Monday, November 5, 2007

Willow Creek: Broken

Bill Hybels, the founder of Willow Creek Church, together with Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins, the "executive pastor" of Willow Creek, have released a book entitled Reveal: Where Are You? which sounds oh-so-emergent, yet has the added value of debunking the work that they have done for the past twenty years.

That's right. Willow Creek is broken. According to other reports and reviews, the Willow Creek executives have discovered that their "seeker sensitive" model to church growth can certainly grow attendance and income of churches, but does little to actually foster disciples and spirituality.

Such news may be of little surprise to readers here. As I've told some members who are fascinated with our local version of the mega-church, it's simply a matter of technique and the right social environment to build a mega-church. Less skill is required to build simply a big church, but such techniques and sociological conditions do not necessarily make Christians. All of this is no news to many of us, though it is nice to see the actual originators of this model admit as much, with statistics to back it up.

But I'm concerned about the effect that such a realization will have. Hawkins said,

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 planet.

My friend Byzantine Dixie wrote about this,
You know what…they don’t need a tabla rasa and more surveys. They just need to look at what the Church has provided throughout the centuries, spiritual fathers. They are our personal trainers.

Amen. It doesn't take a genius to see that Willow Creek, in "chang[ing] the way they do church," will end up right back where they started. Apparently Hawkins is unaware of something called history, and likewise unaware that Christians have been "doing church" for millennia without "research" and "rethinking old assumptions." Vanity.

But my other concern was illustrated by a conversation I had with someone who, by all accounts, is even more pragmatic and a-historical than the Willow Creek folk. I mentioned this to him, emphasizing the lack of discipleship and spiritual growth--even life--of the thousands who attend Willow Creek. He responded, "Well, at least they're doing something! We need to do more than just sit on our cans." I'm afraid too many like him will not see beyond the operation and budget and esteem of the megachurch. I'm afraid too many pastors will fear loosing their kingdoms, and members fear loosing the community, and too many loosing the anonymity of "worshiping" with thousands of others. I'm afraid too much is invested in many of these operations to risk loosing the wealth, influence and power associated with these churches which outnumber many small towns.


  1. Mike Baker said...

    Amen, Pr Hall.

    Great minds think alike.