Monday, May 19, 2008

Willow Creek Changes...But Will it Be Real Change?

Some time ago I blogged about the "Reveal" survey conducted by the Ueber-mega-church Willow Creek. The results of their survey found that the "seeker-sensitive" model wasn't working to grow disciples.

Now we have this story, which describes that Willow Creek is following through, re-tooling their worship services for believers. It will be interesting to see how "deep" they make their services and how much they might still resemble pop/consumerist models of "church."

Here's an excerpt:

After modeling a seeker-sensitive approach to church growth for three decades, Willow Creek Community Church now plans to gear its weekend services toward mature believers seeking to grow in their faith.

The change comes on the heels of an ongoing four-year research effort first made public late last summer in Reveal: Where Are You?, a book coauthored by executive pastor Greg Hawkins. Hawkins said during an annual student ministries conference in April that Willow Creek would also replace its midweek services with classes on theology and the Bible.

Whether more changes are in store for the suburban Chicago megachurch isn't clear. Hawkins declined CT's interview request, and senior pastor Bill Hybels was unavailable for comment.

Since 1975, Willow Creek has avoided conventional church approaches, using its Sunday services to reach the unchurched through polished music, multimedia, and sermons referencing popular culture and other familiar themes. The church's leadership believed the approach would attract people searching for answers, bring them into a relationship with Christ, and then capitalize on their contagious fervor to evangelize others.

But the analysis in Reveal, which surveyed congregants at Willow Creek and six other churches, suggested that evangelistic impact was greater from those who self-reported as "close to Christ" or "Christ-centered" than from new church attendees. In addition, a quarter of the "close to Christ" and "Christcentered" crowd described themselves as spiritually "stalled" or "dissatisfied" with the role of the church in their spiritual growth. Even more alarming to Willow Creek: About a quarter of the "stalled" segment and 63 percent of the "dissatisfied" segment contemplated leaving the church....

"It is a huge shift," Pritchard said of the church's planned changes to its services. "But they're still using the same marketing methodology. Willow appears to be selecting a new target audience with new felt needs, but it is still a target audience. Can they change? Yes, but it will take more than just shifting their target audience."


  1. Dixie said...

    This is kinda a sad way. So the folks at Willow Creek are going to do something different since their former model was proven ineffective...and what will they do? Use the same methods to come at a solution like they did before! I wonder if it ever occured to them that their methodology may be giving them the wrong solutions?

    Quite honestly...what I see here are two foundational problems. First is a lack of trust or belief that the Holy Spirit actually works and secondly, this is a church without the sacraments. When one doesn't have or believe in the Holy has no choice but to fend for himself...and hence resort to marketing solutions (or math and statistics, or sociological solutions or artistic solutions...whatever a person knows to do).

    I believe these people are genuinely concerned about the salvation of others and are only using the tools they know to use. It's just a shame their toolbox is not full. Although my priests says of protestants that most do more with the limited tools they have than some of us who are Orthodox and have a full toolbox.

  2. Ezekiel said...

    Of course, the whole discussion begs us to define "the church." Those who define it as an ethereal idealist hidden reality can have a field day, I guess.

    And of course, many think that "the church" is a composite of "good things" from "many traditions."

    However, The Church is neither of these things, but the very Body of Christ, the pillar and ground of Truth. She has continued throughout the ages, marked by the Holy Mysteries, by the Fathers who guard that truth in the Divine liturgy.

    The Willow Creek types seem to think that The Church is hidden, or needs reforming, or needs to be reshaped. And far too many of the Willow Creek variety and others have determined that where the bucks and bodies and buildings are, there is the successful "church."

    Of course, as they are demonstrating, using marketing strategies and measuring "success" by numbers of one sort or another leaves little room for lasting Truth -- even denying Him -- always looking for that thing which caters to the whims, likes, and fancies currently in vogue.

    Contrast some of the things of Willow Creek (and others) with the recent postings of Fr Stephen Freeman on "Glory to God for All Things." Big difference, eh? :)

    Christos Anesti!