interesting comment from andy stanley

andy stanley, the senior pastor of a mega-church in suburban atlanta (north point community church), is an interesting guy. he’s extremely focused; very clear on what he and his church are attempting to accomplish (and, frankly, they’re accomplishing it quite well). he has spoken multiple times at the ys convention in the past. every time he has spoken, prior to this last fall, i have thought he had very prophetic and challenging messages. i remember very few messages over the years from our conventions, but i still remember andy’s — especially his talk on ministry leaders needing to “cheat” on some area (family, ministry), and his challenge to cheat on our ministry time, not our families, trusting that god will fill in the gaps in our ministries. i think this talk even became a book. this last fall, i wasn’t quite as keen on what he had to say (it actually made me pretty mad) — but that’s another subject.

but i was blown away by a few things from andy this week. adam cleaveland posted about visiting andy’s church on his blog (adam’s) pomomusings. and andy responded with (what i saw as) an appropriately funny response — in the comments section. this opened up a virtual can-o-worms of comments (it will take you a long time to read them all!) in all of this, i was very impressed by andy’s openness and willingness to engage and respond (kudos, andy). but, he really caught my attention with his comment about his church’s strategy for when a church is too big. he posed the question, and left it hanging; then came back later and responded with the following strategy:

As to the optimal church size… I pretty much agree with what everyone has written. In fact, our answer to that question may seem a bit…simplistic… compared to previous entries.

Our theory is that a church should be allowed or encouraged to grow large enough to sustain a viable high school and middle school ministry. A successful student ministriy requires critical mass in order to capture and keep the attention of their target audience. So the question becomes, how many aduilts are required to generate critical mass for a student ministry? That depends upon the demographic of a community.

If you are a twenty six year old seminary student with a couple of kids in diapers that may not sound like a great answer. But if you are a church planter with 150 people and one of your elders just informed you that her family is leaving because you don’t have anything for her thirteen year old, it makes painful sense.

Parents will put up with a lot in big church if thier teenagers feel connected to a student ministry.

That’s it. Reaction welcomed. We’re still learning.

what an interesting idea. what a wonderful thing for a senior pastor (and a whole church) to embrace! whether you agree or not (i think i do, but i need to noodle on it a bit more), any youth worker HAS to appreciate this kind of attitude from a mega-church! and, really, i’d SO much rather mega-churches have this kind of attitude than one that says, “we’ll just throw millions of dollars at our youth ministry and build it into the biggest flagship youth ministry in the nation.”

15 thoughts on “interesting comment from andy stanley”

  1. Marko-
    I appreciate Andy’s support of youth ministry. Pretty cool to hear from him. Also, I remember being in Atlanta when he spoke last year and people around me were booing him. I had never seen people respond to Andy in that way. If I were a big fat jerk I would have booed him too. Instead I just talked bad about him after he left. :O)

  2. I’ve been following the comments over at pomo – I think it shows a HUGE amount of integrity that Andy’s open to talking through stuff like this with other Christian leaders.
    I also have to say that I’m encouraged by other blogs’ openness to Andy’s strategy (which I whole-heartedly welcome and embrace within my own student ministries). Too often I read blogs that take shots at larger student ministries/churches and I leave the site hurting and feeling bruised. Thanks for wrestling with this on your site so openly, Marko!

  3. Do you really think that was Andy Stanley? I assumed it was an imposter, even though it sounded plausible.

  4. Another question, what is a viable student ministry size, in your opinion. At what point is there a critical mass. I think I agree with his point as a whole…but have questions about this aspect.

    But I have never been a part of a church that ran over 250 people before….

  5. Hey Brian…

    Your comments and objections are well written. A few thoughts from me, for what they are worth (since that is what this whole blog thing is about, right?)

    I dont hear or read that much expectation around North Point (or from Andy) for the “environment” to “do” anything other than be the best environment than it can be as to not hinder the connection of man to Christ. The mission/strategy of NP is “to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ by creating environments where people are encouraged and equipped to pursue intimacy with God, community with insiders, and influence with those outside the faith.” In other words, the mission is to lead people into a relationship with Christ. Bottom line. (and… Uh… that’s about the only foundational mission worth having if you are a church, me thinks). HOW that is done is where the fun is. North Point’s strategy emphasis happens to be on paying a lot of attention to how they create environments where that can happen. The NP environment doesnt “do” anything. It is simply the place where “it” happens and “it” can only happen as “it” always has happened… amid the power of God through the Holy Spirit and amid the grace given to us through Christ.

    Obviously, what was heard at NYWC Atlanta was a pretty passionate Andy saying that he thinks a lot of churches arent doing the best job at creating healthy environments. I cant say I disagree. Andy’s emphasis isn’t on whipping up some environment that hypnotizes attenders to be inauthentic. It is actually the opposite. It is more about building a place where people CAN be authentic… and comfortable… and hear words that they understand … and stay awake … and not be distracted by stuff… and hear words that they understand … and see how those words (which are God’s words, if you were wondering) apply to their real life. (Actually, I’m reminded that what NP calls the most important environment has nothing technical in it… it is the small group. Just people and God.)

    I hate to say it, but there are a lot of church environments out there that arent paying attention to the environments that they create, and, to be honest, it scares me. I love the Kingdom. I don’t want thousands of churches to die with the baby boomer generation. But, churches are dying each week and they feel good about it because they are “doing it they way they’ve always done it.”

    All I know is that when I flip through architecture books, I see this. Environments have changed through the ages, but the physical principles that hold those buildings up and the gravitational laws that keep that building stuck to the earth haven’t. If you ask me (and I’m not sure you did), such is how it should be parts of the church world that want to reach new generations. Environments change. Church buildings change. Stages and pulpits change. Lights and sound changes. Styles of music change. Orders of worship change (gasp!). The principles of God and the love of Christ DO NOT.

    Modern architecture exists because of the discovery and advance of every age of architecture. We don’t build em like they used to. We build them differently, but we are only able to build them because their architectural ancestors existed. I have nothing against the way church was done 400 years ago (or 50 years ago for that matter). The church of 2005 only exists because of the church of 1605 and 1955. No tension there. I love singing 300 year old hymns in my “contemporary” church and baptizing like Jesus did. I also love my iPod. I appreciate the influence of the 8-track player in the evolution of music devices, but I’ll keep my iPod, if that is OK. I can tell that I’m walking on cracking ice here (and am bracing for the inevitable rebut), so I’ll be quiet… but you get the point that I believe/feel, and, by no means, want to force on you. Andy was invited to NYWC Atlanta and that was his point. Andy said it. Some loved it. Some didn’t. It made others discuss and think. It made some change they way the do ministry. It solidified others in their previous ways. It’s all good.

    Back to the main question … Does environment really matter? Shouldn’t any person that loves God be fine in any church environment? If the place is miserable, the people are distant, the tone is elitist, and the worship and message isn’t engaging, helpful, or relevant, shouldn’t he just grin and bear it?

    Well, environment does matter. Ask the seed that is set on the pavement and asked to grow. Environment does matter.

    Just my thoughts…

    (Hey look, ma.. I’m a blogger!)

  6. brian — sorry, bro, but i deleted your comment. really, you didn’t do anything wrong — your comment wasn’t mean-spirited. i just don’t want this thread to be about what’s wrong with andy’s message, when i’m trying to affirm something he said about youth ministry and the church that i think is really intriguing and worth considering.

  7. clint — i have a little bias on this, as i am passionate about seeing fantastic middle school ministries. and most (the majority, at least) youth ministry treat middle school as an afterthought. i think there are some fantastic middle school ministries in small churches, run by volunteers. but along the lines of what andy said, i certainly wouldn’t want to stop growth when it is moving toward a place where a church could hire a full-time young teen specialist (not to be the lone-ranger JH girl, of course — but to be the specialist who really understands and knows young teens, and can raise up a group of passionate and trained volunteers to do the real ministry). i think a middle school ministry of over 25 or 30 kids deserves a part-time staff person. and a middle school ministry of 75 or more deserves a full-time staff person (maybe even 60 or more). on the other end, i think a middle school much over 200 has a whole different set of challenges to deal with, and has a distinct possibility of decreasing in effectiveness.

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