Andy Stanley: Catalyst for Growth

“You do the right thing, and you trust God with the consequences. Period. It’s just that simple.”

You have a definitive approach to ministry, and it’s not the same as the church you grew up in. What were the key experiences that have shaped your view of church ministry following seminary?

I really do think preacher’s kids see church differently. In some ways, we see it from the inside out. Generally, preacher’s kids are harder to impress because we went home with the pastor every Sunday. When preacher’s kids hear, “Well, the Spirit was really moving that night,” we always say, “No, the room was full.” Or someone says, “He’s such a man of God,” and we’re like, “I don’t know. Let’s ask his wife and kids.” You want to know if someone’s a man of God? Don’t evaluate him when he has a microphone strapped to his head; go home with him. There’s a discernment that comes with being a preacher’s son or daughter.

In some ways that background made it easier for me to discern what was the important part of church and what was just he cultural part—the add-on.

So a little healthy skepticism makes it easier to discern what’s essential. Still, that gets worked out in the crucible of experience.

Well, the first ministry transition in my own life happened when I graduated from seminary and went to work for my dad. I was trying to go to Baylor University and get a Ph.D. in religion, and I didn’t get accepted in the program, so I was kind of stuck. I had assumed that was the next step for me. But the youth pastor at my dad’s church had just resigned, so they asked me if I would fill in for the summer. I said sure. I didn’t have anything else to do.

Here I was with all this high-end Dallas Theological Seminary education, and I’m basically taking kids to Six Flags for the summer.

But in the middle of that, I created a program that was extremely successful and extremely fun. And as I saw how excited high school and middle school students were with the services we created, I began to wonder, Why couldn’t this same sense of excitement and passion and energy be part of adult worship?

I wasn’t the first person to have these thoughts or ask these questions—this was back in the mid-’80s. There were some people kind of messing around the edges in other parts of the country, but in Atlanta, church was so traditional. There wasn’t anything like what was beginning to take place in California or even in [the Chicago area] with Willow Creek.

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I saw more and more adults come to our student events—and they would say, “Wow! We wish big church was like this.” So I kept thinking, You know, I bet it could be.

So indirectly at least, the idea behind North Point grew out of your experimentation while still at First Baptist Atlanta.

It definitely began in my student ministry days. When I was working with my dad, people would say, “Andy, are you going to become the pastor of this church someday?” I’d say, “I’m really here to serve my dad.” I had no desire to start a church. I had no desire to pastor a church because then I would have to do adult ministry, and I dreaded the thought of ever having to do that. There was so much freedom and creativity in student ministry.

By 1992, First Baptist had pretty much packed out its downtown campus, so the church decided it would relocate to the suburbs and bought a big warehouse facility. My dad asked me if I’d go out there with a team and start having services. And I thought, Oh, I can’t wait.

So we got out there, and it was so informal because the place we were meeting in was so informal. And it was awesome. It was just like student ministry for adults.

The environment forced us to be creative; it forced us out of a traditional box. And literally that first day, as I was walking back to the construction trailer where we had our little office, I told my wife, “This is what I want to do the rest of my life. This is it. This is going to work.”

We felt we could capture the imagination of people who had given up on church if we could do it in a different way.

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[My dad] let us kind of blaze our own trail. He did not micromanage the process. He took criticism for our crazy ideas, but he trusted us. We just did some different things, and we packed it out. And we packed it out again. And we had chairs everywhere. It was amazing.

Once we got infected with being able to do church that way, we were ruined. That was it. There was no going back.

By the time North Point Community Church was born in 1995, there was a settled intentionality about what you were trying to do.

Basically, we wanted to remove every unnecessary obstacle to a person understanding the gospel. That was pretty much it.

The driving theological statement for us came from Acts 15, when the apostles and elders argued against adding any unnecessary burdens to the Gentiles turning to God. We should not make it difficult.

The problem is not the gospel. The problem is the church has made it difficult. So let’s remove anything that we can remove that makes it difficult. And then let’s add everything we can to make it easy—not to make the gospel easy, but to make accessibility to the Gospel easy.

That really was what drove us in those early days. And honestly, it drives us today. And it’s just so fun for me to see.

We have seven churches running the same model, and I show up and listen to the stories, meet and lead our staff. And they’re just as passionate as we were in those early days, and they’re younger than me, and they’re smarter than me, and I wonder sometimes if I could even get hired to work here. Honestly. They just so get it.