research from Willow Creek Church reveals insights

November 26, 2007

This article by Bob Burney is making its way around, A Shocking “Confession” from Willow Creek Community Church, excerpted below:

Willow Creek 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 Community Church. Hybels himself called the findings “ground breaking,” “earth shaking” and “mind blowing.” And no wonder: It seems that the “experts” were wrong.

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.”

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 services, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”

Read the full article and comments at and also the discussions in the comment thread at Out of Ur’s blog entry titled Willow Creek Repents? Why the most influential church in America now says “We made a mistake.” For more information about the research, see and the Reveal blog. See the Key Findings for a great summary.

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Wayne Park
December 1st, 2007

That’s huge, and somehow admirable that they are humble enough to admit – a newfound respect for them.. spiritual formation is a hard question to address in large churches

Anthony Eppolito
December 9th, 2007

I am a living breathing example of a person who has attended Willowcreek for twenty years, has utilized many of the programs, attended the weekend service and New Community, served faithfully, and has never felt I reached the status of fully devoted follower or the level of maturity I have longed for in my spiritual walk. For years I have been telling my mentors at Willowcreek that I didnt feel fed spiritually, that many of the messages didnt have enough substance and a number of messages seemed like reruns to me. While attending Willow I have gone from having a GED education to a Masters Degree so I dont think Im unteachable, yet something isnt right in that my life has never reached that point of spiritual faith that as Hybels puts it I became a “Self Feeder”. I was reading the bible daily, serving weekly, making myself transparent to the people who were leading me, being accountable, making every attempt to submit to Jesus, and it seems like I never accomplished the second step of the twelve steps in being able to turn my life and mind over to God no matter how many years I prayed that God would take control of my mind and life. Now I sit here lost in feeling that the church said oops, but what do I do with this new information? Do I start over at Willow and hope for the best this time around? Do I start over somewhere else? Do I just give up on the church altogether? I feel like a failure and dont know what to do. Where do I go from here?

December 15th, 2007

I too have felt like Mr. Eppolito as he describes in the reply above. I served faithfully and attended regularly at Willow and came to know the Lord and developed my relationship with Jesus at that church, listening to Ortberg, Strobel and for course, Hybels and the list of speakers that taught there, I was hooked on the teaching.. But after attending at Willow for about 6 years, I found myself searching for the “meat of the word” after getting the “milk” and I just wasn’t learning the depth of the bible after becoming the Christ-follower there at Willow. I am forever grateful to Willow for bringing me to Jesus in the manner in which they did. Had I attended a ‘stronger’ format church, I think I would have walked out and thought they were too strict and too far out for me. Even today, when I have ‘weak’ believers to introduce again, to the God of the universe, I will bring them to Willow because of the ‘gentle’ seeker approach wooing them to a relationship with Jesus. Where the approach seems to lack ,is when for those of us after getting the message that God does want that relationship with us, we are left to fend for ourselves and learn about the bible more… on our own. I am not saying that is adverse, I am saying that we need instruction to learn on our own. I learned some things on my own because being a small group leader, I needed to read the bible and the lessons to prepare for the meetings that I had with my group weekly. Had I not done that, I would have been lost for the follow thru with my group.
I attend another church in the area now, but I must say, that if the church that I presently attend, could get just some of that essense of what Willow has, regarding volunteerism, and joy and eagerness and friendliness, and fellowship and the people loving stuff…. what a great church one would have. I really felt loved at Willow by the people I served with and for, but in other churches, one might say they love but it doesn’t feel the same.. granted the teaching is strong, but the ‘people feel’ is weak.

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