The following quotations are from Jim Bedell, a long time member and leader at Willow Creek, and a licensed clinical psychologist. He wrote about this on his blog (link below). He knows and points out that culture is what matters when it comes changing churches, and when that culture is not respected, change is resisted – not because the congregants are resisters but because the leaders are not in touch with the congregants. In our book, A Church called Tov, Laura Barringer and I emphasize church culture, and point the elements of toxic and tov (goodness) cultures. Cultures matter and sometimes the leaders are forming toxic dimensions.
The issue for Jim Bedell is the manifestation of the leadership’s culture in what is happening at a flourishing campus, called Northshore. Here’s Jim:
Northshore is a mess right now with the decision of the lead pastor to resign. Dave Dummit is forcing changes on the already-fragile and emotionally- distraught culture of Willow Creek. He apparently believes that he can compel everyone to get on board with his vision of things and it will be so great that any problems of the past will be forgotten. He is forgetting the statement that “culture will eat strategy for breakfast”. And that is true.
I believe what we’re seeing is the systematic dismantling of Willow Creek, led by the hubris and insensitivity of a male-formed leadership team. They believe that they can effectively convince the congregants of their vision and values. They will have a vision-casting night coming up soon, but what they’re doing is not advancing their idea of vision and values. But, rather they are telling the congregation that this vision and value structure has already been implemented, and everyone has to get on board. What they are failing to recognize, at a deep level, is that the congregants are the ones that have funded Willow Creek through their tithes and offerings. They have ownership, and the right to know what is going on inside the church. The way this new management team has operated has simply continued the deeply- flawed principles of deceptiveness, patriarchal decision-making, keeping people in the dark, and believing that they are smarter than the body of believers.
Unfortunately, as I have said, they will eventually find out that culture is more powerful than strategy. The leadership of this church has failed to truly assess the damages of the trauma that Willow has gone through and has inflicted on the people and culture. They have failed to recognize that change must be titrated and massaged over time, versus rammed through by people acting as if they have more wisdom or knowledge than the body.