Dear Members of North Point Ministries Churches,
In the past few days, I have read four open letters written to Andy Stanley; one from Jonathan Aigner, one from Tom Buck, one from Hardin Crowder, and one from Dave Richmond. These letters were written in response to Stanley’s recent derisive comments about small churches. You’ve likely never heard of any of these men. My name is Seth Dunn. I doubt you’ve heard of me. Neither I nor any of the men mentioned above are anywhere near as famous as the man who calls himself your pastor. Like the men mentioned above, I am writing an open letter. Yet, I’m not writing an open letter to one man, to Andy Stanley. I’m not calling on him to repent or change his ways. I’m writing an open letter to you. Like you, I’m not a professional pastor, just a church-going Christian. There is one Andy Stanley and there are thousands of you. I’m hoping and praying that some of you will take my words to heart and take action. I think you should stop giving your time to the churches of North Point Ministries. I think you should stop using your talents to advance the goals of the churches of North Point Ministries. I think you should stop giving your money to the churches of North Point Ministries. I think you’re being had and I think it needs to stop.
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy. If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth.” 1 Peter 1:14-17
In 1995, Andy Stanley with a sour taste in his mouth from First Baptist Atlanta and his father Charles set out to do something that didn’t make biblical sense. He set out to create “churches that unchurched people love to attend.” Stanley’s idea to do so, while novel is hardly wise. You see, the church isn’t something that a person attends at all. The church is a body, not an event. The Greek word translated as “church” in our English Bibles is the word “ekklésia”. That word describes a group of believers called out from the world and set apart as holy to God. Since the first century, the church has gathered together in local assemblies to worship God and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The church, the body of Christ, exists to honor God. Those people who are lost in sin, who are dead in sin, are not a part of the church. In fact, they are at enmity with God. According to what’s written in the Bible, they shouldn’t at all enjoy the activities and beliefs of the church. Yet, Andy Stanley set out to create local churches to which non-Christians (the “unchurched”) would be irresistibly attracted. He’s put forth a twenty-year-long effort to make his vision of a church for the unchurched a reality and, now, more than 30,000 people attended services at North Point Ministries Churches each week. How did he do it?
“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 1 Corinthians 18:24
Stanley did it the same way McDonald’s has done it. There is something for everybody; McDonald’s has coffee for the adults and playgrounds for the kids. Customers can expect the same food and the same service at any McDonald’s at which they stop. They can also expect the things that they don’t like about other restaurants, like high prices, snooty attitudes, and hoighty-toighty dress codes, to be absent. They can expect the same favorable environment. Stanley has created a favorable environment for Bible-belt residents who don’t like church. For one thing, Stanley made sure there were no crosses on the building in which the church meets, lest the unchurched people he was trying to attract be offended by this notable symbol of Christendom. North Point church lays out top dollar to hire the most talented musicians available to play secular rock music at his church amidst concert-quality lighting effects. Small group leaders aren’t required to be biblically knowledgeable but rather just willing to facilitate the church’s assigned bible studies. Stanley’s sermons resemble feel good life-coaching rather than convicting expositions of scripture. Going to a North Point Ministries Church is designed to be fun. Like McDonalds, Stanley has created a certain environment…and franchised it.
The biblical model church looks nothing like North Point Ministries. Stanley has created a mother church with satellite campuses staffed by “campus” pastors. There is no such thing as a campus pastor in the scripture. Rather, the biblical model is one in which every local church is self-governing. Stanley’s is more representative of the Roman Catholic colossus than independent local churches. Frankly, although many of you call Andy Stanley your pastor, he doesn’t even know your name. He’s hired out other people to organize community groups, let by volunteers who do know your name. Maybe your community group is your local church. I ask you, for what do you need Andy Stanley and his franchise? He provides the light show, the rock music, and the feel-good motivational speech every Sunday. New Testament people of God need none of those things. You don’t need his mega organization. It needs you. It needs you and your money for funding but, quite frankly, Andy Stanley is a man who has set himself up as a high-paid leadership guru and pawned you off on a volunteer whose job it is to facilitate your small group times. That’s not a pastor, that’s a business man.
Andy Stanley, in my sincere opinion, is a businessman in the business of attracting people. He uses, like so many others have, a veneer of religion to create community. Andy Stanley, in my sincere opinion, only apologized for his offensive comments about small churches because of the potential of his comments to hurt his conference speaking and book sales revenues. For the franchisor, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if the coffee and Happy Meals are bad for the customer’s health. It matters if customers keep coming back, enticed by the experience, at rates significant enough to make up for the drop of any customers lost. North Point Church members, you are customers.
“He’s a great humanitarian, he’s a great philanthropist. He knows just where to touch you, honey, and how you like to be kissed.” Man of Peace, Bob Dylan
Andy Stanley, you need to realize this, saw you coming. Your parents took you to church dressed in stuffy clothes to sit with stuffy people you didn’t like. There were phonies. There were legalists. Some people were mean. The pastor didn’t seem to care about you. The music was lame. It was pretentious. You needed somewhere to go but not there, not to the stuffy church status quo. So, you left and ended up at North Point. They let you come as you were. You didn’t have to change; you didn’t have to act different. All you’ve done is jump from the frying pan to the fire. Andy Stanley, with intention, created an environment that would attract you. It didn’t have anything to do with biblical fidelity; it had everything to do with marketing. You’ve been had. You can find friends and community at any old organization. The church is supposed to be something more. As counterintuitive as it may sound to you, the church is supposed to be exclusive…members only. There is one requirement for membership, turning over your life to Jesus Christ; repenting of your sin and living the rest of your life for His glory. This involved a life change that is not attractive to those who haven’t found Christ. Those who haven’t found Christ may be very fond of the rock show environment of a North Point megachurch but they will never be fond of Christ.
If you truly are a follower of Christ, if you really have found rest in Him, I encourage you to leave North Point. Your friends from your community group will still be your friends and God will still be your God…but you’ll be out of Andy’s great experiment (and he probably won’t notice you’ve gone). I promise you, it will be good for you and your family. An adoctrinal ear-tickler knew your frustrations and played on them. He saw you coming. Ask yourself if North Point sermons generally challenge you about your sin or your lifestyle (like maybe some of these sermons at the stuffy old off-putting church of your youth did). Ask yourself if lost people are challenged by those sermons and if those people, those people dead in their sin, enjoy them. Like I said, you’ve been had. Now… you know it, maybe you had already figured it out before reading this but you haven’t been sure about leaving.
You have a decision to make. If you choose to leave, it’s not likely that many will come out with you. I don’t expect 30,000 people to read this letter and empty the seats at North Point. I do expect to a few to do so. I expect a few to come to the realization to which so many others have come. Christians don’t belong at North Point Ministries. They belong at a local body of believers that respects the word of God found in the Bible. I’m not out to sell you books or get your tithe money. I’m just a regular Christian who wants what is best for you and your family. You may be reading this convinced that I’m wrong about Andy Stanley; you may think him sincere and well-intentioned. Does it matter? If he is sincere, he is sincerely unbiblical. When we all stand before God’s judgment (knowing that the road to Hell is sometimes paved with good intentions) it will only matter if we were sincerely biblical.
Make your move. You won’t regret it. Stay at North Point and I think you will.
PS. I invite former members of North Point Churches and those contemplating leaving to share their stories in the comment section.
*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.