The Second Eclectic

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What Willow Creek's "Multiplied Impact" could point to in church trends...

A survey conducted among Willow Creek attendants had revealed "mind-blowing" results, as Hybels put it. It asked how satisfied attendants were with how Willow Creek serves them at various stages in their spiritual development. Pre-Christians, or people who are still seeking and exploring Christianity, rated Willow Creek "very high." Ratings dropped slightly among new Christians but were still "fantastic." Adolescent Christians rated the church as good. But fully devoted followers of Christ indicated less satisfaction, saying they are not sure the church is helping them as much at this stage in their life.

"We want more of the deep truths of God," they said, according to Hybels.

In Vision 2010, Willow Creek leaders will be altering the way they coach to teach attendants how to be "self-feeding individuals" early on in their spiritual development. Rather than expecting to be spiritually fed each week with a 35-40 minute sermon on Sundays, congregants will start learning how to take responsibility for their own feeding. Everything else – the worship services and the classes at Willow Creek – will just be "whip cream" on top.

This from here and here.

I emailed this to my brother, a pastor, and asked:

Do you agree with the "self-feeding individuals" idea? Is there Scriptural support for that sort of island-spirituality thinking?

Do you think church services should just be "whip cream" on top?

I don't know if "self-feeding individuals" and "whip cream" are words used by the blogger who wrote them or is actually quoting something--possibly the sermon?

He responded:

I do see where both you and they are coming from. The true test seems to be the gap between what Willow leadership wants for the people and what the people want for themselves. Should be interesting to watch.

And I wrote back:

The gap you recognized is an interesting observation. I hadn't thought of that. It sounds much like any business, where you have to keep asking yourself, "Is what we're giving them the thing they want?" And beyond that, "Is what we're giving them the right thing to meet their need?"

In the case of Willow, their parishoners want depth (however that's defined), but do they want it in the form of "self-feeding" with church whip cream on top, or perhaps the other way around: "church feeding" with personal whip cream on the side? The bigger questions I derive from that are, "Is the church meant to cultivate spirituality in the community or to empower the individual to deepen his/her spirituality alone?" and "Is individual spirituality the top priority of the church (or should it be)?" It's probably both/and not either/or, but is there a prioritization between community-based and individual-based feeding?

Finally, it seems to me that the seeker-sensitive church that Willow has modeled has done well at reaching out to people, but that model perhaps fails to account for how to develop depth by reaching in to people, so that ultimately their format does the whip cream well, but not the cake; the milk, but not the meat. Perhaps the next church trend is not outreach, but, as the my church's youth group says, "inreach," creating a better way to help bring depth to faith. Can a church do that as well--and with the similar structure-based approach--as Willow has done outreach? That seems the much harder task.