Interesting times

29th Friday in Ordinary Time

Fr. Peter’s blog referred to a post on Chuck Warnock’s blog “Confessions Of A Small Church Pastor” about something “shocking” (with all the cynicism and what-not those of you who know me would hear in my voice) that has happened at Willow Creek Community Church (‘WCCC’) in Chicago, IL.

Turns out that after 30 years of creating a well known “business plan” (for lack of a better phrase) for “Turning irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ” (that is Willow Creek’s motto of sorts, and a damn good one at that), a recent survey conducted by Greg Dawkins (Exec. Pastor of WCCC) revealed some “startling” results.

Those who follow church growth trends, fads and theories would know that WCCC’s model is one where “participation” in church activities is the key. I’ll quote Exec. Ps. Dawkins on this from his video blog entry of sorts on WCCC’s new website Reveal.

“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.”

Turns out that the survey results up-ended that thinking big time and left Senior Pastor Bill Hybels saying to himself after the research results came out that it was “the wake up call of my adult life.” The results ended up stating that:

“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.”

The Out Of Ur blog post on Christianity Today sums it up perfectly. I’ll quote from there:

Speaking at the Leadership Summit, 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.’ 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.

Small churches rejoice, because there’s a better chance than not that you are affecting members of your congregation to have something more than a superficial faith, but one that drinks deep from the well of salvation that is found only in Christ and in the community of the local church parish rather than in big events that impress us but may leave no longstanding effect on our lives.

Personally I’m not surprised that it’s taken a megachurch this long to realize this. The more a church ends up appearing like a business organization (which is what a lot of megachurches look like), there’s a pretty good chance that those who have gone well beyond being seekers and then newbie converts will eventually come to a point in their spiritual lives where church ends up being more of a trap than a place where salvation is proclaimed, received and then challenged to be missionally incarnated out into the real world.

Go here to view Bill Hybel’s message at the 2007 Willow Creek Leadership Summit (crikey, sounds like a political event with that sort of a name!) as well as Greg Dawkins’ little talk as well.

+ bf 2020hrs


One thought on “Interesting times”

  1. I saw these articles and watched the videos. Read a bunch of posts/reactions.

    Program participation doesn’t indicate spiritual growth. So we need to survey the believers and find out what they need. We need to develop personal growth paths. Advise and develop spiritual practices.

    Then we’ll grow.

    Uhhh…. yeah… then we’ll grow….

    Good thing we don’t need Jesus in all of this. Just the desire to pursue Him.

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