Orginally published on Thursday, December 06, 2007 at 8:15 AM
by Todd Rhoades
There have been literally hundreds of articles in newspapers and posts on blogs about the recent "Reveal" Study put out by Willow Creek. The Christianity Today blog got it started when they ran the headline "Willow Creek Repents?" This caused Willow to respond to all the negative coverage with their own take. Well, here are a couple of other stories about about "Reveal"; something we at Leadership Network are now calling "Revealsqueal". Revealsqueal can be good or bad... it just means people are talking. Like this story from US News and World Report; and another from and another from the Florida Baptist Witness...
From the US News piece written by Jay Tolson:
“Hybels’s accomplishments have rightly become the stuff of evangelical legend. Since founding Willow Creek in the mid-1970s in a rented movie theater, the dynamic pastor shaped a church of some 125 congregants into the second-largest church in America. It now claims more than 20,000 members attending services either at its main, 155-acre campus in South Barrington or at one of its five satellite branches in the greater Chicago area. In addition to seeker-friendly services, Hybels instituted a host of programs or ministries catering to the needs of his steadily increasing flock. Those programs were often touted as the energizing force behind the church’s growth and vitality.
But in 2004, Hybels gave the go-ahead to a rigorous congregational survey conducted by two staff members and a consultant. The results, published in a booklet titled Reveal: Where Are You? proved to be more than startling. Not all the news was bad, of course. Half of the congregation members reported that they “loved God more than anything else” and indicated that they were showing that love through service and evangelization. But those reporting being stalled in their faith and dissatisfied with the church reached 1 in 4. More jarringly to Hybels, the report showed that the strong emphasis on involving people in activities and programs was, after a point, problematic. Indeed, to the extent that it diminished individual responsibility for Bible study and other forms of personal spiritual development, it was even counterproductive. As he wrote in the foreword to his study, Hybels now saw that “the church and its myriad of programs have taken on too much of the responsibility for people’s spiritual growth.”
While the report has occasioned both stern and gentle “I told you so” rebukes from assorted Christian commentators, Hybels’s forthrightness in owning up to the problem is one of the more remarkable stories from this exercise in ecclesiastical self-examination. Equally remarkable is his admission that the numbers of congregants may not be as important an indicator of church success as something that is finally much harder to measure: the congregants’ real spiritual growth. Rather than crowing, religious leaders of all kinds might profitably subject their own congregations to similarly rigorous scrutiny.”
And from the Florida Baptist Witness:
The Willow Creek Association published a book called REVEAL in August 2007 about “ground-breaking” research findings regarding spiritual growth. These findings were based on survey results from seven churches and have now been confirmed through research with an additional two-dozen churches around the country, including two Canadian churches.
Some in the Christian blogging and media world point to these findings as evidence of a church model “flaw"/breakdown that applies exclusively to Willow Creek and/or the seeker movement inspired by Willow Creek 30 years ago.
This is not what the research shows.
Here are several quotes based on partial or incorrect information:
World magazine; Nov. 10, 2007:
“‘We made a mistake.’ Bill Hybels ... on a study that showed the Willow Creek model had not produced spiritually mature Christians.”
Bob Burney, Townhall; Oct: 30, 2007:
“The report reveals that what they’ve been doing for these many years and what they’ve taught millions of others to do is not producing solid disciples of Jesus Christ ... Numbers, yes, but not disciples… .”
H.B. London, The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing; Nov. 9, 2007:
“Hybels goes on to say, ‘If you simply want a crowd, the “seeker sensitive” model produces results. If you want solid, sincere, mature followers of Christ, it’s a bust.”
Bill Hybels did not say this. Focus on the Family is printing a retraction.
FOUR FACTS ABOUT REVEAL:
REVEAL’s findings go well beyond Willow Creek and the “seeker” church movement.
REVEAL’s findings are based on 30 churches besides Willow, chosen specifically to reflect a diversity of church models. We’ve surveyed traditional Sunday School model churches, missions-focused churches, mainline denominations, African-American churches and churches representing a wide range of geographies, sizes and styles. In all 30 churches, we’ve found the six segments of REVEAL’s spiritual continuum, including the Stalled and Dissatisfied segments.
REVEAL is currently surveying 500 churches, including more than a dozen denominations and English-speaking international churches. Early results from the first 200 demonstrate REVEAL’s segments exist across multiple church model/style/size alternatives.
Forty percent of these 500 churches do not describe themselves as “seeker-focused” or “seeker-friendly”.
REVEAL’s findings show that Christ-followers are being developed at Willow Creek and all other surveyed churches.
The two most spiritually mature segments, called the “Close to Christ” and the “Christ-Centered” groups, account for over 40 percent of the total 30 church sample. To date the spiritual profiles of those churches show a range of 30 percent to 60 percent for these two segments.
REVEAL discovered a Dissatisfied segment that fell out of the two most spiritually advanced segments noted above. They are sold-out Christ followers, but are disappointed in their church. The Dissatisfied segment averaged nine percent over the 30 churches, ranging from three percent to 14 percent.
The bloggers and media point to this Dissatisfied group as proof that the “seeker” movement does not grow up disciples of Christ. The fact is this Dissatisfied group exists in every church we’ve surveyed, including the 200 churches currently in process.
Willow Creek’s Senior Pastor Bill Hybels said, “We made a mistake.”
Bill acknowledged that Willow did not appreciate the undercurrent of dissatisfaction expressed by some of our strongest Christ-followers. Nor did we appreciate the Kingdom impact of training and encouraging all Christ-followers to devote themselves to a daily discipline of personal spiritual practices.
But taking corrective action is not a new experience for Willow Creek. We’ve made a number of course corrections over the years - like adding a mid-week service in the ‘80s and building a small group ministry in the ‘90s. We’ve always been a church in motion and REVEAL is another example of Willow being open to God’s design for this local church.
Willow Creek will use REVEAL’s findings to take its mission to redeem people far from God to a whole new level.
Bill would say that Willow is not simply seeker-focused. We are seeker-obsessed. The power of REVEAL’s insights for our seeker strategy is the evangelistic strength uncovered in the more mature segments. If we can serve them better, the evangelistic potential is enormous, based on REVEAL’s findings.
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