Friday, April 11, 2008

Willow Creek Overhaul

This was taken from an article on the site Our of Ur:
Today, Greg Hawkins, executive pastor at Willow, recapped the study and then shared some changes that the church is now making in response to the research. He said they’re making the biggest changes to the church in over 30 years. For three decades Willow has been focused on making the church appealing to seekers. But the research shows that it’s the mature believers that drive everything in the church—including evangelism.

Hawkins says, “We used to think you can’t upset a seeker. But while focusing on that we’ve really upset the Christ-centered people.” He spoke about the high levels of dissatisfaction mature believer have with churches. Drawing from the 200 churches and the 57,000 people that have taken the survey, he said that most people are leaving the church because they’re not being challenged enough.

Because it’s the mature Christians who drive evangelism in the church Hawkins says, “Our strategy to reach seekers is now about focusing on the mature believers. This is a huge shift for Willow.”

One major implementation of this shift will occur in June when Willow ends their mid-week worship services that had been geared toward believers. Instead the church will morph these mid-week events into classes for people at different stages of growth. There will be theological and bible classes full of “hard-hitting stuff.” Hawkins said most people are very enthusiastic about the change.

On the seeker end of the spectrum, Willow is also changing how they produce their weekend services. For years the value people appreciated most about the seeker-oriented weekend services was anonymity. This is what all their research showed. People didn’t want to be identified, approached, confronted, or asked to do anything. But those days are over.

“Anonymity is not the driving value for seeker services anymore,” says Hawkins. “We’ve taken anonymity and shot it in the head. It’s dead. Gone.” In the past Willow believed that seekers didn’t want large doses of the Bible or deep worship music. They didn’t want to be challenged. Now their seeker-sensitive services are loaded with worship music, prayer, Scripture readings, and more challenging teaching from the Bible.

Willow has been wrestling with the research from REVEAL since 2004. Hawkins said, “We’ve tried incremental changes for four years, but now we know we have to overhaul our whole strategy.” Small steps are no longer the method; Willow is revamping everything. “It would be malpractice for us to not do something with what we’re learning.”

In the larger REVEAL survey taken by 200 churches, people were asked what they want most from their church. Three of the top four responses were:
1. Help me understand the Bible in greater depth
2. Help me develop a closer personal relationship with Christ
3. Challenge me to grow and take the next step in my faith

Read the rest here.

Still, I can't help but notice that it is still all about what the people want. What happens when they want something else? I'm just thankful that the flavor of the month for them is scripture and theology. I say that tongue-in-cheek. Hopefully, once they see the fruit from this, they'll never go back.


  1. Hey Paul! In partial defense of the Willowcreek response, we have to consider that medicine won't do the patient any good if it's so distasteful they won't take it. So even in reformed circles, where we believe we know what the patient needs, we still need to put it in a palatable form before it will do anyone any good.

    Of course, we don't want the patient (or more correctly "the child") prescribing his or her own medicine. And yet, as part of our bed-side manner, we need to explain the benefits of sound doctrine, the drawbacks of other alleged remedies, and the dangers of doing nothing. Now, equipped with sufficient information, the patients are able to choose their own course of treatment. Having made that decision themselves, they have a level of conviction that is beneficial to themselves as far as growth goes, and beneficial to the church as far as unity goes.

    So taking the pulse of the congregation isn't a bad thing, within limits. We just need to keep in mind that as young believers, they don't really know what's best for them; they are seeking counsel (in a way) by replying to these types of surveys. We need to be careful how we word them, and what information we're tying to ellicit from them, and what our intent is for the results.

    It's not just the fruit they see that will keep them from going back, but whether it's tasty.

  2. Thanks Bill, I appreciate your comment as it gives me more to think about concerning Willow and other seeker churches as well. I'm glad that you got home alright, and thanks again for the airplane conversation. It was definitely a more enjoyable flight as a result.