"Making people comfortable has never been the goal of the Church."
Google “Andy Stanley,” and you find hundreds of blogs and Web sites not only quoting this respected leader’s wisdom and insights, but actually listing specific lessons learned from listening to Andy Stanley talk.
Known as one of the most effective communicators in the Church today, Stanley readily shares what he has learned in more than two decades of ministry, including 14 years as founder and senior pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga (No. 3 Largest and Nov. 41 Fastest-Growing on the 2008 Outreach 100 Largest and Fastest-Growing churches lists). He is the headliner for the Catalyst conferences, where he speaks to crowds of more than 10,000 young leaders throughout the country. Moreover, at North Point’s annual Drive conference, Stanley interacts with church leaders of all ages who come to Atlanta to strengthen both their leadership skills and their church’s impact. And in his recent book, The Principle of the Path (Stanley has authored and co-authored more than 20 titles), he imparts more learned wisdom as he espouses and explores the truth that direction—not intention—determines destination in life.
So for those reasons and more, when we began to think about that pastor and leader every reader would want to consult with, Stanley’s name was first on the list. We gave pastors of smaller churches nationwide an opportunity to ask him specific questions about church leadership and impact. But as always is the case when Andy Stanley talks, the “aha” principles and creative ideas are universal for all leaders regardless of church size, location or demographic.
Q: How would you lead a church that has grown from five to 90 in four to five years, and now has every intention to keep moving forward? I’d love to hear about structure, teams, appropriate goals. — David Manafo, Westside Gathering, Montreal, Canada
A: Every leader, regardless of the size of his or her church, needs to be thinking about structure, teams, appropriate goals, etc. Creating systems and structures allows us to be a good steward of people. Sometimes I get negative feedback when I talk about systems—“Oh, Andy, you’re trying to make the church a business.” No, in the beginning God created the first systems. Everything He created is systematic, including our bodies. Systems support growth physically, organizationally, in nature. The systems you inherit, adopt or create will eventually impact what staff and volunteers do.
In terms of setting goals, David, I like that you want to set appropriate ones. It’s not good enough to set goals if they aren’t the right ones. At North Point, we have numeric goals in only one area—our community group strategy. We’ve asked, “How many adults, youth and children (not counting preschoolers) do we want in small groups?” We’ve set some pretty big goals. My biggest passion in terms of our church is to connect 100,000 people in small groups—not church attendance—because I think more life change happens in a circle than sitting in a row.
Numeric attendance goals can be dangerous. The better strategy is to tie a goal to spiritual growth. Since we’ve bought into the fact that spiritual life or growth happens within the context of relationships, we’ve set our goals within our framework of where relationships begin and are developed. We all know that people can sit in church and not necessarily grow spiritually. People meeting weekly in a home, opening God’s Word together, that’s where life change happens in the church. That’s why those are the only numeric goals we’ve ever set.
Q: But is there that optimal numeric size for an average church? Are there any measurements leaders can use to define their goals, when to multiply, etc.?
A: When we decided to go multicampus, we spent a long time asking, “What is the optimal size for a church?” I think it’s a question every leader or church planter has to ask. None of us wants our kids to be 12 feet tall. At some point, things quit growing, and they begin multiplying. That’s just the nature of life. But we don’t want our kids to be 2 feet tall either.
Here’s the answer we came up with. When I’ve shared this with church leaders, it’s sort of an “aha” moment. And this was not original from me; it came from one of our team members. We decided the optimal-size church is one that’s large enough to maintain a vibrant junior high and high school ministry that are split into two groups. So however many adults you need—and that number varies depending on the community you’re in—a church should be big enough to have these specific ministries with enough kids in both to make them a dynamic place where kids wants to be.
The leader who says, “Well, I think 300 is enough,” that’s someone who’s looking through the lens of “what’s comfortable for me.” They’re not thinking about the next generation. To impact the next generation, we have to create environments that are attractional and dynamic for middle school and high school kids. And that takes a few more adults than a lot of people are willing to concede. So I think we have to ask, “Ideally, how do we create strong student ministry?” And then let’s adjust our programming and our growth goals to that.
Q: About half of the people at our worship gathering are new visitors each week. What’s the best way to integrate regular attendees while at the same time focusing on outreach to the new guests? — Jaime Burdette, First Baptist Church, Rock Hill, S.C.
A: I’d suggest asking these questions: Are the new people coming as a result of being invited by the people who normally attend? Or are they coming as a result of a marketing campaign? If they’re coming in already connected relationally, they need information. If they’re coming in as a result of an ad campaign and they’re attracted by a sermon series, then they need relationships. Information can wait.
At North Point, we’ve never held new members classes. We don’t think it’s the best approach for us, although other churches do it and love it. We created a 20-minute session called NEXT, which meets between worship services twice a month. In the worship service, we say that if you’ve been attending here and you’re new and wondering what’s next, you need to go to NEXT. The NEXT environment is usually about 30 to 40 people. We have several staff members there who talk briefly about the mission and vision of the church and service opportunities. We just talk with those people and try to help them figure out their next steps. Some have relationships, but they need information. Others need relationships, so we point them toward small groups.
Q: I pastor a 90-year-old church in an urban core neighborhood. Most of our members are retired, and 90 percent of them drive from other neighborhoods to return here for church. How can we equip an older generation to effectively reach a younger one? — Rob Edwards, Cradock Baptist Church, Portsmouth, Va.
A: The way you get the older generation reaching the younger generation is to find a high felt need and meet it. I get criticism for always talking about felt needs, but again, anyone who reads the epistles of Paul realizes he was writing about felt needs—the things that were going on in local churches.
For the younger generation, there are two big felt needs—getting married and having children. At North Point, we’ve created a program called 2-to-1 Mentoring, which has allowed us to connect older and younger generations. We say to the older couple, “You know what, you have 10, 15, 30 years of marriage. You know way more about marriage than these young couples. Would you be willing to use your life experience to pour into this generation?” We’ve also created small groups where older couples come in for the year and lead four to five younger couples through a marriage curriculum. We fill up those small groups.