What This Book is All About
by Josh Hunt www.joshhunt.com

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It is the responsibility of every generation of Christians to create new wineskins to contain the precious and rapidly expanding potency of the gospel. This is the message of Matthew 9:17. If we fail to be obedient to what God has told us to do in this passage we will certainly ruin the wine itself. Placing new wine in old wineskins ruins both the wine and the wine skins.

The wineskins, of course, are the forms of "doing church." They are not the content of the message itself, just the forms that hold it. Believer tend to fall off one of two extremes with reference to these forms. Either they hold the wineskin as precious as the wine or they forget about the importance of wineskins altogether. Either approach can be couched in pretty pious terms.

Infatuation with wineskins can sound like love of orthodoxy itself. An articulate lover of wineskins can preach his gospel against liberalism and modernism with such passion and conviction it will sound like truth. It will sound like changing the wineskins is the worst form of heresy. All the better if he can throw in a proof text or two. If he come up with some approximation of logic, some touching stories and some historical analogies, all the better. But it is not true. Wineskins are not precious; they are only useful. If they quit being useful in carrying the gospel they are not precious at all; they become contaminants of the greatest resource of mankind. They are to be thrown out and trampled under foot.

Others pretend that wineskins flat don’t matter. "It is just the simple preaching of the gospel that wins people. We don’t need all these new fangled methods." It can sound pretty pious. But it is not true.

The truth is, taught from the lips of Jesus himself, wineskins matter. They matter a lot. They carry the wine. If wineskins do not function as they should—and only new ones can function properly—both the wine and the wineskin will be lost.

Jesus never says exactly what the wine is, but the context makes it clear. It is the powerful message of the gospel itself. The message that can change a life. The message that can birth a church. The message that can turn a bitter hateful man into a grateful, good, worshiping man. The message that was paid for by Christ’s own blood will be ruined unless we provide for it new wineskins in every generation. We cannot rely on the wineskins of the previous generation. We are under orders to create new ones.

This book is about new wineskins. It is about a new model of doing church.

This book is based on three observations in the church scene today. First, the current model of doing church is largely ineffective. It is a good model. It served its generation well. God birthed it, breathed life into it, and used it. Many came to faith because of the effectiveness of this model. It was a good wineskin, but, it is the responsibility of every generation to create for the gospel new wineskins. When do we know it is time to create a new wineskin? When the old skin is not working. It is time. That fat lady is off the stage. The current way of doing church is basically ineffective in carrying the gospel. The gospel has been at a standstill for a generation in America. What further proof do we need?

Observation #2: there is a new model that God is clearly raising up. The model I will call the Willowcreek/ Saddleback model. God raised these two models up virtually simultaneously and completely independent of each other. Insiders will quibble over difference between them, but to the rest of us, they are so dissimilar from the traditional church and, by comparison, so similar to each other, they look the same. Saddleback is Southern California casual, while Willowcreek is Chicago cool. Still, compared to First Church, Peoria, they both look a lot alike. Here is a summary that contrasts this new model with the traditional model.

 Traditional ModelSaddleback/ Willowcreek Model
Sunday MorningDesigned for the churchDesigned for seekers
Small groupsSunday SchoolHome Groups
WorshipOn Sunday morningOn Wednesday/ Thursday nights
Church GovernmentCongregational/ committee oriented.Streamlined. Elder rule. Staff Control. Few business meetings. Few committees.
PreachingExpository: starts with Bible and moves toward life.Topical: starts with life and moves toward the Bible.
Driving Growth EngineSunday School, Visitation, RevivalsSeeker service
DramaOccasional if at allRegular part of church tradition
Sunday eveningStrugglingNon-existent
Denominational LoyaltyStrongweak


I think this model is an excellent one for new churches. I pray that God raises up thousands of churches across America with Saddleback/ Willowcreek style churches. They can reach people by the thousands and are desperately needed in every city in America. I applaud what Rick Warren and Bill Hybels have done. However, if you try to superimpose the Saddleback/Willowcreek model in total onto an existing church. . . surprise! There is a reason people are using the model that they are using. Traditional people like traditional churches.

You can make some changes. You can quit asking the guests to stand. You can change your preaching style some. More freedom is given in the pulpit that any other place. Far easier to change the sermon than it is to change the music. You can do an occasional drama. (Occasional means once or twice a year.) You can replace one of your hymns with, "I love you, Lord," and "Majesty." The question is, how far can you go and keep your job? The answer is, not far enough.

At the answer to this question we find one of the great myths on the American church scene. It is called the transitioning theory. Many people will tell you they are transitioning a church. After you have been around a while you realize this is a euphemism for, "We are in the middle of a church fight." This is the transitioning myth: if I move slowly enough, if I explain enough, if I love enough, if I pray enough, if I am a skillful enough change agent, I can change this church. If I have enough room on the open ocean, I can turn this ship. This myth is like the lottery, it is true just often enough to get people to buy into it. Occasionally it happens. Usually it does not. The results are often tragic. They are tragic for the church and they are tragic for the pastor. Mostly, the are tragic for the kingdom of God. The transitioning theory is a myth for a very simple reason: People do not want to be transitioned. I do not blame them; I don’t want to be transitioned either.

Transitioning is pouring new wine into old wineskins of the worst sort. The wineskin will break. Let me spell out the fine print. What this means is that you will probably ruin whatever good spirit and evangelistic potential is in your traditional church and will get yourself fired in the process. Any question?

The transitioning theory comes in two flavors. The first is the myth that we will change people from liking Gather and Wesley to liking Twila Paris and Don Moen. As stated, this is not likely to happen.

Another strain of the transitioning theory is the idea that a pastor can grow a church with new people, then simple out vote the old people. That is as unkind as it is stupid. It is cruel, heartless, let me say it—wrong, to come in and try to take over a church and change it against its will. In politics they call it a coo cu-de-ta. [Alert all proofreader—not a clue how to spell this word. Help me.] In heaven, they call it sin. It is one thing to lead a church to a bright and glorious future. It is another to try to take a church where they do not want to go. The first is leadership; the second is abuse.

Not only is it cruel to try to change the nature of a church, it is also very difficult. If you have 100 people in a church and you get 200 new ones to come in it is not likely that the 200 new ones will have the political clout of the original 100. The new 200 do not know the political system, they are not on the committees, and what is more, the probably don’t care. They care about Sunday School and worship and the like. They are not too fired up about church politics. Very seldom will new people ever wield the political power away from the old guard.

And what if you do win? Is that what the kingdom of God is all about? Winning? Beating the old guard? Out voting them? To hear some pastors talk, this is the grand agenda. I think they are wrong and will receive a tongue lashing from our Father one of these days. What about the verse that says "by this will all men know you are my disciples by your love for one another." (John 13:34) I must quit talking about winning and beating fellow members of the body of Christ; "I am talking as a fool." (2 Corinthians 11:21)

Actually to try transitioning a congregation is to deny an assumption very dear to the Willowcreek/Saddleback movement. This assumption has been at the core of church growth thinking in general since its birth with Donald McGavran’s book, The Bridges of God. People like to become Christians without changing their culture. Tribesmen in Africa who come to Christ act like Christian, African tribesman. They don’t act like Baptists from Texas. They eat different food. They like different music. They think about organization and politics differently. They just think differently. The gospel will change their ethics and their character, but it will not effect their culture. The difference between traditional churches and Saddleback/Willowcreek churches has a lot to do with culture. Here is the point: to expect traditional church people to embrace the Saddleback/Willowcreek church culture is as silly as expecting unchurched Harry to be comfortable in First Church Traditionville. People don’t like to change. Unchurched people don’t like to change and churched people don’t like to change. No body likes to change. No matter how slow or carefully you transition. People don’t like being transitioned. I would not want people transitioning me.

One of the best ways to adapt the Willowcreek/Saddleback model without transitioning the people you are now serving is to add a service designed for seekers. Do it at a different time than the existing service and leave the existing service alone. Draw a red circle around the existing stuff and make a promise to the old guard: "As much as possible, we won’t mess with your stuff." This is a viable option and one that I discuss in some detail in my previous book Let It Grow! (Baker, 1993). Let me be clear, however. If you choose this route you choose to live with a higher level of tension than the average church. Still, it is still a viable option. I believe it is the best model for churches that were started before 1980.

This is the purpose of this book: to start with the traditional model, learn from the newer models and build a new model that will work for the nineties and the first quarter of the next century.

Some would argue against the need for a new model. They would argue either based on the sufficiency of the old model, or they would posit an argument against models altogether.

The first group would argue that all is well. Leave well enough alone. Just keep doing what we are doing. We are doing fine. I could not disagree more. During my life time the church in America has been, on the whole, disobedient to what God told us to do in the great commission. We have made no progress in a generation. We need to change.

Others would agree that change needs to be made, but the problem is not in the so-called model. They would say that models don’t matter. "We don’t need all these new fangled methods; we just need to pray and preach the word." Again, I disagree. This is the parable of the wineskins. Models matter. It is the responsibility of each generation to create new models to hold the gospel.

Most things are taught best by example. Paul knew that as the Thessalonian church reached a state of health, that state would be more easily attained in other churches because they would have a model to follow. He commended the Thessalonians for become a model church for others to follow: "And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia." (I Thessalonians 1:7)

When we lack of a model, we resort to vague generalities—principles we call them. The power of any movement, however, is not in the principles; the power is in the details. The power of Federal Express is not in getting packages to their destinations really, really fast. The power is in the details of a system that allows them to promise and deliver, "Absolutely, positively overnight." Doing the best you can does not produce this kind of results. Executing according to a well conceived model does.

Too many church growth books talk about principles—vague ideas like prayer and evangelism and loving people. These are obviously good things. The question is, "How—specifically how—are these to be implemented?

Rick Warren can tell you that he sent out 20,000 invitations to his first service and got ** to attend. If you read the fine print you will notice that his team hand addressed all twenty thousand pieces of mail. Any advertising specialist will tell you that the response rate of any piece of mail will sky rocket if it is hand addressed. We are so used to computer generated junk mail we unconsciously throw it out. Just below the level of consciousness our brain weeds it out as another unsolicited piece of junk mail. But, a hand addressed piece of mail? That is another thing entirely. Count how many hand addressed pieces of mail you get in a typical month. If Rick had started his church ten years later he could have done the whole thing more efficiently with a two-bit computer and a CD ROM. (OK, that is an exaggeration, he would actually need at least a 16 bit system, and preferably a 32 bit system.) At any rate, the whole thing could have been done in a fraction of the time from any desktop. The computer could have printed addresses directly onto envelops in a fraction of the time it took Rick’s volunteers to hand write them. And would have probably netted a fraction of the results because the power is in the detail of the hand written invitation. The whole story of Saddleback may have been significantly different if the church would have started after the advent of the CD ROM.

There is a tendency to pick up on the principle of advertizing, or quality advertising and forget the power is in the details.

In this book, I want to spell out the details. To be sure, we will be dealing with some principles, but the power of any model is in the details of the model.

In Norm Whan’s excellent guide to telemarketing, he will tell you that if you deviate from the plan 20% your results could fall off 80%. This is not hype. Norm was a secular telemarketing guru before he came to Christ and decided to dedicate his talent to kingdom ministry. He learned in the hard knocks of careful research exactly what it took to produce results. He provides samples of everything—scrips, mailings, everything—and admonishes you to follow them exactly.** Norm knows the power is in the details.

There will be times, of course, when fine tuning the system laid out in this book will optimize your growth. I encourage you to do so. In many case you will need to deviate from my details to find details of your own. This book is an invitation to write your own detailed plan about how you do church. How do you keep your facilities? How do you greet guests? How do you craft sermons? How do you do small groups? In this book, I will give you one plan. It is not the only plan, but it is one plan. I feel I have done you a disservice if I do not spell out at least one very workable plan. If you need to adapt it, fine. But I will be starting with something that is specific and workable.

In my previous book, You Can Double Your Class In Two Years Or Less, I admonish Sunday School teachers to "Give Friday nights to Jesus" for an informal time of coffee cake, cards and Diet Coke. That is fairly specific. Obviously, it does not have to be Friday night and if you don’t like Diet Coke, Dr. Pepper will do. But my approach in that volume, and this, is to spell it all out—down to the day of the week, the type of desert and the type of soda.

Adapt the plan, but don’t just discard details to pick up generalities. The power is in the details. Define the details that make your system work. My encouragement is that you do not adapt so generically, that you are walking around with platitudes that say, "Be friendly" when you ought to be saying, "Give Friday nights to Jesus."

I think it only honest that I share with you some of my sources of influence in presenting this model.

First and foremost, this model is firmly rooted in the scriptures themselves. I have read and reread the New Testament with a view to understand how they did it. How were they able to "turn the world upside down"? (Acts 17:6, KJV)

This model is informed by extra Biblical sources. Each time I have consulted an extra biblical source, I have come back to ask, "What does the Bible say?" As I found success in certain expressions of ministry I reflected on what the Bible had to say about this approach. I ask myself questions about what I learned such as:

Although this work is informed by extra biblical sources, the plumbline is the word of God. I will often say, "The Bible says. . ." or, "We simply need to be obedient to what God has told us to do."

I am also informed by other writers, both new and old to shape my view. I come from a Southern Baptist, Sunday School based tradition and my approach is colored by that. I have been heavily influence by parachurch groups, especially the Navigators and Campus Crusade for Christ. I am strongly influenced by the Willowcreek/Saddleback model.

There are places where this work is informed by secular writing. When you read the section on "How disciples are made" it will be clear that I have read some in the recovery literature. I have also read some in the general self-help pop-psychology genre. Although I don’t agree with everything I read, I have learned some valuable insights. The recovery literature helped my see James 5:16 in a new way, as I will explain.

This book is informed by a business paradigm. The church is more than a good business, but it should never be bad business. Again, all business principles must be evaluated in light of Scripture. Still, there are some things to learn from the business literature that the Bible does not address. I am referring to things like the amount of a businesses budget that normally goes to repair and maintenance. There are industry standards for these kinds of things. At the time of this writing I am working bi-vocationally in conferences/ consulting and writing, along with selling commercial real estate. It has given me the opportunity to evaluate a number of businesses. This has given me added insight into looking at the church as a business.

My life goal is to help Southern Baptists reach 20 million in Sunday School by the year 2020. I hope other denominations will also be obedient to the great commission so that we will see America come to Christ as none of us have seen in our lifetime.

But it is not just churches that I want to see grow. I want to see a culture transformed. I want to see our young people getting into the places of influence in our culture and being salt and light. I want to see the crime rate drop. I want to see the success rates of marriages go up. I want to see the sale of pornography dramatically decrease. I want to see violence go out of style. I want to see drug usage decrease dramatically. I want to see the glory of God manifest in this country, in this generation. We are not just trying to double our churches every five years or less; we are trying to take a culture for God. And we shall not pat ourselves on the back. When we have done all this, we can only say, "We have only done what our Father asked us to do." After all he has done for us, is it too much to ask?

Note: Life change happens best in small groups. If you want your church to change, I would invite you to invite half a dozen fellow pastors together and go through a chapter a week. Larger churches may want to discuss these with their staff. Another usage might be as class with your deacons or key lay leaders. These questions are provided for such a meeting. Feel no obligation to ask or answer every questions. Feel free to ask some questions of your own. The point is not to complete to questions, it is to enter into a discussion that will change your life.

  1. What are some example of wineskins? Let’s list twenty on the board and then put a "+" by them if we think they are generally helpful to what we are tying to do, and a "-" if we don’t think they are useful.
  2. Why do you think God set it up so we needed new wineskins in each generation? Wouldn’t it have been a lot simpler if we just used the same methods generation after generation?
  3. How does failure to create new wineskins do violence to the wine?
  4. React to this statement: "the current model of doing church is largely ineffective." Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  5. Someone give the group a 3 minute overview of the Willowcreek/Saddleback model?
  6. Do you feel this model is an effective model of carrying the gospel for new churches?
  7. What are some of the biggest problems with superimposing this model onto existing churches?
  8. What examples could you share about the pitfalls of the transitioning theory?
  9. What are some things that are readily adaptable from the Saddleback/Willowcreek model onto existing churches?
  10. Why is the transitioning theory flawed?
  11. Why do newcomers rarely wield the political power of the old guard, even when they outnumber the old guard?
  12. Do you agree with Josh’s notion that it is immoral to try to take over a church in this way?
  13. Is anyone familiar with the multi-congregation model as discussed in Let It Grow! Someone give us an overview.
  14. Has anyone had any success in moving a church in this direction?
  15. What are the benefits of the multi-congregation paradigm?
  16. Quickly: what is the purpose of this book?
  17. Josh discusses at some length the importance of details in any plan. Give an example from your own life when the details of a plan made all the difference.
  18. In the last section, Josh shares that the growth of the church is ultimately not the goal. What is the goal?
  19. What are some examples of our culture in need of transformation?
  20. Talk to me about what you dream of a church being and doing.