[Note: Before you read this post, please know that I like Andy Stanley. I don’t know him, but I’ve read many of his books. I recommend Communicating for Change to anyone who preaches. He’s been on the leading edge of children’s and youth ministry. I’m not sure if I’m defending him or not. I’ll let you decide.]
A few weeks back, Andy Stanley said something in a sermon that offended a whole bunch of people. Here’s what he said…
When I hear adults say, ‘I don’t like a big church. I like about 200. I wanna be able to know everybody.’ I say you are so stinkin’ selfish. You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your five friends. You don’t care about your kids, anybody else’s kids. If you don’t go to a church large enough, where you can have enough middle-schoolers and high-schoolers so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult. Get over it. Find yourself a big ol’ church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people, and grow up and love the local church. Instead, what you do…you drag your kids to a church they hate, and then they grow up and hate the local church, and then they go off to college, and you pray there’ll be a church in their college town that they connect with, and guess what: all those churches are big, the kind of church you don’t like. Don’t attend a church that teaches your children to hate church.
Thanks to social media, the negative response was immediate. I have a different take. I want to say Thank you to Andy Stanley.
I thank Andy because what he said reflects common assumptions within American church culture. Instead of attacking Andy Stanley for saying it out loud, we should be talking about those assumptions. Here are some of those assumptions…
- Bigger is better.
- Church is a place where you go to get your needs met.
- The needs of kids trump all other concerns.
- More kids = better program. (An assumption we never make about class size in schools).
- A church is a vendor of religious goods and services.
- add yours here…
What we have in Andy’s comment is a rare moment when the truth rises to the surface! It sounded ugly. But “Does it sound ugly?” or “Am I offended by what he said?” good questions? Rather, I think we should ask, “Are Andy’s assumptions shared by others?”, “Do Andy’s assumptions function in the life of churches?”, “Do we really believe what Andy said, even though we are unwilling to say it out loud?”.
The most unhelpful thing we can do now is push the issues raised by Andy’s comments under the rug. We need to let go of the myth of the mega-church savior of American Christianity. What Andy did (and does) through North Point, frankly, is an anomaly not a model. Most churches can’t become North Point, even if they tried. If we don’t challenge the assumptions underneath Andy’s comments, we will continue to chase after a model that is unattainable.
If Andy truly wanted to be helpful to smaller churches he should not apologize. He should stick by his statement if, indeed, he believes it is true. If he doesn’t, then an apology is insufficient. I suggest that if he doesn’t believe it, he should release every family at North Point (or one of its campuses), that came there from a smaller church, to return to the congregations they came from.
My two cents.