Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Willow Creek Repents

My dad just showed me an interesting article that came out last month about a big church in Chicago called Willow Creek. Many of you have heard of it I'm sure and in the article the pastor comes out saying that they have done some studies that show that the way they have been going about their ministry hasn't been effective.

They had a very business approach to their ministry and it's something that I would've thought would've been a good way to go about it but apparently it isn't.

If you're interested check out the article .

Do you think the big - "program centered" model for church should still be kept and maybe just adapted or thrown out all together after what Willow Creek discovered?


Ginger Murray said...

I thought the same thing.. but I'm on the Vision Team at my church.. and we're still trying to find out what it is that gets more people to a church, and then what helps their spiritual growth. A woman who conducts those types of studies (like the study you posted about) told us it's not about having more programs... which was really surprising to me too.

I guess each person has different spiritual needs-- unless it's that we all have the same need, and we each grow in a different way-- and at a different pace than anyone else... so maybe that's why programs don't work. Maybe LIFE is the best sort of program for spiritual growth that one can go through...

Chris Humphreys said...

I grew up at Willow Creek. I was actually on staff there the last few years that I was in high school. I was deeply committed to their theology. It wasn't until I left the Willow bubble and started really investigating historical Christianity and the real Acts 2 Church (which oddly was what Willow says they try to emulate) that I became pretty skeptical of their theology and their practices.

Through a very long journey which is way too long to desrcibe here, I became an Orthodox Christian, which is about as far as you can get from being a "Creeker."

Oddly, everything that attracted me to Orthodoxy and away from Willow's theology was everything that article talked about. Willow has set their theology around people "watching." Watching rock conccert type programs, huge outreach musicals, and nationally renowned speakers.

What I learned though, is that the historical church realizes spiritual transformation comes not through "watching" but participating. Participating in the sacraments, such as confession and communion, participating in the liturgy, participating in the church calendar, and the church seasons such as Lent and Advent.

What I'm not surprised about is that the move towards Orthodoxy and hisotorical Christianity is growing at a rising rate, particularly amongst young people.

When I entered my small college as a Freshman there weren't any student converts in the local Orthodox Church. By the time I left as a Senior four years later there were 8 student converts and 2 staff converts.

I think Christians and "seekers" (willow's name for non Christians looking at Christianity) alike are starting to search for something much deeper than what Willow has offered.

What an interesting article.

TripleCord Photography said...

Thanks for sharing this article!

In my beginning years as a Christian, a friend said, "Just BE a Christian!" It led me on a journey of discovering what that meant and has been quite an adventure finding the depth God can go with a willing heart. Our pastor, Rick Warren says, "Many of us have become human doings rather than human beings." hmmmmm.

Thanks Chris for your comments. They are so insightful.

Annette Biggers

Anita Matejka Photography said...

I think that each church has to follow God's leading and not another church's leading for what works for them. If they are prayerfully seeking God's direction, then He will reveal it to them. I don't think that just because it works for one church, it's going to work for another. I don't know much about Willow Creek, but I do think it's admirable that they "repented" and were willing to be honest about what's not working for them.

I also think that sometimes churches focus too much on "growth" and not enough on feeding the flock ... where you would actually be missed if you weren't there on Sunday.

I would love to find a church like in Acts (4:32-35) ... is that possible?

Kevin Sturm said...

It's interesting to say the least.

I've heard Bill Hybels speak a few times, but never been to Willow Creek. In the few times I heard him speak I was disappointed. Not because he was a poor speaker (he is amazing) but because I felt like I was getting a three part sermon on how to be a good person. Scripture got tied in "loosely" to the sermon, but the main points were his points versus teaching the Bible. What I would refer to as poor hermeneutics.

I would call the "three point sermon on being a good person" a characteristic of the "seeker sensitive" Church that Willow Creek created a model for. Don't offend anyone and be careful not to challenge anyone's system of belief. My feeling was and is the "seeker sensitive" movement is creating an unhealthy version of evangalism. When Church success is measured in church population and estimated conversion rates it is a slippery slope. That is easily proven (in my opinion) in all the poor publicity associated with TV evangelists (as it is really a very similar concept).

It is not a popularity contest because it can't be about the Church or the pastoral staff. It has to be about "The Church" (as in there is only one Church). Willow Creek is a building, where members of the Church meet. The Bible talks about the bride of Christ, not the brideS of Christ. There is only one Church and our goal is to increase our relationship with Christ and each other through meeting together (what we call a Church).

I commend Bill Hybels and Willow Creek for publishing this article though. That had to be tough. It negates years of "do it this way because it works". A person I would consider wise in the Bible told me that a Christian that reads the Bible regularly and doesn't go to Church is better off than one that is very involved in Church but only reads the Bible on Sundays.

Both are the ideal as Christ called us to study His Word and fellowship with other believers.

Kudos to Willow Creek for working on growing to be a place that meets the spiritual needs of it's congregation though.

Thanks for the thought provoking post DJ.

rmcphoto said...

I think with anything it all comes down to what you put into it. The big church programs may help bring more people in the doors and make it easier to invite friends but your relationship with God is dependent on what you put into it. My wife and I were attending Grace Fellowship Church ( in Baltimore, MD up to last month before we moved out to Los Angeles. Grace is a Willow Creek Association church which means they have the same principles. They would always stress to get involved in a small group since the church was so big. Even with the small group you only grew if you put something into it. Yes it was a smaller group to help you stay accountable but if you did not do the study each week you would not grow. If you did not pray outside of the group you would not grow. With everything it always comes down to a personal choice.

Gary Fong, Author said...

The temptation is always there when an organization grows.

I'm of the belief that one should not make a public demonstration of prayer. Once I began keeping my spirituality a private matter, I have felt it grow and swirl deeper.

You know how monks take a vow of silence? I decided a while ago to take a vow of religious silence :)

ron said...

Not surprised DJ. I wish that were the case, but having been involved in church ministry for quite a few years now I have seen there is a huge disconnect between going to church and being a "Christlike" - and unfortunately I have seen it in my own life.

The reality is that it is so much easier to punch into our "Christian time clock" and then punch out...anytime anwhere.

It's about following Christ. Period. Success...Failure, good times and bad...consistently being faithful to Him.

As followers of Christ we realized what a shame we were to ourselves, our emptyness, our need for a Savior. If we forget this we are lost. If teach anything else we will be held accountable. If we market anything else we will be judged.

Hey's great that they realized it. That's a great Thanksgiving.

Take Care DJ - Happy Thanksgiving!

Anonymous said...

That was a very interesting article. Although I am not christian, my rabbi recently made a sermon challenging people to study and bring spirituality and religion into their home. He spoke of g-d wanting a personal relationship with us. For me the synogogue is a place of fellowship as well as prayer. However my personal journey and spirituality comes from my personal practices at home, and as a jew, study of the talmud as well as the torah. The rabbi is their to answer questions and challenge me, but my growth is up to me.

Daniel J. Watkins said...

Maybe I'm just ignorant, but I'd never heard of Willow Creek until I read this post. (And I follow the same religion my great-great-great grandparents followed in the 1800s...does that make me old fashioned?)

So I did a Wiki search on Willow Creek. Here is part of what I read...

"Willow Creek's new, state-of-the-art Worship Center (completed in 2004) seats over 7,200 people, making it over twice as large as the Kodak Theater in Hollywood and the largest theater in the United States.

It is the first church in the world to make use of two cutting-edge, Mitsubishi "Diamond Vision" LED screens 14'x 24' in size, usually seen in new sports stadiums. Each screen is movable on its own track systems and can be combined into one giant screen. (The approximate cost per screen is $750,000.) The Worship Center also has innovative dual, stacked-deck balconies.

Wheelchair seating has a "1 person to 1 LCD ratio" for disabled attendees. Back rows have 62-inch LCD screens at an approximate "10 seats to 1 LCD ratio." Every TV broadcasts the service across the room utilizing 8-12 standard definition cameras. Although the room is HD ready, only one HD camera is currently used for weekly services. It is estimated that the auditorium cost more than $50 million dollars to construct, though several key components were donated to the building."

Which really makes me wonder one thing...

Are we trying to get closer to God, or are we just trying to get a better seat in front of the TV?

Unknown said...

I think the article says it best:

"In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships."

I don't think there's anything wrong with big churches, per say, but simply whether or not they stress those spiritual disciplines, solid bible teaching, and evangelism.

By they way, what Gary said was right in line with Matt 6:5.

Ron Dawson said...

Thanks for sharing the article DJ. As someone who strongly believes in the power of the arts to communicate God's word, I've naturally been intrigued by WC and their incredible media programs. I commend them on re-evaluating their effectiveness and then be willing to share the results with the world; even if those results show they may have erred in a number of ways. (I think the article's title is misleading though.) I got much more insight on this from watching the 13 min Greg Hawkins video.

I really liked their recognition of the five levels of Christian relationships, and realizing that each group has different needs. My wife and I can see that initimately as a church we've attended for the past 18 mos. It is heavily geared towards worship and sermons tha appeal to seekers, newer Christians, or Christians who has bad experiences with the faith (a lot of them Catholic) while growing up. However, more mature Christians in their walk (like us) were feeling something was lacking. They're attempting to address the issue with two different types of worship, but I wonder if it will be successful in the long run. There needs to be a way for a church to help a person grow in their walk, by effectively addressing the needs of the person at each stage of their journey. A tall order indeed. I'll be curious to see how their continued research pans out.

Daniel J. Watkins said...

I think far too many "bad experiences" are because people expect religion to change for them...rather than take responsibility to make changes they should make so that their thoughts, words and actions are for the greater glory of God.

Too many people want religion to be fast-food...they want it quick, easy, simple...when, all too often, they miss out on the reality that the best meals take a long time and a lot of hard work to prepare.