My response to Dare 2 Share’s “Deep & Wide” ministry strategy

A while ago Greg Stier told me to check out the Deep & Wide ministry strategy and asked me to share my thoughts with him. I honestly put it off for a while just because of time and priorities, but a couple weeks ago I read the 34-page thesis and was actually surprised how much it coincided with what’s already taking place in my youth group. We’ve been taking a natural shift in this direction already — Deep & Wide just put words to what we’re already experiencing.

Deep & Wide is not another ministry philosophy. It’s not intended to be a formula for youth groups. It’s not the newest, latest, wave of ministry hype. It is simply an approach to ministry that moves spiritually apathetic teens to spiritually passionate teens. And it truly is simple. Just as the book Simple Church advocates, our modern approach to ministry is very cumbersome: we have purpose statements, vision statements, mission statements, core values, target audiences, various strategies, blah, blah, blah. It’s all supposed to fit together somehow, but yet the average Joe in our church has no idea what any of it means, and often we don’t either. Deep & Wide is simple: the vision is the mission, is the purpose, is the values, is the strategy and everything else rolled into one cohesive approach.

But most importantly, it’s straight from the Word of God. As my own ministry has discovered, it’s funny how God works when we actually do what His Word tells us to do in ministry and stop focusing on all the other fabricated stuff we add to it.

Lest you think scripture isn’t foundation enough, Willow Creek and REVEAL are finding that the typical approach to church ministry is not moving people toward a closer relationship with Christ. All their research and statistical data backs up Deep & Wide exactly.

I’m not going to explain to you what Deep & Wide is since you can read it yourself. However, I do have some reactions to it that Greg and I have already discussed extensively. He agrees with my critique and plans to make these changes as they go through an evaluation process and release a revised copy later this summer.

1. The role of the Holy Spirit, although mentioned, seems largely removed from the process. It’s mentioned a couple times, but I think He deserves more credibility in the process than the thesis mentions. Absolutely none of the Deep & Wide stuff happens without Him. That’s actually a problem I have with most ministry philosophies out there — they come across as almost being a methodical approach to coercing the divine into doing something.

2. Although I think the 30 core truths are good, basing it on a survey from leaders in various denominations strikes me as being a bit too human-ordained. Where does the issue of spiritual identity come in (being made in His image in Genesis, being “in Christ” in Eph, etc.)? It seems like a lot of good topics to cover from a systematic theology approach, but a student could possibly go through every issue listed and never come out knowing what it means to be a responsible, growing and effective believer except to have a list of stuff they’re supposed to “do,” rather than knowing who they “are.” What we “do” should flow from who we are, not the other way around. Identity in Christ comes first.

3. Deep & Wide has a sense of methodicalness to it, almost as if it promises that if I do A, B, and C, that means X, Y, and Z will happen, but we all know that spirituality a lot messier than that. The graph of spiritual growth over time is never a straight upward climb. The thesis needs to reflect the bumps and setbacks that will take place in real life and not unintentionally create unrealistic expectations.

4. I’m a little more careful with the book of Acts than the Deep & Wide thesis is when making a defense for what the church should be like today. Acts was an abnormal time period for the church, a period of transition characterized by elements that aren’t and can’t be a part of us today. However, the point that God wants to bring thousands into a relationship with Him is well taken and understood.

5. Teenagers are looking for adult sponsors who can answer “yes” to FOUR questions — the three questions the thesis mentions, plus “Are you reflecting Christ more accurately every day?” I’ve had youth leaders who loved Jesus, loved kids and were real, and I’ve had to kick them out leadership for gross immaturity issues. Youth leaders must be growing in Christ if they’re going to be the spiritual role model that I (and the Lord) expect.

Of course, people usually only respond to points of disagreement, which is essentially what I’m doing here, but I wholeheartedly support and agree with the big picture of Deep & Wide. In fact, it’s the only required text to read and discuss in my youth ministry leadership mentorship program.

If you’ve read the Deep & Wide Ministry Thesis, Greg and I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, especially now as it goes through revisions.

Posted on May 7, 2008

  • @ P. Ngwolo: Good question. It starts with you. Since we should never ask our students to do something we're not doing ourselves, it needs to start with us going deep and wide on a personal basis. Develop a passion for God's Word and a burden for the lost souls around you. If you're in the little Christian bubble most pastors are in, get out of it. Get into the community and build relationships with pre-Christians. Then let that passion and burden flow from you and into your ministry as the Holy Spirit works through you. Critically evaluate your ministry, what needs to go, what needs to be tweaked, and what needs to start in order to help move kids along the continuum of being apathetic to passionate. And whatever you do, saturate the entire process in prayer. Beg God and His Holy Spirit to move in you and in your group.

  • Thanks again Tim for your excellent feedback. I’m hoping that many of your readers will give even more feedback. As we tighten this idea up and re-address the thesis we want to get as much valid, Biblical and practical insight as possible. Our goal is to provide a simple and effective idea that can be easily implemented and see results as they allow the HOLY SPIRIT to drive the process through them.

  • Jim

    I read the deep and wide ministry thesis as well a couple months ago…

    It was great!!! i found myself being very challenged as a youth director to want to implement some of Greg's ideas.

    I would encourage all youth leaders to read this…

    every youth leader wants to see their student's grasp and understand Jesus' truths and promies, while also have a group that is growing…

    deep and wide… deep and wide… there's a fountain flowing deep and wide…

  • I’m going to try to get some thoughts posted in the next few days.

  • P. Ngwolo

    What results numerically and spiritually have you seen since you commenced this shift in your youth ministry?

  • @ Matt: Thanks man, that would be very helpful!

    @ P. Ngwolo: I’d encourage you to read about it here. That kinda outlines what’s been going on in my youth group.

    It’s worth mentioning that a youth group may numerically shrink before it grows as a result of D&W. When I worked at a church in Virginia, I came to a youth group of about 30 kids. Three weeks later the group was only about 7 kids and the church’s leadership pulled me into a room to discuss what I was doing wrong. The fact is, the kids who left were the ones who were only there for free food and to play games. When we started studying God’s Word, they stopped coming. The 7 who remained were the ones who were actually serious about their faith and had a desire to grow. As a result, by the end of the summer those 7 kids were totally on fire for God and took serious ownership over their youth group so that when I left the interim position those 7 kids were moving ahead at full-steam with their youth group, their personal relationship with God and reaching out to those around them.

  • Tim: Good thoughts on the shrinking. I agree that pruning might often be in order.

  • P. Ngwolo

    So where did you start as far as implementing this shift? The volunteers or the students? What were your first steps?

  • Thanks Tim for the great reminder that Growth is based on us alone but on God giving the increase …I think we too often miss that fact of the Hoyl Spirit's role!

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  • Scott Stoops

    I am fairly new to youth ministry (as an adult volunteer), though I have been a follower of Christ for many years and ministered in other areas. I read the Deep and Wide Thesis with great eagerness. For myself, it has been a great check of where I am in my own depth and outreach. We have gone through several youth pastors over the past few years. We’ve gone from broad outreach and little depth to trying to cultivate depth even if the group remains small. I don’t see that either is an option. It is not either/or but both.

    I really like that this is not just hype or some new methodology. It is intended to remind us of true biblical ministry regardless of who we are trying to reach. Fundamentally, we need to be relying on and seeking God in how we approach any ministry. Programs may be tools that are used but they should not replace people committed to Jesus Christ who prayerfully and in reliance upon the Holy Spirit minister to all whom God has given us.

    We grow because we see that Christ far exceeds all other things and we desire him above all else. We want to become like him in every way. Our teens will do the same.

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