Andy Stanley is betting the farm on doubling groups

In November 1995 Andy Stanley stood before a gathering of believers to cast a vision for a new church. "Atlanta does not need another church. What Atlanta does need is a safe environment where the unchurched can come and hear the life-changing truth that Jesus Christ cares for them and died for their sin." So began North Point Community Church.

Nine years later they have 16,000 attending--10,000 adults on the main campus, 3,000 children on the main campus, and 3,000 at the Buckhead campus. This does not count 7.22--the Singles ministry led by Louie Giglio of Passion fame. In 2005 they will open a third campus 20 miles north of the Alpharetta campus.

How'd they do that?

  • Well, let's face it, it doesn't hurt to have the Stanley preaching gene.
  • And, it doesn't hurt to have the Stanley name, especially in Atlanta.
  • And, admittedly Andy had a great group of ex-youth group fans from First Baptist Atlanta to help him get started.

Still, all of that only accounts for a couple of thousand at the outside. A great start, to be  sure, but it does not explain all, or even most of the success enjoyed by Northpoint. How do we explain this phenomenal ministry success?

Well, from one perspective it is just a God thing. God is ultimately the author of all true church growth, to Him be the glory. But, if we push too hard on that idea we end up saying that God is the problem when a church is not growing. I don't think we meant to say that. How else do we explain this?

Andy Stanley is betting the farm on doubling groups

Before Northpoint ever started, Andy started a group in his home. He met with a handful of other couples to encourage one another, study the Bible together, pray and fellowship. This accidental community group became the model for their exploding group ministry that exists today in every facet of their ministry.

Here are a few quotes from their web site and from some Northpoint small group training CDs that emphasize this passion for doubling groups:

  • "We believe the small group is the best place for sustained life-change to occur. In a small group, people study God's Word together and are in a safe enough environment to discuss the issues and challenges of life. It's also where they pray, care for one another, and are missed if they don't show up."
  • "Success at Northpoint is defined by how effectively our ministries move people from our large environments into small groups."
  • "I believe I will have more kingdom impact with the 10 people that meet in my home on Monday night than I will with the thousands whom I preach before on Sundays." -Andy Stanley
  • Andy has set the goal of having 100,000 people in community groups by the year 2010. To hear it in Andy's own voice, click here. (It is about 45 seconds into this clip.)

The most important way Andy Stanley has bet the farm on doubling groups is not through what he says but through what he does.

Every week, Andy meets with a group.

It may seem like no big deal, but Andy meets with a group. In fact, he has said publicly on many occasions that "he would do it anyway." That is, he would want to meet with his group even if he was not the pastor of Northpoint. He doesn't meet with a group just to be a good example when asking other people to meet in groups. He meets with a group because he loves meeting with a group and he asks others to do so because he believes they will love it as well.

Closed groups at Northpoint

One interesting facet of the way they do groups at Northpoint is that their Community Groups are closed groups. They meet for twelve to eighteen months and then reproduce. Once they start, new people cannot attend, except for an occasional exception granted with the permission of the whole group. The do this is to provide a safe and consistent environment where people can share their lives together. It is easier to develop community and intimacy with a consistent group of the same faces each week. After about 18 months, the group divides in two, inviting a few friends to join them in each group.

Groups are encouraged to sign a group covenant; strongly encouraged to sign a group covenant. Andy Stanley says nearly every problem in group life centers around misunderstandings that could have been cleared up with a group covenant.

Three Environments at Northpoint

Northpoint emphasizes three environments:  the Foyer, the Living Room and the Kitchen. The Foyer is the weekly worship service for adults and they have Louie Giglio's 7.22 for singles, Rush Hour for youth and Kidstuff for kids. The Foyer is an entry point and is a big event.

From the Foyer, Northpoint seeks to move people into the Living Room. These are medium sized groups and include things like the following:

  • Singles area fellowship
  • Married adult live
  • Inside out
  • Xtreme
  • Wambuland

From the foyer, people are directed toward the kitchen. These are small groups. This is the place where lasting friendships are made. Northpoint offers a wide array of curriculum that groups can choose from--much of it is general small groups curriculum that you find in any Christian book store. They also provide video-based curriculum drawn from the sermons at Northpoint.

Each of these three environments has one or more expressions among preschoolers, children, mid-high, sr. high, singles and married adults.

These three environments are not a completely new concept. Peter Wagner taught about a similar thing in the "Three C" model: celebration/ congregation/ cell. Many old-school Baptist churches have a similar organizational make-up with congregations, departments and classes. People have long noted the need for three different sizes of groups.

Northpoint New Mexico opens next week!

What do you think of all this, Josh? What do you think of home groups versus Sunday School style groups? What do you think of these closed groups? What do think of this DVD based curriculum?

I love it.

Any church that can grow to nearly 20,000 in less than 10 years I am in favor of. I cheerlead any church that has the goal of 10,000 small groups. And, honestly, I just love Andy's preaching. I love it so much, we will be starting a new group in our home next Tuesday night using Northpoint DVDs. Call us Northpoint, New Mexico campus!