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REVIEW: Megachurch insight for healthy growth

Larry W. Osborne. Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Dangers of Overzealous Faith. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2012. 196 pages. $14.99.
Andy Stanley. Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2012. 350 pages. $24.99.
Few would argue that Christianity is at a transition point in history.
Churches across the religious spectrum are aging, shrinking and closing. Growing churches exist, but with a few exceptions, those growing churches do not have the name Church of Christ on the door.
It is easy to write off those churches: Not part of our history. Theologically suspect. Fluffy.
Authors Larry Osborne and Andy Stanley lead megachurches on opposite sides of the country. In their newest books, each offers insights from which Church of Christ leaders can learn. Osborne shows how Christians unwittingly sabotage their own efforts to be faithful. Stanley offers a church structure that can be both engaging and faithful.
In “Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Dangers of Overzealous Faith,” Osborne keenly diagnoses a significant roadblock to healthy churches: Christians who unknowingly resemble Pharisees more than Christ.
Pharisees don’t produce healthy churches. And no one thinks he or she is a Pharisee. The dynamic between these two simple statements supplies the overarching message of the book. 
Becoming a Pharisee does not happen with intention, but this mindset can develop when not intentionally kept in check. Osborne’s goal is to help readers recognize and avoid Pharisee-like traits.
He does this by exploring six characteristics of accidental Pharisees: pride, exclusivity, legalism, idolizing the past, quest for uniformity and gift projection (valuing one’s gift over the gifts of others).
Although the distinctions among these characteristics blur at times, Osborne’s delineation and description of the characteristics are helpful to anyone involved in church leadership or desiring personal self-examination. The author also gives tools for better understanding Pharisaical brothers and sisters without simply writing them off.
Osborne succeeds in writing about these people without vilifying them by identifying the Pharisaical tendencies in his own life and ministry. He avoids “us” and “them” thinking by making “them” into “all of us.” In this way he is able to speak frankly about Christians and our shortcomings without becoming bitter.
The format of the book and the writing style are accessible to a wide audience. Scripture texts, for example, are in footnotes.
From San Diego, Osborne tells us to stop repelling people from our churches. From Atlanta, Stanley shows us how to build congregations that attract the unchurched.
It seems ironic that the son of well-known minister Charles Stanley and leader of the multi-site megachurch North Point Ministries, would write a book that is critical of the seeker-sensitive model of church.
But “Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend,” does just that.
Stanley acknowledges, “The best performers usually build the biggest churches, but not necessarily the healthiest ones.” The focus of his book is to offer an alternative to the mentality of many church models — either you’re big (and shallow) or small (and narrow). The church must be both deep and wide, he argues.
A “wide” church is focused on the unchurched. Churches tend to start out this way, he writes. Over time, they turn inward, becoming a church “for church people.”
“Deep” churches guide people to a stronger faith, Stanley writes. The spiritual formation discussion surrounding his five “faith-building dynamics” is worth the price of the book. He isn’t interested in fluff.
As for building a deep church, Stanley writes, “Our goal isn’t to create an event unchurched people love to attend. We are creating churches.”
This is an important departure from other seeker-sensitive models. Whereas both emphasize the role of the worship service as a place that is welcoming and comfortable for the unchurched, Stanley’s model integrates spiritual formation.
“Deep and Wide” begins with the story of how Stanley’s vision developed, then provides the theology grounding his model. Section three describes the spiritual formation process (deep) and section four, the process of building “irresistible environments” (wide), including tips for preachers. The final section addresses congregational change.
Stanley offers a very personal glimpse into his ministry and then explains how his church developed into its current expression. This is a strength. The issues he and his congregation have tackled will resonate with anyone in a context of ministry leadership.
At the same time, Stanley is blessed by the credibility of his father and the large church where both Stanleys ministered. Having such momentum will seem idealistic to those in small churches or those without the financial and people resources available to a suburban Atlanta church.
It is easy to shoot at those who are not of our tribe, especially when they are such large, megachurch targets.
But both Osborne and Stanley are practical and bluntly explain what we in Churches of Christ least want to admit: When our kids leave our houses, they often leave our churches as well.
If they come back to church, they seek congregations that are intentionally both deep and wide and filled with people who are like Christ — not the Pharisees he condemned.
MARK PARKER is young adults minister for the Grand Central Church of Christ in Vienna, W.Va.

  • Feedback
    The Chronicle is a good source of information and very informative.
    Mary Vaughn
    New Haven
    Hamden, CT
    May, 31 2013

    There seems to be an assumption that to be a growing church one must be or become a mega church. However do not neglect the intentionally small organic churches (I.e., house churches and cell churches)!
    Darryl Willis
    Ennis, Texas
    May, 17 2013

    Where in scripture does it say place membership in a church. This practice makes new comers feel outside the church. Church is not like a club you join. Jesus adds people to the church.
    a non denomenational church
    menifee, ca
    May, 17 2013

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