Bill Hybels from Willow Creek made quite a stir in the blog world a few months back when he talked about the results from a survey that Willow conducted along with 7 other churches. They wanted to measure whether their current structure was facilitating true Christian growth, so they surveyed 5000 people about their Christian life. The results were, as Bill Hybels explained, the wakeup call of his adult life.
What they found is that participation in church activities does not necessarily produce spiritual growth. This was a serious revelation because their church, and many others like it, have been structured to move people from accepting Christ to serving within the church. By serving and participating in the activities of the church, they have assumed that people will naturally grow closer to Christ. What they have found is that spiritual growth is much more dependent on a believer following spiritual disciplines in his or her life. Prayer, Bible study, meditation, fasting, solitude, and other disciplines are much more evident in a mature Christian. You can see much more about the study at the Reveal website. Another really great review of the study was done by a Christian sociologist. He points out some issues with the format of the survey that may change some of their conclusions, but it is a good discussion of the issues involved.
So how does this affect a church like ours? First we are not following a model, whether it is Willow, or Saddleback, or Fellowship, or Northpoint. We have our own identity and vision. I’m not saying that we can’t learn from larger churches, but we must extract the principles they have learned and apply them to our culture, context, and vision. From the start we wanted to be a church that is serious about making disciples. A church that teaches and equips people to live as Christ followers every day. A church that is missional in nature. We want to make an impact in our community by serving others, by meeting needs, and by sharing truth. Instead of building programs, we want to build up people who can take the message of Christ into their world. I look forward to reading the book Reveal by Willow, but I’m not planning on copying what they are doing. Willow is not located in a small Appalachian town, but we are. And I plan on doing everything I can to share the love and truth of Christ!