Out of Ur reports (read it all, please):
Today, Greg Hawkins, executive pastor at Willow, recapped the study and then shared some changes that the church is now making in response to the research. He said they’re making the biggest changes to the church in over 30 years. For three decades Willow has been focused on making the church appealing to seekers. But the research shows that it’s the mature believers that drive everything in the church —- including evangelism.
Hawkins says, “We used to think you can’t upset a seeker. But while focusing on that we’ve really upset the Christ-centered people.” He spoke about the high levels of dissatisfaction mature believer have with churches. Drawing from the 200 churches and the 57,000 people that have taken the survey, he said that most people are leaving the church because they’re not being challenged enough.
Because it’s the mature Christians who drive evangelism in the church Hawkins says, “Our strategy to reach seekers is now about focusing on the mature believers. This is a huge shift for Willow.”
One major implementation of this shift will occur in June when Willow ends their mid-week worship services that had been geared toward believers. Instead the church will morph these mid-week events into classes for people at different stages of growth. There will be theological and bible classes full of “hard-hitting stuff.” Hawkins said most people are very enthusiastic about the change.
On the seeker end of the spectrum, Willow is also changing how they produce their weekend services. For years the value people appreciated most about the seeker-oriented weekend services was anonymity. This is what all their research showed. People didn’t want to be identified, approached, confronted, or asked to do anything. But those days are over.
“Anonymity is not the driving value for seeker services anymore,” says Hawkins. “We’ve taken anonymity and shot it in the head. It’s dead. Gone.” In the past Willow believed that seekers didn’t want large doses of the Bible or deep worship music. They didn’t want to be challenged. Now their seeker-sensitive services are loaded with worship music, prayer, Scripture readings, and more challenging teaching from the Bible.
Willow has been wrestling with the research from REVEAL since 2004. Hawkins said, “We’ve tried incremental changes for four years, but now we know we have to overhaul our whole strategy.” Small steps are no longer the method; Willow is revamping everything. “It would be malpractice for us to not do something with what we’re learning.”
Yes, yes, yes.
They're not going to nuance this thing, finesse this thing, spin this thing. Hawkins and Co. are clearly saying "The thing is broken and we're not going to put a Band-Aid on it."
Contrast Willow's hard-learned admission that mature Christians drive the church, including evangelism, with the white-knuckled hold some seeker churches still have on the idea that a worship service is for seekers and mature Christians should keep their mouths shut while they pour into a machine that isn't designed for their edification and equipping.
The report here still refers to Willow's weekend services as "seeker sensitive," although I guess that could still be up for debate when the services will contain more worship music, Scripture readings, and larger doses of Scripture in "deeper" messages.
It's certainly not your dad's seeker service, but in any event, I've thought for a long time we've overestimated the sensitivities of seekers anyway.
This is good stuff, people. Skepticism may be reflexive (ie. Are they just replacing old program-driven growth with a new program-driven growth? Are they just changing their market for their goods and services?), but let's pray for this effort. As stated here, it is very, very promising, and the big church that influenced countless churches to adopt its philosophy and methodology for "doing church" may just inspire countless churches to reevaluate the realization that IT'S NOT WORKING.
Godspeed, Willow Creek.
(Bold in the excerpt is mine. HT: Vitamin Z)