April 11, 2008
Live from Shift: Willow Implements REVEAL
Greg Hawkins tells about the "huge shift" Willow Creek is making.
Here we go again. Willow Creek's REVEAL study has been a very hot issue on this blog. Rather than recapping all the history, I encourage you to review a few previous posts.
Willow Creek Repents?: Why the most influential church in America now says "We made a mistake."
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."
In the larger REVEAL survey taken by 200 churches, people were asked what they want most from their church. Three of the top four responses were:
1. Help me understand the Bible in greater depth
2. Help me develop a closer personal relationship with Christ
3. Challenge me to grow and take the next step in my faith
Hawkins said that sometimes Willow gets accused of managing the church based on market research; of simply giving people what they want. "Look at what they want!" he said while pointing to the screen. "They want the Bible, they want to be close to Christ, they want to be challenged. Yes, I will give them what they want!"