Willow creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois, has for decades been demonstrating how churches can more effectively reach the unchurched. One reason they remain leaders is their relentless passion to connect with people who don't know Jesus Christ. Another is their intensity in discipling believers. A lesser-known reason is their willingness to ruthlessly examine their own success.
Last summer, Willow published the results of their latest self-study, Reveal: Where Are You? The study surveyed Willow Creek and six other American churches, analyzing thousands of responses and more than 100 interviews. The report's cover says that readers will learn "surprising research findings that rocked Willow." As with everything Willow, even their self-criticism is intensely passionate.
The study shows that while Willow has been successfully meeting the spiritual needs of those who describe themselves as "exploring Christianity" or "growing in Christ," it has been less successful at doing so with those who self-report as being "close to Christ" or "Christ-centered." In fact, one-fourth of the last two groups say that they are either "stalled" in their spiritual growth and/or "dissatisfied" with the church.
As evidenced by the recent flurry of comments about Reveal in the blogosphere, those who admire and those who question Willow's seeker-sensitive approach will find plenty of ammunition here. As admirers of Willow, we offer one critique, as well as praise.
Our ongoing concern about seeker-sensitive churches is not their willingness to change church culture so that it is not a needless stumbling block to the unchurched. We're only troubled when such churches uncritically accept the metrics of marketing culture, and let consumer capitalism ...