It’s old news now… Willow Creek’s Reveal study. Unfortunately, I have seen a lot of blog traffic (even lately) citing the study as “Willow Repents”, “Willow to Return to Bible” and other silly conclusions.
If you haven’t familiarized yourself with Reveal, it is a study that Willow launched to examine how well they were accomplishing their mission. While a lot of people with a church-methodology axe to grind have promoted the study as the revelation that churches focussed more on those far from God have “finally been proven wrong”, I have spent some considerable time studying Reveal and (apparently along with Willow’s senior leadership) have reached a far different conclusion from the study:
- A lot of churches assume participation in church activities – services, sunday school, small groups, and the like – automatically accomplishes their mission of moving people closer to God, and that is simply not the case. The journey of someone far from God to someone who is continually growing in their love for God and each other is just that – a journey. It is not programmed. The often held church belief “If we could only get more people INTO our classes, groups, or services, then we will be accomplishing our mission” is not correct. It matters more how much of the mission is getting into their daily lives. Churches have to be MISSIONAL, not Program-Driven!
- As people mature on their journey with God they begin to become dissatisfied with the kind of church that attracted them when they were far from God. Many people in the reveal study who considered themselves “Christ-centered” cried out “Feed Me”… looking at the church to provide their spiritual food. Central to Reveal is the following:
“In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.”
- Is Willow changing its seeker approach to ministry? No! It is expanding its approach to recognize that the process must be Missional… that we have to provide challenging environments for people to experience the work of the Holy Spirit, but then allow them to live their journey out in their neighborhoods and workplaces. And they can’t do that if they are at the church three or four nights a week. In other words, Reveal forces churches to ask if they are program driven or simple in structure.
- Journeying people is key! The missional church seeks to help people go on mission in their own lives… that Jesus becomes central to daily decisions. And this means that the closer I grow to Jesus – the less it is about me. But Reveal reported that many people who grow closer to Jesus in programmed-driven churches become “stalled” – because they are looking for the church to meet their needs. Journeying people to a place where they begin to take responsibility for their own growth and see the church as the place where they come to serve others is central to missional church life.
Conclusions? I applaud Willow for making course corrections. That took guts! They have learned, shared, and done more while being transparent than any church I can think of, and I honor them for that. I think they are trying to focus on becoming missional – and moving growing Christians to be responsible for their own feeding and development (helped by the relationships of the Church, of course). I think Reveal highlights once again the critical need of churches to seriously evaluate all of the programs that it offers by asking “Does this REALLY help people on their journey toward greater love for God and each other? Or are we simply doing this because we have always done it (Or the church down the street does it!)?” It’s time to get Simple.