(Sara D Harper Photography)
ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Andy Stanley, senior pastor of North Point Community Church and founder of North Point Ministries, spoke to pastors and ministry leaders gathered at the Drive Conference in Alpharetta, Ga., Tuesday morning about the importance of creating a church template and culture which unchurched people find appealing, engaging, and helpful, with the ultimate goal of leading them to Jesus Christ.
"While we don't tailor the content for unbelievers, we do tailor the experience for them," explained Stanley to the nearly 2,500 in attendance and hundreds more watching online around the world. In a message titled, "Rules of Engagement," he highlighted the need for pastors to "stay at the epicenter of what is happening culturally" and develop a strategy to improve and adapt their approach to ministry.
"People are not on a truth quest; they are on a happiness quest," he said. "They will continue to attend your church – even if they don't share your beliefs – as long as they find the content engaging and helpful." Stanley described how the North Point Ministries model to "engage, involve, and challenge people" is designed to introduce them to a relationship with Jesus and emphasized that "the ultimate win is life change."
Stanley warned of the tension that comes with designing environments that are both unique and creative yet ordered and predictable, and said that when it comes to worship services, pastors must reject a "go with the flow" paradigm that doesn't involve intentional and strategic preparation. "God is a God of systems and predictability and order, and God honors planning," he said.
To move a diverse group in a common direction, Stanley explained that it is often effective to leverage common experiences and emotions without assuming a common belief system. "We don't begin with theology and beliefs, but we begin with what we have in common – fears, joys, challenges, and a need for love – and that draws people in," he said. "We want to move people physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We want to take them from where they are to the place where we think God wants them to be."
Jesus and the apostle Paul modeled this brilliantly and beautifully, said Stanley, citing Jesus' use of parables to connect with diverse groups of people and appeal to common emotions and experiences. "Not everyone agreed with His point, but everyone followed Him there," he said.
Stanley acknowledged that the Gospel message can be a stumbling block for many who come to church for the first time, but emphasized that everything else should welcome unbelievers in. "Every weekend, hundreds of people who are resistant to the Gospel walk through our doors," he said, referring to the Sunday services at North Point Ministries' churches. "If they are going to be offended, I don't want them to be offended by anything except the Cross. That's why we adapt what we do, and consequently we have had extraordinary success in reaching unchurched people."
Carey Nieuwhof, lead pastor of Connexus Community Church, a North Point Strategic Partner in Canada, and author of Leading Change Without Losing It, gained several insights from Stanley's message, which he hopes to share with others. "Often people get turned away not because of Christ, but because of people's bad attitudes or strange preferences for certain kinds of music or culture," he said. "There is such a huge and important distinction between content and experience, and opening up your service to the unchurched doesn't mean dumbing it down."
In addition to the main sessions that focus primarily on general principles for effective church ministry, the Drive Conference features multiple breakout sessions on specific topics including worship service programming, spiritual formation through small groups, and organizational change. Pastors and leaders representing 25 countries and 700 organizations are in attendance at this year's gathering.