Questioning the techniques and philosophy of "Church Growth" is tantamount to be "politically incorrect" in today's church. Especially if one were to call into question the success of the Church Growth flag ship, Willow Creek Community Church. At least until now.
In a rather revealing article by Bob Burney entitled "A Shocking 'Confession' from Willow Creek Community Church," we discover that the gurus of the modern church may have taken a wrong road after all. After decades of telling us to throw out everything we ever knew about how to run a church, they are now telling us to possibly throw out their own original advice.
"Willow Creek has released the results of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their programs and philosophy of ministry. The study’s findings are in a new book titled Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. Hybels himself called the findings 'earth shaking,' 'ground breaking' and 'mind blowing.'
The report reveals that most of what they have been doing for these many years and what they have taught millions of others to do is not producing solid disciples of Jesus Christ. Numbers yes, but not disciples. It gets worse. Hybels laments:
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."
Wow. Can it really be that they missed the mark by that much?
Of course the CG methodology still has crowd appeal. But that's it. Burney then notes:
"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. In a shocking confession, Hybels states: 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 services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own."
Catechesis. Yes, I think that's what he's trying to say. Catechesis. But when you jettison the whole of Christian history, tradition and practice, these little details often become lost. Too bad they had to waste all those millions only to find this out so late.....
So what will this mean for denominations like the LCMS? Will all those churches who staked their future on Hybel now reexamine how they have been running their churches? Will the CG methodology be called into questions and the church return to its more honored roots?
I could hope that might happen, but I doubt it. The LCMS is often years behind the trend curve, and not very willing to admit they hooked their wagon to the wrong horse. However, for those of us who decided to simply be faithful even if we weren't busing at the seams, it is nice to hear a church and pastor with so much influence admit their mistakes. I commend their honesty.