Live from Shift: Willow Implements REVEAL
Greg Hawkins tells about the "huge shift" Willow Creek is making.

Here we go again. Willow Creek's REVEAL study has been a very hot issue on this blog. Rather than recapping all the history, I encourage you to review a few previous posts.

Willow Creek Repents?: Why the most influential church in America now says "We made a mistake."

Willow Creek Repents? (Part 2): Greg Hawkins responds with the truth about REVEAL.

REVEAL Revisited: One sociologist says Willow Creek's research may not be as revealing as we think.

Today, Greg Hawkins, executive pastor at Willow, recapped the study and then shared some changes that the church is now making in response to the research. He said they're making the biggest changes to the church in over 30 years. For three decades Willow has been focused on making the church appealing to seekers. But the research shows that it's the mature believers that drive everything in the church - including evangelism.

Hawkins says, "We used to think you can't upset a seeker. But while focusing on that we've really upset the Christ-centered people." He spoke about the high levels of dissatisfaction mature believer have with churches. Drawing from the 200 churches and the 57,000 people that have taken the survey, he said that most people are leaving the church because they're not being challenged enough.

Because it's the mature Christians who drive evangelism in the church Hawkins says, "Our strategy to reach seekers is now about focusing on the mature believers. This is a huge shift for Willow."

One major implementation of this shift will occur in June when Willow ends their mid-week worship services that had been geared toward believers. Instead the church will morph these mid-week events into classes for people at different stages of growth. There will be theological and bible classes full of "hard-hitting stuff." Hawkins said most people are very enthusiastic about the change.

On the seeker end of the spectrum, Willow is also changing how they produce their weekend services. For years the value people appreciated most about the seeker-oriented weekend services was anonymity. This is what all their research showed. People didn't want to be identified, approached, confronted, or asked to do anything. But those days are over.

"Anonymity is not the driving value for seeker services anymore," says Hawkins. "We've taken anonymity and shot it in the head. It's dead. Gone." In the past Willow believed that seekers didn't want large doses of the Bible or deep worship music. They didn't want to be challenged. Now their seeker-sensitive services are loaded with worship music, prayer, Scripture readings, and more challenging teaching from the Bible.

April 11, 2008

Displaying 1–10 of 22 comments


May 28, 2008  1:29pm

I read the article and then began reading the posts and I was amazed the topic of discussion wasn't centered around a church trying to learn how to help people come to know Jesus more and applaud that, but rather how wrong people are for the strategy they use to help others. Then I read Derrick's post and you are right on man. It is a shame that we are so focused on each other that we don't stay focused on serving Christ and loving others. Let's stay focused on what Christ has called us to and that is love him more than anything and love others the same as we love ourselves. I don't know about anyone else, but I am pretty selfish and love myself, so I definitely could do a better job of loving others, especially other believers.

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April 25, 2008  4:59am

[We are the body, united in one Spirit. To fire shots at a brother (or groups of brothers) is to shoot oneself in the foot. It will hurt all of us in the long run.] Amen, Derrick. Well stated.

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April 23, 2008  4:47pm

As I read the posts, I am reminded of Ephesians 2:19-21: "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord." I am, by nature, an extremely negative person. I get jealous too. I am your classic older brother from the Prodigal Son story. And at first glance, I read the story and blogs in regards to Willow and begin to move into old patterns of thinking...and then I am reminded that I am a part of something bigger than myself, my church, my denomination and my country. I am a part of the most diverse family in the world...the body of Christ. My fear in being critical about Willow (or any church) is that I wonder if deep down, it isn't because we want our churches to move towards traditional orthodoxy. I wonder if deep down we harbor bitterness, jealousy and ill feelings towards mega-churches. Regardless of the surface reasons, any motivations that are not of the Spirit will have to be dealt with by the Spirit, which may be more painful than being wrong about a church stategy. We are the body, united in one Spirit. To fire shots at a brother (or groups of brothers) is to shoot oneself in the foot. It will hurt all of us in the long run.

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April 22, 2008  2:38pm

What I find extremely interesting is this - Has anyone here actually spent time visiting Willow Creek? It doesn't appear that many have. If not, enormous presumptions about this church are being made. It's similar to believing what people tell you about the Bible without picking it up for yourself and reading it. I have been a member at Willow for 20 years. I started out there as a very young believer and have grown into a fully committed follower. I have worked extremely hard on self-feeding myself instead of expecting my church to feed me. Over the past 6 months my husband and I felt it was time to check out some other churches in the growing area we live in outside of Chicago. This wasn't due to dissatisfaction with Willow, but out of a need to see what other churches are doing. After all, the world does not revolve around Willow Creek. We have visited 8 churches (2-4 weeks at a time) with average attendance of 150-600. Many of them were wonderful. We discovered many to be very seeker focused, or very mature Christian focused, to the detriment of excluding a seeker walking walking in the door. There is a very fine balance. From the findings in REVEAL, it seems to me that Willow is working very hard to find the balance between the seeker and the mature follower. I know Willow is not the only church out there who struggles with this balance. Does Willow have it's faults? Of course. Other churches do as well. I've come to realize there is no such thing as a "perfect church". We are flawed human beings and our churches are filled with people just like us, including those in leadership. Our ultimate goal is to become more Christlike every day. Spend a month visiting Willow. Ask questions, attend classes and check it out. Don't make presumptions about this church or any other church unless you are willing to spend some time behind it's doors. Don't tear down the church. Build it up for Christ's work. Whether it is the one down the street from you or several thousand miles away. We need to lift our brothers and sisters in Christ up with encouragement even when it appears they have fallen flat on their face. Perfection does not exist in this world. We will only see it when we are face-to-face with God.

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April 21, 2008  10:00am

No church does everything right. Jesus talked about a lot of things in Matthew 7 than can be applied here...especially about judging and recognizing false prophets. Maybe some of you should give that a read. Willow has consistently produced very good fruit, and I for one, am very thankful to God for Bill Hybels, Willow Creek, and Bill's devotion to the cause of Christ through the local church. When you've given your life away for as long as Bill has, when you've seen one tenth of the fruit that his service has, and when you've got the guts to prioritize your faithful attention to what God wants of his church over your "success" (as Bill and WC have) then maybe you're qualified to take potshots at Willow and Bill Hybels. Or maybe you're just qualified to go and re-read Matthew 7.

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April 18, 2008  2:02pm

"It takes someone very special to lead a congregation of 25,000 and lead over 12,000 WCA churches all over the world. Willow hasn't failed, what they've done so far hasn't been a big mistake and these changes just solidify the fact that Willow isn't afraid to step out of the traditional model and take some risks. " If this was a terrible mistake, than it was magnified by the fact that 25,000 go to the church, and 12,000 WCA churches follow the same mistake. I am not against Willow, but I do believe that the bigger the leader, the bigger potential for failure. Hybels has failed on a huge scale. The size of his influence doesn't minimize this, it magnifies it.

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Shane Montgomery

April 17, 2008  1:09pm

Why does this adjustment surprise us? I have to admit, the return (or beginning) of discipleship classes is at first blush exciting! Willow is wanting to grow deep instead of wide. Fan-freaking-tastic! But what are the long range results of this move? Discipleship is not just the acquisition of knowledge. Discipleship involves one on one relationships - following Christ together. Replacing a mid-week worship experience for a mid-week Sunday School may teach stuff to Willow's body but what happens when that becomes old hat? My biggest concern is the lack of the phrase, "The Lord has led us to..." or "As we have sought the Lord..." I know I sound like a hater - I in-fact love Willow and respect those guys. Their ministry has been amazing and lives are changed! I just want to see and read more about the Father than the Reveal Study. I would have loved to see this begin with God - his leading as the staff of Willow prayed and fasted because they sensed that the body was growing stagnant. Out of prayer God could have prompted either revival or the path they are on now. Beginning with a survey, making decisions in response to results and adjusting programs are part of the process but should never be the foundation. Any word on Frazee's Neighborhood Life program in light of these changes? Shane Montgomery

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Peter Hamm

April 17, 2008  10:33am

"While Willow seeks to reinvent itself, I read an interesting blog about how Willow discovered that church programs don't work, so they created a program (Reveal) to replace the church programs that don't work." RIdiculous comment. Reveal wasn't a program, it was a survey. I tire of the Willow-bashers. I'd rather change what I'm doing based on solid research than just keep doing what I'm doing because "we've always done it that way" which is the boat that too many dying churches have found themselves in. YAY WILLOW!

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April 17, 2008  9:35am

In my humble opinion, Hybels is one of the best leaders this century has seen - He is just a man, but he is a man who is trying, like the rest of us, to listen closely to God and follow His direction. It takes someone very special to lead a congregation of 25,000 and lead over 12,000 WCA churches all over the world. Willow hasn't failed, what they've done so far hasn't been a big mistake and these changes just solidify the fact that Willow isn't afraid to step out of the traditional model and take some risks. It was a risk for Willow to do the "Reveal" study in the first place. I don't care how big or small your church is - if people are encountering Jesus, then the church is being the church.

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April 12, 2008  8:32am

If the study came out in 2004, why did it take so long to make some serious changes?

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