What’s Wrong With How We Do Church?: Willow Creek’s Preliminary Solutions

reveal.jpgWillow is just now beginning to release what they consider the solutions to the problems described in the last post.The most prominent idea is Bill Hybels’ plan to provide each member with an individualized spiritual growth plan.

Now, just how can a church of 20,000 do an individualized spiritual growth plan for each member? And how would this really help? I mean, if someone gave you a document listing your spiritual weaknesses and telling you to work on them, would you be greatly benefited?

I mean, who doesn’t know his or her weaknesses? Who wouldn’t consider his prayer life or Bible study discipline inadequate? I mean, the problem isn’t prescription, it’s not knowing how to get from here to there, isn’t it? And motivation. And time.

Who hasn’t heard a preacher talk about the importance–no! the necessity!–of daily Bible study and vast quantities of time devoted to prayer only to think, “But I have a job, and kids, and responsibilities!”

Pass out an individualized spiritual growth plan and most members will just feel guilty.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just cynical, but I’m usually pretty optimistic about ideas on how to do church, and this just doesn’t do anything for me. In fact, it’s seems just all too top-down and corporate.

And I’m not sure it responds to the actual problem. If my maturity is such that the classes and sermons are boring (a very common problem), the solution is either (a) provide more challenging classes and sermons or (b) do something other than just go to class and listen to sermons. Isn’t it really that simple? The hard part, of course, is figuring what the “other” part should be.

Greg Hawkins, Willow’s executive pastor who initiated this study, recently described this latest prescription in his blog–

I pulled out the 6 congregations with the highest overall satisfaction to the things people really want most from a church. Just to remind you, this is what people want, overall, from their church. (It does change a little across the six REVEAL segments, but these are clearly the big five needs people express).

  1. Challenge me to grow and take next steps
  2. Help me understand the Bible in greater depth
  3. Help me develop a personal relationship with Jesus
  4. Help me apply the Bible to my life
  5. Provide compelling worship services

In the congregations where the church is doing a great job in those five areas, the church had 5% of in the Dissatisfied group. I then looked at the 6 congregations with the lowest overall satisfaction with those five needs. Those churches have 14% Dissatisfieds. Almost three times more.

So, if you want to reduce the number of folks who love God, but are really disappointed in your church and are about to walk out the door, challenge them with the truth of scripture. Help them take next steps and apply the Bible to their life. Help them learn how to move toward an intimate relationship with Christ. And to top it off, give them opportunities to worship our great God.

No one would argue with these 5 felt needs. But I just have trouble convincing myself that this is some sort of real solution. In fact, I think just about every congregation in the country is trying to do exactly these things. And, yes, everyone knows they need to do better in some areas. This is like telling an overweight person: you’re too fat! They know that!

I mean, it may well be a good idea, even essential, that churches offer more challenging material and not aim their classes and sermons too much toward the seeker or new Christian. But surely the problem is much, much deeper than that.

We’ll pursue this further in future posts.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to What’s Wrong With How We Do Church?: Willow Creek’s Preliminary Solutions

  1. mazbeth2 says:

    I agree with your thinking.
    I am disappointed about how the original thoughts (which I felt were breakthrough) are being tackled, as regards 'solutions.'

    Surely people need to be in groups where there are small enough numbers to actually be known in relationship with all having some kind of mother and father/brother and sisters in the Lord…i.e. family in Him…rather than a C.E.O. type (as you say 'top-down') prescription from those not in actual relationship.

    More and more I am seeing it is Parenting experience that provides some answers/models, not engineering (sorry Greg) or other industrial or office degrees etc

  2. Bill says:

    I will read more of these posts and maybe my thoughts will be found?

    1. No equiping.
    2. Milk Church
    3. No place to practice the gifts for the congregation
    4. Always top down authority
    5. No congregation communications
    6. Large churches are milk churches, few exceptions.
    7. Non-Activist mentality, don't ebarass the church by going public, Pro-Life, Non FOCA, Non Fairness Doctrine. etc.
    8. Meat people leave the milk church to exercise their beliefs.
    9. No apostles, a dead tradition, few exceptions.
    10. Kids babysat, kids not doing the gifts.
    11. Youth not returning after college, no place to practice the gifts in milk church.
    12. Redefine the church as small groups, meet as a large group of the small groups.
    13. Give freedom to the small groups, monitor if necessary, people will switch small groups as need be.

  3. Jay Guin says:


    I can't say I've addressed all these issues, but I've addressed many of them in posts too many to list. I look forward to hearing further from you as dig into the posts.