Geographically, New York and Atlanta are less than 900 miles apart. Culturally, they occupy different universes. New York is fast-paced, cutthroat, and secular. Atlanta, by contrast, is southern, faith-friendly, the last big loop on the Bible Belt. • Like the cities in which they minister, Tim Keller and Andy Stanley are markedly different as well. Stanley is a pragmatist, a leader's leader known for his vision and commitment to creating environments where the unchurched feel welcomed. Keller, on the other hand, is a professorial presence, a skilled theologian who effectively addresses the doubts of intellectual urbanites. • Both have new books explaining their distinctive ministry philosophies. Tim Keller's tome is Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Zondervan, 2012). Andy Stanley's magnum opus is Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend (Zondervan, 2012). • We spoke with Keller and Stanley about what they've written. Their answers uncovered some deep differences—and surprising similarities.
In the title of your book, what does "deep" refer to? And "wide"?
It addresses a tension a lot of people see with large churches. People think you can't be deep and wide. And since megachurches are wide (as in big), they assume they must be shallow. That's a misperception this book addresses. You can not only be both; you must be both. It's a false dichotomy, a false tension. We don't skimp on theology or content. We've been successful in capturing the imagination of unchurched people not in spite of depth but because of it.
You write about your parent's divorce, your complicated relationship with your father, and the decision to leave his church. How have those experiences shaped you as a leader?
It did a great deal for my courage. I had to choose to walk away from a wonderful ministry environment, which was very risky for me relationally and financially. There's something incredibly defining about leaving what's comfortable and familiar. Not just in ministry, but in life in general. And as horrible as that season of life was, for Sandra and me, we would both make the same decision again.
You're a master communicator. Isn't that the real reason your church has succeeded?
I'm really glad you asked that question. This past weekend we had more than 5,000 middle school and high school students at our Atlanta-area churches. That has absolutely nothing to do with my communication skills. This past weekend we had 650 sixth graders go on a weekend retreat. Just sixth graders! That has nothing to do with my communication skills either. The effectiveness of our church has far less to do with my abilities than it does with the systems we've created. It has to do with what we've learned about releasing people to do ministry and our commitment to creating environments that unchurched people find attractive. They stick. They don't agree with everything we teach, but they come back even if they don't agree.