(continued from previous page)
following article on Bill Hybels and Willow Creek came across my desk as I was
putting the finishing touches on this newsletter. It confirms what I wrote
previously earlier in the newsletter.
Willow Creek Repents?
October 18, 2007
Why the most influential
church in America now says "We made a mistake."
Few would disagree that
Willow Creek Community Church has been one of the most influential churches in
America over the last thirty years. Willow, through its association, has
promoted a vision of church that is big, programmatic, and comprehensive. This
vision has been heavily influenced by the methods of secular business. James
Twitchell, in his new book Shopping for God, reports that outside Bill
Hybels’ office hangs a poster that says: “What is our business? Who is our
customer? What does the customer consider value?” Directly or indirectly, this
philosophy of ministry—church should be a big box with programs for people at
every level of spiritual maturity to consume and engage—has impacted every
evangelical church in the country.
So what happens when
leaders of Willow Creek stand up and say, “We made a mistake”?
Not long ago Willow
released its findings from a multiple year qualitative study of its ministry.
Basically, they wanted to know what programs and activities of the church were
actually helping people mature spiritually and which were not. The results were
published in a book, Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Greg Hawkins,
executive pastor of Willow Creek. Hybels called the findings “earth shaking,”
“ground breaking,” and “mind blowing.”
If you’d like to get a
synopsis of the research you can watch a video with Greg Hawkins. And Bill Hybels’ reactions, recorded at last summer’s Leadership Summit, can be seen. Both videos are worth watching in their entirety, but below are few
In the Hawkins’ video he
says, “Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in
these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce
disciples of Christ.” This has been Willow’s philosophy of ministry in a
nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these
activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty
Hawkins says, “I know it might sound crazy but that’s how we do it in churches.
We measure levels of participation.”
Having put all of their
eggs into the program-driven church basket you can understand their shock when
the research revealed that “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of
activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of
Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people
Speaking at the Leadership
Summit, Hybels summarized the findings this way:
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. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and
didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.
Having spent thirty years
creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs
and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same,
you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake up call” of his adult
We made a mistake. What we
should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we
should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take
responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught
people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual
practices much more aggressively on their own.
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. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require
multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.
Does this mark the end of
Willow’s thirty years of influence over the American church? Not according to
Our dream is that we
fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of
paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights.
Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is
really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this
END OF ARTICLE --
QUESTIONS FOR WILLOW CREEK
What about the thousands of people
that were led astray during the 30 years and ended up in hell?
What does Willow Creek have to say
to them as they burn in hell?
Is it fair for God to forgive Bill
Hybels and count his victims as “collateral damage?”
the answers and more at the Great White Throne Judgment.
To be continued…
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