Home > Brian's Blogs, Discipleship > Willow Creek’s Desire to Reveal

Willow Creek’s Desire to Reveal

Perhaps this is old news to some people, but since I spend a lot more time reading and discussing the Emerging Church Movement rather than the church growth movement, I’ve missed it…Willow Creek is challenging themselves (and us) on the effectiveness of our churches. For a first hand account, view this video from Willow Creek Executive Pastor Greg Hawkins. Here is a synopsis:

First, Hawkins summarizes how we currently “do” church:

  1. The purpose of church is to make disciples (people who love God and love others).
  2. The method of church is to create programs. The primary programs include worship, classes, small groups, care ministries, and serving opportunities.
  3. Success is determined by increasing participation in these programs. In other words, churches believe that they are making disciples if there is increased participation in these programs.

Second, Hawkins summarizes the problem with this model:

  1. Increased participation does NOT predict increased love for God and love for others.
  2. The reason participation is not a good predictor is because people are at different places in their walk. Specifically, Willow’s survey puts people in five categories: exploring Christ, growing toward Christ, close to Christ, centered on Christ, or stalled from Christ. He concludes that churches do the best with those exploring and growing, but are poor at serving those who are centered on Christ (I’m wondering if our own church at GLBC is the opposite?)

Finally, Hawkins summarizes some future directions:

  1. There is a problem with the one-size-fits-all approach. In other words, we need to stop assuming that everyone should be in a class or a small group. We don’t need everyone in all places, we need people in the right places.
  2. Related to this, we need to go beyond numbers in specific programs. Rather than keeping track of numbers, we need to keep track of intimacy. Are people growing in intimacy with Christ? We do this by regularly asking the people.
  3. We don’t do this alone. We need the whole body of Christ. Willow Creek is going to expand their survey in 2008 and is asking for churches to get involved (see here, but one great weakness already is that they are only surveying Willow Creek Association churches!).

Willow Creek has also produced another video of Bill Hybels responding to Hawkins’s research, research that Hybels calls “the wake up call of my adult life.” He laments, “some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much.” The bottom line, as stated above, is that Willow Creek is effective for the seeker but ineffective for the committed Christian. In Hybels words, “we made a mistake” because they didn’t encourage people to take responsibility for their own spiritual growth (like learning to read the Bible on their own!).

I commend Willow Creek for taking an honest look at their own ministry, being humble enough to admit mistakes, and being courageous enough to make a change. Again, Willow Creek proves it is a leader in many respects. I’m excited/curious to see what comes next. Will Willow Creek change? Will Willow Creek merely modify their existing programs? Will Willow Creek become the largest emerging church in the world? It should be a fun ride…


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