Misrepresenting Willow Creek

I’m disrupting the regular Life 2.0 programming to give way to a very important official statement from Willow Creek Association
. If you are a church planter or an evangelical, you probably have heard of “seeker sensitive model” in doing church. Recently, Willow Creek released their REVEAL project that summarizes the failures of churches (not just those of the seeker-sensitive model) to lead people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus. Unfortunately, misrepresentations and misinterpretations of Bill Hybel’s statements are circulating in print and the blogsphere. They use these statements and the survey to prove that the seeker-sensitive model is a failure. Here’s the complete statement:

THE SITUATION:
The Willow Creek Association published a book called REVEAL in August 2007 about “ground-breaking” research findings regarding spiritual growth. These findings were based on survey results from seven churches and have now been confirmed through research with an additional two-dozen churches around the country, including two Canadian churches.

Some in the Christian blogging and media world point to these findings as evidence of a church model “flaw”/breakdown that applies exclusively to Willow Creek and/or the seeker movement inspired by Willow Creek thirty years ago.
This is not what the research shows.

Here are several quotes based on partial or incorrect information:

  • World magazine; November 10, 2007: “‘We made a mistake’. Bill Hybels…on a study that showed the Willow Creek model had not produced spiritually mature Christians.”
  • Bob Burney, Townhall; October 30, 2007: “The report reveals that what they’ve been doing for these many years and what they’ve taught millions of others to do is not producing solid disciples of Jesus Christ…Numbers, yes, but not disciples….”
  • H.B. London, The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing; November 9, 2007: “Hybels goes on to say ‘If you simply want a crowd, the “seeker sensitive” model produces results. If you want solid, sincere, mature followers of Christ, it’s a bust.” Bill Hybels did not say this. Focus on the Family is printing a retraction.


FOUR FACTS ABOUT REVEAL:

1. REVEAL’s findings go well beyond Willow Creek and the “seeker” church movement.

  • REVEAL’s findings are based on thirty churches besides Willow, chosen specifically to reflect a diversity of church models. We’ve surveyed traditional Sunday school model churches, missions-focused churches, mainline denominations, African-American churches and churches representing a wide range of geographies, sizes and styles. In all thirty churches, we’ve found the six segments of REVEAL’s spiritual continuum, including the Stalled and Dissatisfied segments.
  • REVEAL is currently surveying five hundred churches, including more than a dozen denominations and English-speaking international churches. Early results from the first 200 demonstrate REVEAL’s segments exist across multiple church model/style/size alternatives.
  • 40% of these 500 churches do not describe themselves as “seeker-focused” or “seeker-friendly”.


2. REVEAL’s findings show that Christ-followers are being developed at Willow Creek and all other surveyed churches.

  • The two most spiritually mature segments, called the “Close to Christ” and the “Christ-Centered” groups, account for over 40% of the total thirty church sample. To date the spiritual profiles of those churches show a range of 30% to 60% for these two segments.
  • The controversy is REVEAL discovered a Dissatisfied segment that fell out of the two most spiritually advanced segments noted above. They are sold-out Christ followers, but are disappointed in their church. The Dissatisfied segment averaged 9% over the thirty churches, ranging from 3% to 14%.
  • Also, the bloggers and media point to this Dissatisfied group as proof that the “seeker” movement does not grow up disciples of Christ. The fact is this Dissatisfied group exists in every church we’ve surveyed, including the 200 churches currently in process.


3. Willow Creek’s Senior Pastor Bill Hybels said, “We made a mistake.”

  • Bill acknowledged that Willow did not appreciate the undercurrent of dissatisfaction expressed by some of our strongest Christ-followers. Nor did we appreciate the Kingdom impact of training and encouraging all Christ-followers to devote themselves to a daily discipline of personal spiritual practices.
  • But taking corrective action is not a new experience for Willow Creek. We’ve made a number of course corrections over the years – like adding a mid-week service in the ‘80s and building a small group ministry in the ‘90s. We’ve always been a church in motion and REVEAL is another example of Willow being open to God’s design for this local church.


4. Willow Creek will use REVEAL’s findings to take its mission to redeem people far from God to a whole new level.

  • Bill would say that Willow is not simply seeker-focused. We are seeker-obsessed. The power of REVEAL’s insights for our seeker strategy is the evangelistic strength uncovered in the more mature segments. If we can serve them better, the evangelistic potential is enormous, based on REVEAL’s findings.