Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church…

Did you hear about the Reveal Survey?  This was conducted by one of the largest (and best in my opinion) church in the US – Willow Creek. I remember keenly waiting for the results when Willow Creek launched it because I knew something was wrong about the way we did church because it consumed people and all but neutralized their effectiveness as believers. Willow wanted to know if people were actually growing as a result of their church involvement. The results shocked them, and I’m so glad they’ve been honest about it and are looking for new and better ways of being the church.

in Willow Creek Repents? Executive pastor, Greg Hawkins 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.

But 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 so many 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 correlate to someone becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT correlate to whether they love God more or they love people more.”

Speaking at the Leadership Summit, Senior Pastor Bill 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 life.

Hybels confesses:

“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.’ ”

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 Hawkins:

“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.”

And I say what a dream!

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