of Andy Stanley's new book "Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend" for review.  It was on a website called NetGalley.  Naturally a book nerd and one who loves free stuff, I went to check it out and signed up.  It was delivered to me in a digital format for my Kindle which was a little different.  However, I was very excited to read and review it.  I have followed Andy Stanley's ministry and journey at North Point most of my time in ministry.  Stanley is one of the most engaging and effective communicators I have ever heard.  He has been given a very strong platform to teach leadership lessons for church leaders.  I have been to North Point at least a dozen times for conferences or worship experiences.  I have heard Andy speak at Catalyst and the DRIVE Conference.  I follow his leadership podcasts.  I have 12 of Andy's book on my shelf and have read almost all of them.  So, I went into the book with an expectation that I would probably be familiar with much of what was in it.  I was.  But, there was much in there I could learn from too.

The first section of the book that traces Andy's story at First Baptist, Atlanta with his dad through the starting of North Point is worth the price of the book.  Growing up in the shadow of a gifted and revered father was surely no easy task for Stanley.  When he went into ministry, he had great gifts and great expectations on him.  I knew some of Andy's story through following his parent's divorce and conversations I had with people in Atlanta who I knew.  But Andy does a great job peeling back the curtain to show that the starting of North Point was in many ways a defining moment and a divine opportunity.

I know that many of my pastor friends in the more Reformed/doctrinal preaching camp do not have a lot of appreciation for Andy Stanley.  In many ways, Andy comes across very dependent on corporate models of leadership.  His big church and his big platform make him a target of criticism.  Some of the criticism probably has some legs to it.  Much of it doesn't though.  There will be many things in this book that will make the "gospel-centered/missional church" crowd uncomfortable and argumentative.  I found myself writing several notes in my Kindle arguing some of Andy's points.  I went into the book knowing that the evidence is there for North Point being "wide" but I wanted Andy to show my some of the "deep".  Personally,  I didn't find a lot of testimony of depth.   I think that Andy narrowly defines the gospel as the preaching of Christ's death to get lost people converted.  I don't think Andy communicates in the book an appreciation that the gospel and not slick methods are what produces true conversion and sanctification.  Not surprisingly, I think Andy communicates a very man-centered understanding of evangelism.  At times when reading the book, I had the impression that Andy believes that the conversion is too deeply dependent upon what we do rather than how God is drawing that person and invites us into the process.  Much of what Andy communicates is formulaic and fosters the impression that if you use their formula or tweak it to work in your context, you will get the same results.  He also implies in some of the book that numerical growth, especially the kind of explosive growth they have seen, is the leading indicator of spiritual health.  I don't think Andy appreciates the complexities that exist for small-church pastors who reside in overly-churched areas on the rural South where growth is slow and tedious.

Having said all that, I found many strengths in the book.  One is that reading it gave me a sense of hope that my church can and should be doing much more to reach the unchurched in my area.  I like that Andy says that too often we create the "church" for "churched" people and forget that many don't come to our church precisely because we have unwittingly communicated that we don't want them.  I was forced to think about some of the language I use when I preach.  I was forced to remember not to assume that everyone in my congregation knows the background to the Bible stories like I do.  Another strength is his challenge to church leaders to lead through the necessary change no matter how hard it is.  It's far easier and more safe to keep those inside happy because they pay the bills and ultimately our salary.  However, when we decide to start reaching the outsiders, we will upset some of the insiders.  I appreciate that North Point and Andy take very seriously the challenge of reaching the lost and unchurched and their numbers show that much of their growth is reaching those who didn't go to church rather than pulling in sheep from another congregation.

Deep and Wide is a book that is worth reading, highlighting, and dialoguing with.  You likely won't agree with everything Stanley writes, nor should you.  He anticipates that point and even issues some arguments in the book.  However, I think every church leader can find some leadership nuggets and some programmatic challenges worth talking about in the book.  It would be a great book to read as a staff.


Heather Fay said...

Can u please email me at hhollingsworth@hotmail.com when u have a moment. Heather

Andrew R said...

Thanks for posting this review. If you decide to lead your church through any changes I pray that God will bless you in it.
Best - Andrew R.