good questions












Communicating for a Change, by Andy Stanley
Part 1

How to communicate like their life depended on it


Outreach Magazine just released their annual list of the nation's largest and fastest growing churches. It is always encouraging, if not a little intimidating. (The dark side of me will often compare myself and think, "What about me? Am I doing anything significant for God?") Then, I remember, it is not about me. Oh, yeah.

When you are in as many churches as I am that are struggling, it is just encouraging to see churches that are thriving.

Here are some highlights:

  • The nation's largest church (Lakewood Church, Houston, TX) grew by 38%, from 32,500 to 45,000. That is an increase of 12,500 in one year. I am sometimes in larger churches that tell me it is really hard to sustain growth for a church our size.
  • 230,000 attended the ten largest churches.
  • 216,000 attended the next 15 largest churches. That is nearly half a million people attending at the 25 largest churches.
  • 39 of the top 100 churches use multi-sites. This is clearly one of the biggest changes in church in my lifetime. See Warren Bird's new book on the subject.
  • Less than half of the top 100 churches are white.
  • There are over a hundred churches in the United States that have over 2000 in attendance AND are less than ten years old.
  • A million people, roughly 10% of all who attend church attend the top 1,210 churches. If seen as a denomination, these 1,210 congregations would be the third largest denomination in the United States, behind Catholics and Southern Baptists. A million people attend the top .3% of churches.

Outreach is my favorite magazine. I would highly encourage you to subscribe. For more information, see:

Also, see John Vaughan's web site. John Vaughn did the actual research and compiled the list for Outreach:

What do all these churches have in common? Not much. They are Charismatic and Charismatic-hating. They are contemporary and old fashioned. They are Sunday School based and home group based. They are seeker targeted and seeker hostile. They are of every denomination--and no denomination. They are found in every geographical area. They are found in cities and relatively small towns. Central Baptist Church, Jonesboro, AR made the list. I noticed it because my brother used to be on staff there. I have been to Jonesboro. It is, well, Jonesboro. This is not Atlanta or Dallas, this is Jonesboro for heaven's sake.

What do these churches have in common? Not much. But, they do have one thing in common. There is one thing that every single one of these churches shares in common--no exceptions. (Can I get a drum roll, please?)

They all have able communicators in the pulpit. Crowds do not throng to boring preaching. One of Thom Rainer's findings years ago is that the number one predictor of the growth of any church is the preaching ability of the preacher. People like to go where the preaching is interesting. In this issue of Outreach, Thom Rainer repeats this finding, "Our reseach has shown consistently that while megachurch growth can be explained a number of ways, one factor is pervasive [Note: ONE factor]: Megachurches have high quality preaching.

Let's take it down a level. Let's talk about Sunday School classes and small groups. The number one predictor of the growth of any group is the teaching ability of the leader.

This is not to say that other things don't matter. Everything matters. Music matters. Fellowship matters. Facilities matter. Everything matters. But, the thing that matters most, in terms of predicting the growth of any group, be it a small group or a mega-church is the communication ability of the communicator.

The importance of great preaching to the growth of churches and great teaching to the growth of classes is often missed because of one thing. When Bill Hybels teaches on how to become a prevailing church (his preferred term to growing church) it is a little brash for him to say, "The reason Willowcreek has grown is because of my great preaching." It may be brash of him to say, but it is true.

This is why I would like to ask you to join me in a commitment. If you are a communicator, I would like to challenge you to make a promise to God that for the rest of your life, as long as you get to do this thing called communication, you are going to work at getting better and better at it. I want to invite you to continually read the books, listen to the audio, take the classes and attend the seminars that will help you to be a better and better communicator.

"Where do I begin?" you might be asking? What do I read that will help me be a better communicator? I have good news for you. Every year, someone will write another great book on communication. This year, the book is Andy Stanley and Lane Jones' new book Communicating for a Change. Don't walk--run to your nearest book store and get this book- it is great. If I were a Pastor we would be studying this book with my teachers this fall. It is great. I rarely finish books. I devoured this one and will likely read it again. If Andy releases any audio, I will likely buy those and listen. It is just that good.

Communicating for a Change is divided into two sections. The first half is a story about a man who learned to preach from a truck driver. In this story, the authors weave into the conversation the seven principles of Communicating for a Change. The second half details the seven principles in a more straightforward way.

For easy links to Andy Stanley's books on Amazon, click here:

Principle #1: Determine your goal

There are three approaches to teaching adults:

  • Teach the Bible to people
  • Teach people the Bible
  • Teach people how to live according to the Bible.

Andy subscribes to the last one. The point is not to make smarter sinners. The point is not to cover the material. The point is to teach people how to be doers of the word, not hearers only.

What is wrong with this rendition of the Great Commission:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)

Did you find it? I left out two important words: "to obey." The text actually says, "teaching them to obey." That is the goal of effective teaching.

Andy tells the story of a conversation he has with one of their communicators. He--not Andy, the other guy--was trying desperately to keep everything straight in his head. He badly wanted to get it right, to do well. Andy called him to the side just before he was to speak and gave him a talk he has given to himself many times:

"How would you communicate this message if your eighteen year old boy had made up his mind to walk away from everything you have taught him morally, ethically and theologically unless he had a compelling reason not to. What would you say this morning if you knew that was at stake. Because for somebody's son out there today, this may be his last chance. Now, quit worrying about your outline. Go out there and plead your case like your son's future was at stake."

For easy links to Andy Stanley's books on Amazon, click here:

Principle #2: Pick a point

The goal is life-change. The point is the single area of life-change that we are seeking in this teaching. What is the one thing you want to communicate to your people this week? What is the one thing I want the to know? What do I want them to do about it?

I ought to be able to stop you before you walked into class and ask, "What are you going to teach today?" You ought to be able to say in one sentence. I ought to be able to ask any one of your students after class, "What did the teacher teach on today?" And, I ought to hear the same answer.

Andy is a big fan of the one-point sermon and not a big fan of the three point sermon. You might be thinking, "Well, what about his dad? Charles Stanley seems to have done O.K. with the three point sermon.

Andy talks about a conversation he had with his dad about this at their monthly breakfast meeting. "You have to have a burden," Charles said. "If you don't have a burden, it is just a bunch of fluff."

As they continued their conversation it became clear that when he talked about the burden, he was talking about the one thing. That one message, idea, principle or truth that just had to be communicated. The one thing isn't just information. It isn't just a carefully crafted phrase. It is literally a burden. It is a burden that weighs so heavily on the heart of the communicator that he or she must deliver it. Everyone knows whether the communicator is carrying a burden or dispensing information.

For easy links to Andy Stanley's books on Amazon, click here:

Principle #3: Create a map

Andy recommends a five-step process in communicating the one thing. He calls it ME-WE-GOD-YOU-WE.

ME: This section introduces the speaker to the audience and to the dilemma the speaker has been wrestling with.

Example: sometimes I find myself wondering about how to respond to certain situations in my marriage.

WE: In this section the speaker seeks to find common ground with the audience around this dilemma. We don't want to transition to the next section until we have created a tension that the audience is dying for you to solve. In other words, assume no interest.

Example: I imagine you have found yourself in situations where you didn't know what to do either.

God: In this section the speaker unpacks what the Bible has to say about the matter. Andy recommends that you avoid two extremes. We don't want to be so shallow that we fail to really deal with the text, but we also don't want to go so deep that we lose the audience. There is such a thing as teaching that is too deep for this audience at this time.

Example: The Bible has plenty to say about how husbands and wives are to relate to one another.

YOU: This is application. Imagine someone asked you after your teaching: "What do you want me to do about what you said today?" Again, you ought to be able to answer in a sentence or two. Andy Stanley rarely makes the application life-altering decisions. Rather, he prods people to take baby steps in the right direction--to try something today or this week.

Example: This week, I want to invite you to put the needs and desires of your spouse ahead of your own needs.

WE: This section is all about inspiration. It is about vision casting. If we can find one, use a heart warming story to drive the point home. Otherwise, perhaps a simple question would do.

Example: Imagine what would happen in a marriage where each person tried to put the needs of the other above their own needs.

This five-step approach to teaching is amazingly flexible and can work with virtually any material. It creates a great map for taking people from where they are to where you want them to be.

Next week we will look at the final four principles:

  • Internalize the message
  • Engage your audience
  • Find your voice
  • Start all over
For easy links to Andy Stanley's books on Amazon, click here:


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