In Search of Better Stories

Book Review for Deep & Wide

    The Big idea: Do whatever it takes to create a church experience that unchurched people like, and will come back to. To use Andy’s terminology his church was going into “the unchurched people market.” Evidently, they are pretty good at attracting people who have fallen out of the habit of church attendance — a 97% approval rating from returning guests their statistician says. Andy is unapologetically attractional. Since we live in a consumeristic world it’s important to leverage consumeristic instincts. The church needs to be the best party in town. According to Stanely, this is exactly the way Jesus operated when he was on the earth. Also since nobody cares about the truth, the smart churches will play to the desire that everyone has to be happy. If you want people to return, you must make them happy. According to Stanely, that’s what Jesus did as well. The environment of the church has to be perfect, so you have to hire people to make sure it is, volunteers just don’t make the cut, it’s that important. Salvation, it would seem, has a direct connection to the first impression of the physical environment that one has when entering a church building – even the parking lot experience is crucial! (Not a problem if you live in the West End since there aren’t any parking lots 🙂 If you can make a church building not look like a church building that will give you an edge, also lighting, sound, and cleanliness are all critical to success. Churches are in the business of presentation so one must present very well. Perception is everything, so staffers need to be trained to manage perception through skilled control of church environments. The church is defined by the Sunday service, anything less than perfection on that day is a fail. Getting money is key because if you are going to do something right it costs a lot, so any time there is a life change story, capitalize on it, and use it to bring in the money.

 I understand church differently…Some aspects of this book were helpful. For example, they speak about how preaching needs to be with a view toward life change, how the church is not about equality and fairness, but rather blessing, and how it’s important to teach leaders “on the job” more than in the class room. Stanely has some excellent questions that church leaders should continually be asking themselves to help “stay married to the mission and not the method” as he puts it. But the lion share of the book I really struggled with, I simply don’t understand church the way Andy Stanely does. If I was hoping to set up a department store or something like that this book would be very helpful, but I am not. I understand the church as a family. Families are not professional or polished but they are real, so we think in very different categories.

I understand Jesus differently…I also think Andrew Stanley is incorrect in connecting his model for ministry with the life of Jesus. Jesus was not “attractional” he was incarnational and there is a huge difference. Jesus was not interested in leveraging the consumeristic instincts of his world, on the contrary, to the culture of his day, Jesus was consistently and radically counter-cultural. What part of “come and die with me” and “eat my flesh and blood” appealed to consumers? Jesus was not concerned about perfect environments, and professional staff equipped to make people feel comfortable and happy, He wasn’t into managing perception at all! Jesus didn’t exploit life-change stories.  Often he encouraged people to tell no one, what he had done for them! Jesus wasn’t concerned about “leveraging” anything, but he was extremely concerned about the truth — he himself claimed to be it.

 Humility is always to be preferred…Unfortunately, Andrew Stanely brings to this discussion an unhelpful swagger. The book comes complete with the condescending tone of one who has finally figured it all out.  There are little comments scattered throughout the book that does little to encourage the reader to apply even the better parts of this book.  Quotes like “bet that made you mad” or “bet you didn’t think about that” or “hate to burst your bubble but”  or (if you don’t do things our way you will fail and) “eventually we will get around to planting a church in your community”.

Andrew Stanely, I have no doubt, is doing great things.  People are coming to know and love Jesus through his ministry & in that, I rejoice. I also recognize that the aggressive style of his book is probably reflective of his personality or by design to generate a response. We are all different in God’s kingdom and there is room for all of us. I suspect if I met Andrew in person we’d probably find ourselves a lot closer than his book & my review of it indicate.

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