Thursday, 15 November 2007

Book - Reveal: Where are you? by Cally Parkinson & Greg Hawkins (A study of Hybel's Willow Creek Community Church)

Willow Creek Community Church has released the results of a multi-year study on the effectiveness of their programs and philosophy of ministry. The study's findings are in a new book titled "Reveal: Where Are You?," co-authored by Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek. Hybels himself called the findings "ground breaking," "earth shaking" and "mind blowing." And no wonder: It seems that the "experts" were wrong.

If you’d like to get a synopsis of the research you can watch a video with Greg Hawkins here. And Bill Hybels’ reactions, recorded at last summer’s Leadership Summit, can be seen here. Both videos are worth watching in their entirety, but below are few highlights.

The report reveals that most of what they have been doing for these many years and what they have taught millions of others to do is not producing solid disciples of Jesus Christ. Numbers yes, but not disciples. It gets worse. Hybels laments:

"Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn't helping people that much. Other things that we didn't put that much money into and didn't put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for."

Having spent thirty years creating and promoting a multi-million dollar organization driven by programs and measuring participation, and convincing other church leaders to do the same, you can see why Hybels called this research “the wake up call” of his adult life.

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. In a shocking confession, Hybels states:

"We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own."

In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage. Incredibly, the guru of church growth now tells us that people need to be reading their Bibles and taking responsibility for their spiritual growth.

Willow Creek Repents? - Article by Christianity Today (18 Oct 2007)

First-person: A shocking confession from Willow Creek Community Church leaders - Article by Baptist Press (6 Nov 2007)

A summary of the book

A review of the book

Exploring the Megachurch Phenomena: Their characteristics & cultural context (Scott Thumma, PhD)

Does Size Matter?

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At Sun Nov 25, 01:31:00 pm 2007 , Blogger Timothy P said...

Personally, I do not attend a mega-church or a seeker-sensitive focused church, so my views may be lopsided or biased.

The appeal and target audience of most mega-churches here would be the youths and young adults of today (age 13-35+). Charismatic speakers, contemporary worship, professional Sunday services, hi-tech add-ons e.g. podcasts, free surf zones, NETS tithing, etc. All these fit nicely into the culture and lifestyles that students and working professionals desire.

The danger is an age-old issue of consumeristic mentality and accomodation/assimilation to the times (some times in the name of "contextualisation" and "staying relevant"). Also the other danger is that of reaching the masses, but not the individual; having a mile-wide crowd/congregation, but a inch-wide faith/discipleship.

Personally, I have friends (20s-30s) who have moved over to mega-churches as well as those who have moved out of them. Most who move over are drawn by the things mentioned above, but those who move out have done so for the following:
- lack of quality childcare e.g. Sunday school, nursery for their kids
- too directional, intrusive e.g. monthly declarations and submission of income slips, guilt-trip challenging to serve and be involved in ministry
- lack of depth in personal relationships
- lack of proper follow-up or basic discipleship
- lack of expository preaching/teaching; lack of depth in Bible study
- lack of relevance as they grow older (mid-30s onwards); they feel "too old" for the services/sermons

My interest in the Singapore mega-churches would be for them to do a similar study as Willow Creek did for their church (a in-depth analysis of the church in the past 10-15 years). My key question would be, how many people stay beyond 5-10 years and beyond the age of 35-40 (if they had joined the church in their teens, young adulthood)? In other words, retention, and related to that, how well have they been discipled (not just serving/doing)?

At Fri Dec 07, 06:45:00 pm 2007 , Anonymous Blogpastor said...

Hi Timothy P,
You have interesting anecdotal views about the megachurch. Would appreciate it if you can post it on my recent blog post on "does size matter (2)".
Thanks for linking me. Which church are you serving with?

At Sat Dec 22, 01:28:00 am 2007 , Blogger Timothy P said...

Dear Rev Kenny,

Thanks for your comments, and listing my site on your blog recently under "More Links". I feel honored that people like yourself read my blog. I am currently a ministry staff serving at Bartley Christian Church, an independent church started by CNEC back in the 60s, and our sister-church is Riverlife Church at Pasir Ris.

I've been blessed by your blog writings, and am encouraged and inspired to learn that there are many in Singapore critically reflecting and integrating theology, ministry and engaging with culture and society e.g. Between Two Worlds - John Stott.

Hope to keep in contact, and look forward to reading and learning more from your writings.


At Mon Dec 29, 02:53:00 pm 2008 , Blogger Thy Word Is Truth said...

It took Bill Hybels and Willow Creek a long time to realize that eroding scriptural emphasis with worldly "seeker sensitive" methods and focusing on mega church growth numbers do not mean "God is with us".

The sad and tragic thing is that many churches in Singapore are still looking up to Bill Hybels and Rick Warren for tips to dilute their pulpits and take them to mega church status.

The concern on this unbiblical direction and a terse call for repentance was already stated so clearly 12 years ago......

"Evangelical churches today are increasingly dominated by the spirit of this age rather than by the Spirit of Christ."
"Scripture alone is the inerrant rule of the church's life, but the evangelical church today has separated Scripture from its authoritative function. In practice, the church is guided, far too often, by the culture. Therapeutic technique, marketing strategies, and the beat of the entertainment world often have far more to say about what the church wants, how it functions and what it offers, than does the Word of God. Pastors have neglected their rightful oversight of worship, including the doctrinal content of the music. As biblical authority has been abandoned in practice, as its truths have faded from Christian consciousness, and as its doctrines have lost their saliency, the church has been increasingly emptied of its integrity, moral authority and direction.

Rather than adapting Christian faith to satisfy the felt needs of consumers, we must proclaim the law as the only measure of true righteousness and the gospel as the only announcement of saving truth. Biblical truth is indispensable to the church's understanding, nurture and discipline.

Scripture must take us beyond our perceived needs to our real needs and liberate us from seeing ourselves through the seductive images, cliche's, promises. and priorities of mass culture. It is only in the light of God's truth that we understand ourselves aright and see God's provision for our need. The Bible, therefore, must be taught and preached in the church. Sermons must be expositions of the Bible and its teachings, not expressions of the preachers opinions or the ideas of the age. We must settle for nothing less than what God has given.

The work of the Holy Spirit in personal experience cannot be disengaged from Scripture. The Spirit does not speak in ways that are independent of Scripture. Apart from Scripture we would never have known of God's grace in Christ. The biblical Word, rather than spiritual experience, is the test of truth."

"Many in the church growth movement believe that sociological understanding of those in the pew is as important to the success of the gospel as is the biblical truth which is proclaimed. As a result, theological convictions are frequently divorced from the work of the ministry. The marketing orientation in many churches takes this even further, erasing the distinction between the biblical Word and the world, robbing Christ's cross of its offense, and reducing Christian faith to the principles and methods which bring success to secular corporations."

"Wherever in the church biblical authority has been lost, Christ has been displaced, the gospel has been distorted, or faith has been perverted, it has always been for one reason: our interests have displaced God's and we are doing his work in our way. The loss of God's centrality in the life of today's church is common and lamentable. It is this loss that allows us to transform worship into entertainment, gospel preaching into marketing, believing into technique, being good into feeling good about ourselves, and faithfulness into being successful. As a result, God, Christ and the Bible have come to mean too little to us and rest too inconsequentially upon us.

God does not exist to satisfy human ambitions, cravings, the appetite for consumption, or our own private spiritual interests. We must focus on God in our worship, rather than the satisfaction of our personal needs. God is sovereign in worship; we are not. Our concern must be for God's kingdom, not our own empires, popularity or success."

THE CAMBRIDGE DECLARATION of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals
April 20, 1996

At Sat Jan 03, 06:23:00 pm 2009 , Blogger Timothy P said...

When discussing church growth today, most people would turn to popular names such as Rick Warren, Saddleback or Bill Hybels, Willow Creek. I'm deeply encouraged that for our Growing Healthy Churches module @ SBC, instead, as our main text, was Mark Dever's "Nine Marks of a Healthy Church". If you haven't read it, prepare to be refreshed by a breath of fresh air.

Visit his website here for a summary. Note he talks about church health, rather than church growth. As Edmund Chan often commends, quality versus quantity, not just disciples, but what kind of disciples we are making.

At Sat Jan 03, 06:32:00 pm 2009 , Blogger Timothy P said...

Interesting article by Forbes on the top 10 mega churches in the States based on 2003 attendance data.

Scott Thumma, as part of his dissertation, wrote this must-read article, "Exploring the Megachurch Phenomena".

Blogpastor also posted 2 interesting posts, "Does Size Matter?" and "Singapore's four richest churches".

At Mon Jan 12, 02:33:00 pm 2009 , Blogger Thy Word Is Truth said...

Hi Timothy,
Thanks. I have not read Mark Denver's book but I am glad that SBC uses Mark Denver's because he is a Council member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals which made the "Cambridge Declaration 1996" I referred to earlier. The current ACE council members are Eric Alexander,Alistair Begg,Gerald Bray,Jerry Bridges, Donald Carson,Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan,Sinclair Ferguson,Robert Godfrey,John Hannah, Paul Jones, John MacArthur,C.J. Mahaney, Albert Mohler,Richard Phillips,John Piper,Philip Ryken,R. C. Sproul,Derek Thomas,Carl Trueman,Gene Veith,David Wells

In your earlier comments, it is interesting that you should also mentioned Riverlife Church. Riverlife Church has been studying and to some extent adapting Willow Creek Church / Bill Hybels and Saddleback /Rick Warren /"Purpose Drive Life". While it does not appear that Riverlife Church is gearing to be a "Mega Church", the church has stated that it is going for "exponential growth" and it is thus looking at these US "seeker friendly" churches for tips and methodologies.

Is is the same future trend for Bartley Christian Church as well ?


At Tue Jan 20, 09:44:00 am 2009 , Blogger Timothy P said...

Thanks, Thy Word is Truth for your comments. I'm familiar with ACE, particularly enjoy books/blogs from Dever, Carson, Piper, Mohler.

Currently I am worshipping and serving in Woodland EFC, under SP Rev Kenny Fam. As for Riverlife, probably somewhere in the 90s, in terms of numbers, they surpassed Bartley, currently I think they're in the 2,000-3,000 range. Bartley and WEFC is around the 1,000 range.

Can't really comment much about their ideology and vision/mission as I'm not really familiar. At the end of the day, it is really not possible to simply gauge if a church is moving towards the trend of being seeker-sensitive or a mega-church e.g. Hybels/Willow Creek or Warren/Saddleback style, simply by their size (numbers) and budget (dollars). Covenant EFC is about 3,000 and yet their SP Rev Edmund Chan stresses on the quality and type of disciples that they are nurturing, rather than the quantity and hype.

See Megachurches in Singapore for an interesting analysis/summary of the top 10 megachurches in Singapore and other churches of note (Riverlife is one of them).


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