Systems – With More Clarity My Thoughts on the North Point Video

When I first saw the North Point Media team’s satire on the formula of attractional worship I went into shock (you can watch it here http://vimeo.com/11501569).  I felt like someone had openly shared a deep dark family secret.  As if my brother had made a joke at the thanksgiving dinner table about “in-the-closet” Uncle Billy being gay.  

Or as if my sister had just complimented Cousin Jim at the family Christmas party on being a great dad, only for it to be revealed that she was the lone family member unaware that Jim had just left his wife and kids for another woman…who was at the party. 

Grandma starts crying.  Awkward silence takes over.   Mean looks are shot across the room. 

I get this feeling when I watch the Office.  Before I see Michael Scott do something that makes me incredibly uncomfortable, I cover my face with a pillow.  Like the episode in which it was revealed he had told a group of young kids years ago he was going to pay for their college but then he didn’t have the money, so he had to go stand in front of them and explain why he lied…yeah…I didn’t actually “see” any of that episode. 

That’s how the North Point video made me feel. 

Now that the shock has cleared, I can clearly explain my feelings.  It’s all about church systems.  The “truth” in the North Point video is not a problem of motivation.  No one is intentionally manipulating anyone.  The video revealed major problems in the system of the attractional church model.

Quickly, what do I mean by “church system”? 

Every church has one.  Simply, a system is the way things run.  It is the culmination of all the activity of the church.  Some systems are well designed, intentional, and focused.  Other systems are redundant, accidental, and messy.  Regardless, every church has a system.  And like systems guru Andy Stanley once said (ironic), “It’s not what’s written on the wall.  It’s what’s happening down the hall that matters.”  

You see, it’s not the quality of a church’s mission statement, core values, vision, and intentions are all well and good…but it is the system in operation that matters.  Even if the leadership doesn’t talk about or understand their system, their people do.  A church’s system is like an invisible hand that shapes the culture of the congregation.

And every system has negative by-products.  EVERY system.  We never plan these.  They just happen.  It all starts with a wonderful goal, an amazing vision.  North Point (we will continue to use them since it was their video that started the conversation and since they have publically shared their story) started with the vision of “creating a church unchurched people love to attend.”

Wonderful goal right?  I don’t think anyone would argue with creating a church that reaches the lost.  They designed their systems around this goal; and they have been incredibly successful.  So successful that many other churches around the country have also adopted North Point’s system.  It is no longer a simple system; now its a model (which many have begun to call “attractional church” – to be totally fair, North Point is not the only ones that developed the model…it was a group effort).  

Just to be clear.  I have no doubt the North Point team is chasing Jesus.  They are passionate Christ followers who are seeking to be in tune with the Holy Spirit.  Lives have been changed.  People have come to Jesus.  I would go so far as to even say they have shaped a generations understanding of worship, “church,” and leadership.  I am an obbessive student of Andy Stanley’s leadership…it verges on idol worship at times.

But every system has bad by-products.  North Points system, for example, unintentionally encourages the congregation to become consumers, the church to become an institution, and makes worship to feel like a professionally scripted show.  That last one is what the video makes fun of.

The question we church leaders must always keep in-front of ourselves is “Are the negative by-products out weighing the positive results?”  When it comes to the attractional model of church, I believe many leaders in the country now believe “Yes, the bad has begun to over shadow the good.” 

But we love the good stuff.  We love the numbers the model draws.  We love the amazing speaking the model encourages.  We love the powerful worship.  We love the environments it creates.  We love the intentionality the model demands.  We love the good stuff.

That is why the video was so painful for me.  I love the good stuff, but the bad by-products make me sad because I’ve come to a place in life in which I believe the bad by-products of the attractional church have begun to outweigh the good stuff it accomplishes.  The video brought all that clearly into perspective. 

So while it was funny.  It made me cringe.

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Systems – With More Clarity My Thoughts on the North Point Video

15 thoughts on “Systems – With More Clarity My Thoughts on the North Point Video

  1. cory says:

    There is a lot of pain hidden in this video for a lot of people.

    North Point can poke fun at it, because they were the front runners that started the model. It is them being critical of a model that they mostly created.

    The pain comes from every other church that follows the North Point model because they believe that those are the ingredients that make up a moving service. Any one can see through the show.

    We know that North Point is taking a measured attack on themselves, which means that there is a change coming, because they see their own flaws.

    My questions are…”What new model are they going to create? What is the target audience, if not the attraction driven attender? What will all of the ‘me too’ churches do when they realize that the front runner of attractional services has turned away from the perfect recipe for success?”

    1. The “me too” churches will put their hula-hoop away and look for the next fad or trend instead of searching within their own “box” for where the Holy Spirit is leading.

  2. Maybe I’m naive – but why are we creating “models” at all? Sure, a little structure helps people to feel comfortable – but if we exchange one formula for another we are still building an institution (whether it is “attractional” or “missional”) & I think that’s sad.

    The thing that comes to my mind is something Jesus said about the spirit being like a wind that “blows where it pleases” & how you cannot see where it is going. The real work of God in people’s lives IS like that!! It doesn’t follow anyone’s formula.

    1. jeffandwendy says:

      I completely agree Kerry. The problem is we have these institutions driving for success; and success equals numbers because all we see in Acts 1-7 are the thousands of people showing up. All our institutions are seeking to figure out how to be “successful.” In this environment the creation of models that people mimick is unavoidable.

  3. I’m reminded of a youth who ceased coming to the Sunday night “hip” youth group at a particular church I attended after two years of faithful attendence and unshapely but noticeable spiritual fruit. I asked him why he stopped coming. His reply was, “Why bother? I know the routine. Three fast songs, two slow songs and a talk. Then the lights go down for another slow song while you tell us about Jesus and try to get us to cry ”
    Formulaic Christianity may fool some, but after awhile thinking people see through it…and the seeds of cynicism are planted.

  4. I was at Drive and I didn’t get any indication that this was a precursor to North Point changing anything. In fact, Andy spent a whole session talking about how they plan a service and why they plan that way. It had some of the pieces that video makes light of, but it talked about the serious, positive aspects of them. He talked about Luke 15 and how Jesus started with a common emotion as he led his audience to a truth about God that was hard for them to hear.

    Their audience isn’t the attraction driven attender (I’m not sure what that is, though), it’s the lost friend of an attender who normally wouldn’t set foot in church, and probably doesn’t believe in God.

    I’m sure a ton of bloggers wrote about the talk Andy gave, but here is one guy’s perspective:

    http://patrickmitchell.blogspot.com/2010/05/funnel-steps-on-sunday-morning.html
    http://patrickmitchell.blogspot.com/2010/05/funnel-continued.html

    It’s worth noting that the service is just one small part of a much larger strategy. Looking at that apart from everything else probably isn’t helpful. It would be like judging me only on what I’m like 1 hour a week. Could be good or bad 🙂

    1. jeffandwendy says:

      Thanks for the links Nick. I appreciate them. I learn so much on leadership from Stanley. I’m sure Drive was amazing. I’m jealous.

      While I agree that North Point does much more than Sunday morning, I would argue the funneling effect their strategy (at each level less and less people particpate) combined with putting the “show” at the front end negates the “they do other stuff arguement.” If the value of their system comes in the second, third, and fourth level of their ministry why do the bait and switch (bring them in with a show and then nail them with discipleship, ministry, etc… on the tail end). What that system produces is what the video mocks, a congregation that is primarily passive consumers. This is a well documented trend. Leadership Network did a great survey of attractional mega-churches last year that show this (not specifcially at North Point…but the video isn’t really mocking them directly but rather the model they have helped champion).

      Does that make sense?

      It is like a college student saying, “Don’t be made at me mom for using your credit card to buy this fancy sports car. Look at how many groceries I can put in the trunk. That’s really why I got it.”

      1. I’m sure you know, but the core (most valuable) aspect of North Point, according to them, is their small groups. Yes, that is not the first step, but that’s for obvious reasons. How many people are willing to jump into a small, uncomfortable, unknown environment as the first thing? Some will, but not most.

        If that is a bait and switch, then you’re saying Jesus did the same thing because in Luke 15 he could have just said “God cares about what is lost, even if it seems to neglect what is already found, the end.”

        However, Jesus didn’t do that. He started by talking about losing sheep, coins, or a son, something everyone (regardless of background) could relate to. Why do that? Same reason churches have steps. That’s true on a personal level too. Most people don’t want to meet a Christian who immediately asks them if they’re “saved” and if they want to respond to Jesus. They grow in their openness to the other person as they experience them more and more, and trust them more and more.

        I would also argue heavily against the idea that their congregation is mostly “passive consumers”. Mostly because I know quite a few people who were unchurched, far from God, who are now some of the most mature believers because of North Point, and because of people influenced by churches around here that run a similar “model” but not on that scale. Our church would fit in that category. We have a large percentage who would be considered consumers (30% probably), and that’s because they’re growing in faith, or don’t even have faith yet.

        I’ve analyzed a ton of studies and it’s not well documented at all. People read them and assume every attender should be like Paul in their faith, which is ridiculous if you’re regularly reaching people, because you will have a broad range of faith levels represented. Not only that, there’s a basic assumption that those churches are doing the model well, which most don’t run their model well, regardless of what model it is.

        I’ve enjoyed subscribing to your blog recently. We clearly have different opinions about church strategy and such, and hopefully we both know there isn’t a clear right & wrong, but rather different methods that all have weaknesses. I do wonder how much we (Christians) teach people that other models are bad when really we’re just trying to justify our own model, or our own lack of success within our model.

        1. jeffandwendy says:

          Nick, you make a strong arguement that I’m not going to attempt to argue with. I’m glad you’ve seen a different side of the attractional model than I have. I cut my teeth working in this model and had a very different experience than you are having. Yes, lives were changed; but in my experience it was often despite the system, not because of it.

          I will say…I think I see Luke 15 very differently than you. I don’t think Jesus was talking in those terms to reach the lost. The lost had already gathered around Him because of His unique acceptance and the healing He brought everywhere He went. When I read Luke 15 I see a very offensive message to the religious establishment (the chapter sets forth the comparison of the two groups in the opening verse). I read Luke 15 is a commentary to the existing religious system about how their priorities are all out of whack. There is a crescendo to these stories. By the time Jesus gets to the parable of the shrewd manager He is being downright offensive. Maybe this is something to tackle in a post in the future.

  5. I don’t think you see Luke 15 different at all, maybe I wasn’t clear. I completely agree with what you wrote. Jesus was talking to the religious types, and totally spoke something very hard for them to hear…..once he roped them in emotionally by using a cultural example that was relevant to anyone, regardless of their beliefs (nobody likes losing something).

    I meant that the parables themselves tell about God’s heart for the lost, even if it overlooks what is already found. My use of that story is more about how Jesus communicated though, than about what he communicated.

    What I meant was, Jesus could have always just said the bottom line and moved on. But, he usually used great methods to pull people in, almost preparing them for the truth they were going to hear by using common emotion, relevant analogies, etc. That was great teaching, and my point is that some churches do the same thing when they plan services, or even plan their involvement strategy. They’re trying to connect with people first, then lead them to the truth. Often times we look at the things they do to connect and label them empty, watered-down or not Biblical when in fact, they may be very Biblical.

    To be real practical, let’s say a church uses an opening song (special) that makes everyone (regardless of faith) feel the common emotion of our need for forgiveness. That may be no different than Jesus using stories about lost stuff to connect everyone through their common emotion of what it’s like to lose something you care about.

    On a different note, I grew up in a Baptist church – a great example of how NOT to run that model 🙂 I too was changed in spite of it. It just shows that you can run a model extremely poorly and then give the whole model a bad rap.

    1. jeffandwendy says:

      Oh I see better now…but I still don’t know bro. I would completely agree with you except that I don’t see that pattern in the Gospels. People don’t hear Jesus speak and then go get their friends to hear more great wisdom. People get healed, 5000 get fed, a woman at a well is restored and then the crowds come. Once the crowds are there Jesus speaks, offends everyone, and chases them all away.

      I’m not arguing that we should “preach hard truths for beleivers to learn from” (a phrase I heard as a young Baptist). I’m arguing that the system of gathering a crowd through teaching does not mimick Jesus’ ministry. It’s effective sure. But we shouldn’t try to justify it with Scripture because its not there.

      When Jesus was asked why he always spoke in parables he gave the disciples a troubling answer about how he was intentionally separating himselves from the religious leaders of the day (Matt 13:10-17). Jesus says his reason for parables was not to pull a crowd, but to distance himself from religion becuase he knew they wouldn’t listen to them.

      1. Some people did encounter Jesus and then invite their friends/family (Philip & Nathanael). But, as Jesus taught, not everyone will respond to him.

        Jesus definitely offended at times and I think there are interesting commonalities about that.

        Often times he mostly offended God-followers, religious types. Oddly enough, some mega churches and/or “attractional” churches are loved by formerly lost people who came to Christ through that church (non-religious), while that church and model is offensive mostly to Christians (religious).

        Like Luke 15, Jesus didn’t always offend right away. Nobody was offended when he referred to what it was like to lose a sheep, in fact, they were all probably tracking with him…..then he dropped the bomb on them. Unfortunately too many churches try to drop the bomb right away, kind of like you said with the phrase you heard as a young Baptist.

        The feeding of the 5000 was a great example of a time when Jesus didn’t offend, in fact he had compassion on them (Mt 14:14).

        Loving the dialogue and I’m looking forward to meeting.

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