Saturday, May 17, 2008

Thoughts on Willow Creek's U-Turn

I'm cautiously optimistic about Willow Creek's stated intention to make the training of believers rather than the attracting of seekers the focus of their gatherings. Why it took reading the results of a survey and not just the New Testament to change their course of action, I'm not sure. Regardless of how they got there, at least they arrived at the right conclusion. One can only pray that the myriad of churches that have followed Willow Creek full throttle into seeker-focused ministry will have a similar epiphany and do a similar about face.

David Wells isn't as optimistic. In an interview with CT about his latest book, The Courage to Be Protestant, Wells was asked what theological significance Willow's shift has, to which he replied:

None. Bill Hybels has, I believe, the very best of motives, but he and his church are sailing rudderless in our cultural waters. Or, to change the image, he is like a CEO who shows up at the shareholders' meeting with very poor bottom-line results. So, what does he do? Instead of carrying out a serious diagnosis of what has gone wrong, he simply rolls out a new business plan that, unfortunately, has many of the same inherent weaknesses in it. The bottom line outcome will be no different five years, or ten years from now, from what it is today.
Also in CT, Matt Branaugh reflects on "Willow Creek's 'Huge Shift.'" He concludes with an observation from Greg Pritchard, author of Willow Creek Seeker Services, that seems to share Wells's skepticism:
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.
Melinda Penner welcomes the news of Willow's change and recalls her initial ruminations in response to the Reveal study:

Church is for the community of believers. The pastor is the shepherd who guides and teaches the sheep=believers. But at Willow Creek, the sheep fend for themselves and the programs are for unbelievers. Willow Creek calls itself a church but is in reality a perpetual evangelism rally. Hybels isn't a pastor, he's an evangelist. The problem comes when people attend thinking they're getting church, when really the sole focus of the church is evangelism. Billy Graham never started a church or claimed to pastor people. He did his job as evangelist and then encouraged local churches and pastors to do their job of feeding and discipleship. I think Hybels and Willow Creek would serve the Body better if they didn't claim to be a church. Churches and pastors don't leave believers to "self-feed."

Willow Creek says they're "seeker-obsessed." Great. We need evangelists with that obsession for the lost. That's a specific gift of the Spirit in the New Testament. And pastor is a different one. A church can't have that obsession to the exclusion of discipling the believers in its care. Do the job of an evangelist and then send new believers to a church instead of leaving them to "self-feed."


Mark said...

When Willow Creek founds a monastic community (or two) then we'll know they've really turned the corner.

Sarah J. Flashing said...

Great post....I was thinking EXACTLY the same thing regarding the use of surveys. Doing a second survey only revealed the problem with the first survey, and that was the fact that Willow utilized a survey.