Guest / Limited Access /

When the huge new building was finished, nobody in the Chicago area thought it looked like a church. On the outside it looked like a convention hall, on the inside like a 5,000-seat theater. And what went on inside didn't seem much like church either. The first thing visitors noticed was the music, which was lively, contemporary, and professional.

On any given Sunday the audience was as likely to see a play as hear a sermon. And then there was the preacher—dressed in ordinary clothes, he was breezy and compelling; by turns funny and serious; and always utterly irresistible. Critics sniffed that this was entertainment, not worship. Truth be told, it was entertaining. The thousands of casually dressed people who jammed the parking lot and streamed into the building looked less like churchgoers and more like Cubs fans headed for Wrigley Field.

And what happened on Sunday was only the sauerkraut on the kielbasa. The rest of the week dozens of paid staff and even more volunteers organized media productions, prayer services, men's and women's groups, boys' and girls' clubs, summer camps, and food programs for the needy.

They operated a 100-seat restaurant inside the church building, supported dozens of missionary agencies, and ran an extensive small-group ministry that spread throughout the Chicago area.

The idea behind all this was to create a new kind of nondenominational church that would use an interesting program and comfortable surroundings to draw in the unchurched. Once drawn in, they would be enveloped in a comprehensive network of activities designed to give them a supportive community and deeper instruction in the Christian faith. This approach was so successful in Chicago that it immediately spawned a host of imitators ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Also in this Issue
Subscriber Access Only
What Exactly Is Postmodernism?
The often-maligned movement is today's academic Rorschach blot.
Current IssueCharity Navigator's Overhead Overhaul
Subscriber Access Only
Charity Navigator's Overhead Overhaul
New charity guidelines put ‘support expenses’ in a better light.
Current IssueSho Baraka: Why I Can't Vote for Either Trump or Clinton
Subscriber Access Only
Sho Baraka: Why I Can't Vote for Either Trump or Clinton
Both candidates fail to address the heart concerns of black evangelicals like me.
RecommendedHow Methodists Invented Your Kid's Grape Juice Sugar High
How Methodists Invented Your Kid's Grape Juice Sugar High
The weird story behind the church's go-to communion wine substitute.
TrendingResearch Says: Young People Don't Want Hip Pastors
Research Says: Young People Don't Want Hip Pastors
A study of 250 congregations suggests that youth and young adults want substance rather than style.
Editor's PickRandy Alcorn: God Wants You to Find Your Happy Place
Randy Alcorn: God Wants You to Find Your Happy Place
Why happiness and holiness don’t have to be in conflict.
Christianity Today
Willow Creek's Place in History
hide thisNovember 13 November 13

In the Magazine

November 13, 2000

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.