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I pay attention when perhaps the most prominent church in America says it is completely revamping how it does church.

Willow Creek, which made "seeker-sensitive" services famous, now attracts some 20,000 a week. Over the decades, tens of thousands of pastors have looked to Willow Creek for leadership as they strive to minister faithfully to their own churches. Willow Creek's premiere teaching event for pastors is the annual Leadership Summit, held each August. At the last Summit, Bill Hybels, founding pastor of Willow, talked about a survey of Christians that his co-worker Greg Hawkins conducted, involving over 30 churches in the Willow Creek network.

The results were "Groundbreaking … . The data is earthshaking," said Hawkins in a video summarizing the results. Hybels said it "just rocked my world." It is transforming how they do things at Willow.

The survey asked people about their spiritual lives, and about whether the church was helping them grow spiritually. Answers revealed that "pre-Christians" (those seeking a relationship with Christ) and "new Christians" praised their churches for offering programs that help them grow. Surprisingly, "growing Christians" found less help. Most surprising to Hybels and Hawkins was the response of "fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ": They were disappointed with the church. They "are not being fed." They want "more of the meat of the Word of God." They want "more serious-minded Scripture taught to them." The church is not helping them grow spiritually, and, says Hawkins, "increasingly, these folks are thinking about leaving the church."

The response of the Willow leadership team? Hybels said that people had become too dependent on the church for their spiritual growth, and that ...

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October 2007

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