Most of you are familiar with the Willow Creek Church in suburban Chicago (they now refer to themselves as “Willow”). It’s a congregation of over 20,000 members pastored by Bill Hybels. He and his staff have written lots of excellent books and worked to encourage church growth around the world.
Therefore, it was astonishing a few months ago when Hybels stood before the congregation and apologized for not spending their donations as well as the leadership should have.
He and the other leaders have been conducting a self-study of ministry effectiveness, and they found that, despite their colossal growth, they were failing in their support of the most spiritually mature.
They also asked 30 other churches to do a similar self-study, and they reached the same results. Willow is now working with 500 additional churches to expand their research and develop solutions.
Stop right here a go to their web site and watch the two videos at this link. It’ll take 15 minutes, but it’ll be time well spent.
No. I meant it. Go back and watch the videos.
Okay. Here’s a summary of their findings. The full version has been published in a book entitled Reveal available on their web site.
(If the chart is hard to read on your screen, right click on the picture and select View Image.)
Let me explain. There is virtually no correlation between spiritual maturity (love of God, love for people) and traditional church activities.
This is, of course, completely contrary to conventional church thinking. We church leaders assume that if we have strong attendance, contributions, class attendance, and small group participation, we have a healthy, mature church. And we might. And we might not.
However, if you chart things differently, you get a more telling results.
You see, as people move from merely exploring Christianity to being truly Christ centered, that is, considering Jesus the most important thing in their lives in fact, not just as a teaching, they do grow in terms of love for God and people as well as traditional measures of participation.
Also, they learned that churches tend to have members who are mature and yet very unhappy with church.
Some are stalled or plateaued — they’ve stopped growing. And some are very mature and yet very unhappy with how churches do church.
Many have already dropped out. Some have gotten involved in alternative structures, such as house churches. Others just try to do they best they can on their own. Others church hop or attend infrequently, and yet they have a devout faith and close relationship with God.
If a church is not helping 25% of its membership, well, it may still be growing, but it’s still failing far too many. Worse yet, it’s failing people who are prepared to offer a lot. The last thing any church would want to do is let down many of its most mature, most capable, most willing members.
It’s good to know that our traditional programs serve the seeking and growing well. It’s devastating to learn that these same programs fail the most mature.
What’s the solution? More in the next few posts.