The following is an excerpt from chapter one of Andy Stanley’s new book, Deep & Wide. To preview the entirety of chapter one, click here.
In 1987, faced with limited space and aging facilities, First Baptist Atlanta [where Andy’s father, Charles Stanley, was senior pastor] voted to relocate from downtown Atlanta to the suburbs.
While seeking a buyer for our downtown property, the church purchased an Avon Products packing facility north of town. Along with the fifty acres of land, there was about four hundred thousand feet of warehouse space…Realizing it would be a couple of years before the church could build on the new site and relocate, the deacons asked me if I would be willing to begin holding services in a portion of our newly acquired warehouse complex…It’s important to keep in mind that there were no multi-site churches in those days. A few churches were experimenting with the idea of a second campus, but even that was novel. This was new territory. We had no idea what we were doing, but…we knew what we didn’t want to do. We didn’t want to re-create environments designed for church people. We wanted to create a church that unchurched people would love to attend…We opened Easter Sunday 1992 with about seven hundred people, most of whom were from the downtown church. Once they realized that “warehouse worship” was going to be a total departure from what they were accustomed to, about half of them elected not to come back. But they were quickly replaced by people from the community. A lot of people. By the third week, we were turning people away…We added a second service and began developing overflow space. By the end of the second month, we were closing in on two thousand adults in worship. It was crazy.
While God was using us to transform the way people thought about the local church, a transformation was taking place in our hearts as well. To borrow a phrase from my hero and friend, Bill Hybels, we were ruined. There was no going back. This was church as we had never experienced church. Truth is, I was ruined on opening day. After my first message, Sandra and I were walking back to the construction trailer that served as our green room. Just as we reached the rickety wooden stairs, I turned to her with tears in my eyes and said, “That’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.” (Dang it. I got misty just typing that.)
Meanwhile, things downtown weren’t going so well. The sale of the property fell through. The buyer walked away six months before closing and there was no backup contract…So what began as a two-year transition turned into an indefinite period of waiting. More time meant more opportunity for the two campuses to develop different and contrasting identities. It wasn’t intentional. Even with what I know now, I’m not sure it could have been avoided.
Families that had been attending downtown, but who lived south of the city and were not planning to make the transition to the new campus, began looking for new church homes. Instead of waiting for the actual relocation to take place, they went ahead and transitioned to other churches. The first to go were singles and young families with children. Seemingly overnight, the downtown congregation felt older. In contrast, the North campus was attracting singles and young families by the hundreds. Before long, attendance tilted in our direction.
As I mentioned earlier, our worship styles differed dramatically. So we were perceived as having a “cool” factor that the downtown church lacked. Suits, ties, and skirts became increasingly rare. The explosive growth at the North campus created an exhilarating level of excitement and anticipation, whereas the people downtown felt as if they were “stuck down there” until the property sold.
Eventually, people began to compare and contrast. The we/they talk began. Things became competitive. It was old versus new, traditional versus contemporary. We couldn’t understand why the mother church was so reluctant to fund all our new initiatives. And the mother church couldn’t understand why, with our large attendance, we couldn’t pay our own way. But in spite of all that, we managed to function as one church in two locations. This was due in large part to the fact that my father and I refused to allow anyone to get between us. We had no tolerance for father versus son. We knew that as long as we were on the same page, we could hold out until the two congregations came back together on the new property.
But in June of 1993, something happened that would ultimately drive a wedge between us. My mom filed for divorce.
For more information about how to purchase Deep & Wide, click here.
Special thanks to Zondervan for offering a free preview of chapter one.