Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The mistake of the mega church model

I thought you might find this interesting, in light of the fact that Clairborne spent some time at this church.
I live in an area, the infamous "bible belt", wherein much of christendom is toddling along in insufferable shallowness. My husband and I share a deep conviction that we must be instrumental in teaching/discipling the body to "self-feed", and somehow infuse within it a passion to know intimately and serve relentlessly our Messiah. And so to be the Kingdom people God has called us out to be. We have worked among the desperately poor and among the intolerably wealthy and have come to find out the varying forms of poverty are equally soul wrenching when they are not accompanied by profound recognition of need for God.
Shining a light on poverty of spirit is one of our most urgent callings. Something the Spirit does powerfully if we but offer ourselves as the vessel...

October 18, 2007
Willow Creek Repents?
Why the most influential church in America now says "We made a mistake."

Few would disagree that Willow Creek Community Church has been one of the most influential churches in America over the last thirty years. Willow , through its association, has promoted a vision of church that is big, programmatic, and comprehensive. This vision has been heavily influenced by the methods of secular business. James Twitchell, in his new book Shopping for God, reports that outside Bill Hybels’ office hangs a poster that says: “What is our business? Who is our customer? What does the customer consider value?” Directly or indirectly, this philosophy of ministry—church should be a big box with programs for people at every level of spiritual maturity to consume and engage—has impacted every evangelical church in the country.
So what happens when leaders of Willow Creek stand up and say, “We made a mistake”?
Not long ago Willow released its findings from a multiple year qualitative study of its ministry. Basically, they wanted to know what programs and activities of the church were actually helping people mature spiritually and which were not. The results were published in a book, Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek. Hybels called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing.”

In the Hawkins’ video he says, “Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ.” This has been Willow ’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, “I know it might sound crazy but that’s how we do it in churches. We measure levels of participation.”
Having put all of their eggs into the program-driven church basket you can understand their shock when the research revealed that “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more.”
Speaking at the Leadership Summit, Hybels summarized the findings this way:
"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."
Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake up call” of his adult life.
Hybels confesses:
"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 service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own."
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.

Does this mark the end of Willow ’s thirty years of influence over the American church? Not according to Hawkins:
"Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Next Gathering Announced...

Hey all,

As you can see to the right, the next Emerging Desert gathering is scheduled for...

3:30 - 4:30pm (ish)

We will primarily be talking about ideas raised in the first four chapters of Shane Claiborne's book, The Irresistible Revolution, so you've got a good three weeks still to do some reading:-) Keep in mind that the reading is definitely not required in order to come to the gatherings (but it will certainly add to your experience and journey).

Hope to see you then!

Monday, February 11, 2008

And it begins...

Well, the first Emerging Desert gathering went off without a hitch yesterday! (Although we missed you Jamie, Stephanie, et al.:)

We had a strong turnout of folks from wide-ranging backgrounds, and we spent our time together going around and offering our individual stories of faith & church. Our hope is that these transparent introductions provide a context for our talks going forward. We look forward to meeting more folks as they are able to join us and contribute to the conversation & action.

Some highlights from yesterday's gathering:

  • We took a few moments to acknowledge some of the commonly-held criticisms of the emerging movement:
  1. That the conversations can often be destructively critical of the institutional church.
  2. That the conversations are just that: talk (lacking literal action).
Our hope is that by acknowledging these tendencies up-front, we will be intentional in working against them moving forward.
  • Building on the above observation, after everybody had offered their stories yesterday, it was interesting to note the similar connections that everyone of us had/has to a mainline church. I thought this was important to recognize the role that our pasts play into where we currently are spiritually, and that this acknowledgment will guide our time together with humility & patience.

Awesome. So we're off and runnin'. We look forward to seeing everybody again at the next gathering (March date to be announced soon). If you haven't already, pick-up (or borrow) the Shane Claiborne book. We'll be talking through the first four chapters at our time together next month. And, if you have some thoughts you'd like to share between now and then, let's get you setup as an author on this blog!