Abandoning Willow Creek

August 19, 2011

Several years ago I went through a small crisis. I have been in some type of ministry since I was 19. But the churches I served, be it as a youth pastor, youth & worship pastor, or senior pastor never were big. We didn’t turn into large churches or mega-churches.

And I wondered if I was a success in ministry.

I spent a lot of time reading the Bible and began to understand what success in ministry looked like. I wrote several blog posts about it, then turned those posts, with the addition of several others, into an ebook you can now purchase on amazon entitled Reframing Success: Missional Metrics for Ministry Success.

It’s time for a renovation of the church.

Co-pastors Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken, of Oak Hills Church in California were a product of Willow Creek Community Church and their seeker-oriented church strategy. The church grew from a small church plant to over 2,000 in attendance. But something kept eating at them. There was a lack of spiritual depth. And the pressure they faced to continue to produce and keep the church’s performance-driven show fresh and interesting began to wear on them.

A class with Dallas Willard at Fuller Seminary didn’t help the tension they felt. It actually increased it.

A retreat in 1999 led them to begin making changes in their church. They discovered that,

A pervasive focus in the religious culture throughout North America is that success lies in attracting people, churched and nonchurched, to their particular church organization. This attractional model, we believe, is fundamentally flawed and will not be able to produce in any significant way the kind of Christ followers church leaders want to produce.

So they abandoned the Willow Creek Model. They abandoned the consumer-minded church strategy. They moved to help their church become a Jesus-focused church whose central practices and vision were to help people become self-sacrificing, self-giving, obedient followers of Jesus Christ.

As a result they have grown their church from 2,000 to 750. Yep, when you have “trained Christians to be demanding consumers, not disciples” and then stop being consumer-oriented, many of those people will leave. But those who have remained are truly being transformed into the image of Christ.

Renovation of the Church: What Happens When a Seeker Church Discovers Spiritual Formation describes their journey.

This is a wonderful book. In it, you get to see the struggle that many church leaders have. We have defined success as numbers. Jesus didn’t. In fact, by today’s standards, Jesus would be a failure because he only had 120 followers in the Upper Room.

In this book you see the effects a performance-driven, consumer-oriented church takes on its leaders and the resulting impact it has on the church-shallow Christians being formed into something completely at odds to the invitation of Christ to experience his authentic transformation.

The book explores what it means to be an authentic follower of Jesus. It also explores the changes the authors made in their church to leave the Willow Creek model and begin to develop an alternative community of people who look different from the world but do look like Jesus.

The book is available in both a print version and a kindle version.

Get it. Read it. It will change the way you think of church.

David has been a systems thinker most of his life. He has started three businesses as well as designed and developed systems and processes in existing organizations. He has a Doctorate in Leadership and has also done additional post-graduate work in communications.

W. David Phillips © 2018
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