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After discovering that their church programs did not help people love God or others more…

Willow Creek had two choices —

  1. Reinvent themselves or
  2. Develop a new program to replace the old programs that didn’t work.

They chose number 2 — another program.  Reveal is the new program and has a book, a conference, and is being rolled out to the Willow Creek network.  I can understand their choice because Willow Creek is not just a church, they’re a movement, an informal denomination, a network whose “seeker” philosophy has served them very well if what you want to be is a high-profile “front door” into the Christian faith for thousands.  That is a very good thing, but certainly not all there is to the Christian experience.   Which is why their programs didn’t work after “seekers” became growing “followers.”

Willow Creek should have chosen to reinvent themselves.  Here’s why:

  1. The seeker model is running out of steam.   The baby boomers they attracted are aging.  People are no longer afraid of religious jargon or symbols, and surveys say most consider themselves “spiritual.”  In other words, the seeker philosophy needs rethinking.
  2. Maturing followers need ways to express their faith.  They could have done what Rick Warren did with the AIDS crisis, or his PEACE plan — give maturing believers something to do with their faith.  Not just more stuff to learn.  Hybels said maturing members needed to be “self-feeders” but maybe they need to be “servants.”
  3. The world is changing.  This is related to #1, but different.  In the 1970s when Willow Creek started immigration, AIDS, poverty, global economy, spirituality, diversity, and a host of other discontinuous changes had not rocked our world.  Seems like it makes sense that new challenges demand new answers. 

Small churches have advantages Willow Creek doesn’t have

This is where small churches have an advantage.  As I noted in an earlier post, small churches don’t need millions of dollars to reinvent themselves.  Small churches don’t have a big budget to feed.  Small churches can connect with specific segments of the community better than large churches.  Small churches can experiment with new forms of church.  Small churches can engage people in real conversations about their real lives.  Rather than adopting new programs, we’re trying to reinvent ourselves here in Chatham, and I’ll let you know how it goes.