When I used to work in PR, my firm stressed the concept of “knowing your clients pain” and “managing client expectations.” These were two keys to getting the desired result – positive outcome for the client and the right attitude toward your involvement in their success. I am starting to see that both of these are keys for effective church leadership and making disciples of Christ out of ordinary people.
Willow Creek Community Church, one of the largest churches in the country and a major proponent of the seeker sensitive model, started surveying the spiritual growth of its congregation a few years ago. It found some shocking results. Then it expanded its research to 30 other congregations around the country and is looking to expand that to 500 churches in the near future.
Willow’s findings is the subject of a new book, titled, Reveal: Where Are You Now? It has been the subject of much blog discussion and maybe some debate. Has Willow repented from the seeker sensitive model? Are the megachurches going to focus more on personal relationships and less on programs? What do you make of Hybel’s confession that their formula is not working as well as the hype suggests?
From what I have read and heard, it appears that Willow Creek is not abandoning its seeker vision. Instead, it is hoping to take a careful inspection of its membership and change things to meet more people where they happen to be. While no church can be everything to everyone, Willow Creek seems to get the fact that not everyone is at the same place. Needs and pathways to deeper discipleship vary from person to person. The one size fits all approach does not work. Willow found six major types of people in the surveyed churches. See the chart below.
I applaud Willow Creek for being willing to take a close look at itself and share what it finds with other churches. Would many of our congregations be so bold? I also believe Willow Creek bears some responsibility since it has become a church in the spotlight. That’s why I am glad for its willingness to start a conversation on a topic that many churches would rather ignore to their own peril.
I believe we need to radically challenge many lies that have taken hold of churches in America. First, people need to come to Jesus and become part of a church for something other than selfish reasons. You can come to Jesus because you want to avoid hell. But you can’t stay at that attitude if you want to be a true disciple of Christ. In a recent post, I wrote about consumerism and its negative influence on how Christians view churches. It has put the focus on us and not God or His kingdom. Church shopping makes people critics of churches without ever having to truly become a part of one. It can create a dangerous illusion of connectedness. That needs to stop. We must repent if we want to live for God.
Second, Christians have to take personal responsibility for spiritual growth. Churches are good at creating programs. They are bad at creating operating systems that function well outside of their walls in the daily life of parishioners. As long as the person spends lots of time at church, everything works great. But once they stop coming to event-centered ministry, their spiritual growth stalls because it has no roots of its own. There must be a balance between personal and corporate responsibility for a congregation’s spiritual growth. People in the seats need to stop looking to the person on the stage as their source of nourishment. That is where managing expectations comes into play. Ministers need to detox the congregation while giving them tools to succeed on their own.
Bill Hybels, top dog at Willow Creek, said, “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.”
Hybels called this a serious “wake up” call for Willow Creek’s ministry. The church had previously operated under the thought that if people were active in church they were growing in Christ. But that is not necessarily the case.
Greg Hawkins, executive pastor at Willow Creek, said, “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.”
Hawkins further said, “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 more.”
Hybels explained where Willow Creek made mistakes. He said, “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.”
Wow… that is refreshing honesty. I don’t think that Willow Creek is abandoning the seeker model. Instead it seems to be scrapping the thought that people are plug and play.
Willow Creek seems to be taking a bold step to admit faults and try to learn from what people in the congregation actually think. If you are a church leader and your main feedback comes from your staff or a few close friends, you are in trouble. If you are a church which tries to please people above God, you are in trouble. If you are a church that looks inward and never up or out, you are in trouble. If you are a church with little true connectedness, you are in trouble. If you are a church that refuses to ask the tough questions, you are in trouble. If you are a church where the generations are divided, you are in trouble.
Willow Creek wants to fundamentally change how we do church. Hawkins talked about taking out a clean sheet of paper and starting over. This will require killing some sacred cows. That takes a lot of courage. Idols won’t die easy. This is particularly true if leadership has grown accustomed to or depend on the idols.
Okay, let’s get out that piece of paper. It looks like we have some work to do. You can find out more by visiting the link below.