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When Willow Creek last summer

posted by xscot mcknight

When Willow Creek last summer released its Reveal study, lots of folks took Bill Hybels and the seeker movement to task. Most were waiting for something to criticize; some took the time to read it; some really did study it enough to say intelligent things. Well, I was asked by Christian Century to write about Reveal and so I did, but they didn’t like my piece. I guessed that it wasn’t critical enough. I think Reveal said some important things, but I thought more needed to be said and now it has been said …
Every pastor and every church deserves and needs a copy of this new study by Willow Creek called Follow Me. The subtitle is “What’s Next for You?” It is the measurable results of thousands and thousands of Christians, and this is what it does:
It reveals what the catalysts are that provoke four moves in the spiritual journey:
From exploring Christ to crossing the threshold to grow in Christ;
from growing in Christ to becoming close to Christ;
from being close to Christ to becoming Christ-centered.
You’ll have to read this study to see the nuances of definition and, more importantly, to see what it is that precipitates and catalyzes movement from one level to the next.
It’s open ended enough to be adaptable; it’s empirically-based enough to convince most that they are onto something here.



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Rev Chris Zoephel

posted July 2, 2008 at 6:18 am


I would like to read your article on Reveal.



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Mike

posted July 2, 2008 at 7:31 am


Please forgive me if this sounds cynical, but is this kind of analysis really valid and necessary? I guess it is if you are trying to build an institution. But is the Kingdom a matter of verifiable, measurable data? What about John 3.8?–“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
I haven’t read the report, and therefore have nothing to say about its findings. I’m sure it contains helpful information. However, I’m doubtful about the very idea that we can analyze our way to spiritual success.



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Dave

posted July 2, 2008 at 7:31 am


Scot,
I watched Hybels and others talk about this study, but found one thing about it quite baffling. Why are the discoveries so revelatory? Aren’t the things that Hybels et al. landed upon pretty basic (not in practice perhaps) to proper spiritual formation?
Part of Amazon blurb for book:
AND THE BREAKTHROUGH FINDINGS THAT WILL CHANGE THE WAY YOU DO CHURCH. Follow Me draws on the latest research to provide unprecedented insights into what drivesand derailsspiritual growth. It addresses questions every ministry leader wrestles with: How does spiritual growth happen



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BB

posted July 2, 2008 at 7:36 am


Scot,
I, too, would love to read your article. Any chance of posting it to the blog? I am especially interested in your perspective since you are a “Creeker” yourself. By the way, did I see that you are teaching a Wednesday night class on genres at Willow?



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Randy

posted July 2, 2008 at 8:09 am


I read Reveal and found it to be Willow’s discovery of Fowler’s faith stages in action. Is there anything really new here, Scot, or have they just done a rediscovery with their name on it–an institution discovering spiritual formation?



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snc

posted July 2, 2008 at 8:17 am


I guess I’m just tired of always being pointed to Willow Creek for what is ‘next’ as if they are the only ones who are asking formative questions. We all should be encouraging each other to discern the Spirit’s movement in our own CONTEXT rather than to stand around and gawk at another community.



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Rob

posted July 2, 2008 at 8:25 am


Well, with due respect to Willow for the great things they have done (and still are doing), this is groundbreaking for them. If you place yourself in their context of “seeker sensitivity”, with program-driven models seeking to draw people in to the institution (and I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense at all, it’s just what I see), something that challenges that worldview, while somewhat “of course” for alot of us who have been re-thinking things for awhile, is ground breaking. I’m thankful they have reached that conclusion.



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Rob

posted July 2, 2008 at 8:27 am


…and, I agree with snc, trying to adopt the latest Willow model really does injustice to contextual and missional engagement within a community’s particular setting.



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John W Frye

posted July 2, 2008 at 8:58 am


Mike #2,
Have you ever read these words from Jesus? “When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered,”Seven.”
He said to them, “Do you still not understand?”
“Verifiable, measurable data” seemed to be part of the kingdom of God here, yes? So Willow Creek as a dastardly institution did an analysis of their ministry life. What’s the big deal? No one at Willow Creek believes they can analyze their way to success.



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Rick

posted July 2, 2008 at 8:59 am


I understand the desire to cover the costs of the study, but I am a little uncomfortable with an apparent consumerism mindset about the whole thing. We will help you impact Christians- for a price.



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Mike

posted July 2, 2008 at 11:55 am


John,
I know there is a balance, but I really do think we waste such enormous amounts of time, money and energy conducting studies and the like, and such relatively little time actually engaged in walking with God and living out his mission in the world. I have always respected the passion exhibited by those at Willow Creek. But let’s not forget that the whole idea of WC and the seeker approach grew out of data-driven research. Now that we’ve seen that the results weren’t what was hoped, what makes us think that another data-driven study will yield better results?



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Sam Andress

posted July 2, 2008 at 12:08 pm


“Every pastor and every church deserves and needs a copy of this new study by Willow Creek called Follow Me.”
The sweeping certainty of this statement makes me cringe. Perhaps the churches who have “bought” into the Willow paradigm should get a free copy.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 2, 2008 at 12:25 pm


Sam, ouch. Well, most maybe. The point being this: they map out the features that help Christians move along in a journey. And it is hardly fair to say this is the “Willow paradigm” since it is a study of thousands of Christians in a variety of denominations, and not at all just Willow types. Take a look at it, I think you might be surprised.



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John W Frye

posted July 2, 2008 at 1:27 pm


Mike #11,
I appreciate your response because IMO your #2 comment didn’t come across as balanced. Admittedly I am not as prone as you are to source kingdom realities in personal piety. I tend to think that a lot of analysis took place at the Jerusalem Council before they drafted the letter to the churches(Acts 15), but I could be wrong. :)



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Mike

posted July 2, 2008 at 1:59 pm


John (#14),
I admit for my part that I’m not very institutionally-minded, but I’m also questioning something else here. Is it possible that there is another way to “do” a missional institution.
Actually, some of my thoughts reflect what is on your blog at the very moment–the “Jesus and Context” post, where you write–“Take a look at the disciples? finger nails?if you can find them. They were chewed to the quick as they followed the man whom the government described as demon-possessed, illegitimate, insane, deceiving, traitor and a Galilean nobody. Please, Christian leaders, make sure you discover and define your ?discipleship principles? in that context or you will miss the Jesus Way completely and lead people astray. ?Follow me and duck for cover when needed? is an appropriate paraphrase of Jesus? call to discipleship.”
John, that’s very insightful and so contrary to the data-driven “spiritual technology” approach reflected in the Willow Creek study, or at least in its promotion. Just listen to their blurb–“Now you have the breakthrough insights that will help you lead your congregation with confidence, knowing that the next steps you take together really will move people closer to Christ.”
Good ol’ American suburban can-do spirit!



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John W Frye

posted July 2, 2008 at 2:30 pm


Mike #15,
Now you’ve asked the penetrating question! I like it, too. I do believe the grand evangelical conversation is attempting to answer your question both theologically and in praxis. But this is beyond WC’s recent in-house business.



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pam

posted July 2, 2008 at 8:21 pm


Mike #15, and John for your words – that quote is beautiful!
pam



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Sam Andress

posted July 3, 2008 at 12:07 am


Scot, my apologies if my response was taken as a jab at you personally, it really was just the statement. I really do deeply appreciate your scholarship and this blog. I don’t want to be taken as just a Willow basher.
Here is the deal. Willow is Willow. It is what it is. What sets me off is that everything is so sensationalized, just cheesy. Everything is “cutting edge” and “revolutionizing.” The form that Willow has taken is what keeps it from actually being critical of itself. I don’t have time to read another material from Willow especially when the marketing seems to be same old stuff.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 3, 2008 at 4:54 am


Sam,
On par 2 of your note: Yes, I agree. Many things are overdramatized or sensationalized, but it isn’t at all true they are not self-critical. Willow is one of the few churches that takes stock of where it is headed and if it is gaining.



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Howard Walters

posted July 3, 2008 at 4:17 pm


Confession 1: I am a professor of Statistics and Research Design. I’ve read Reveal, and if the new study is along the same path, then I can’t wait to read it. I am personally encouraged and blessed that a church would consider authentic study followed rigorous methods as a way of learning about ministry and programs and people. God loves measurement and statistics! Look at all the measurements and the precision that went into designing and building the Temple in the OT. In the NT, the Bereans were commended for study and testing truth. Timothy was encouraged to study.
Confession 2: Three years ago, at a point of great spiritual struggle and cynicism, I went to a Worship Arts Conference at Willow Creek. I returned the next year. The authenticity of heart and love was palpable. The Spirit of Jesus met me there and ministered to my heart. Pastor Nancy, their “artsy leader” was truly led by the Spirit and I heard God speak through her in a way that changed my life. Everybody needs to find their own style–I think God grants us that freedom in worship and in programming–but Willow met a need for me, and while the size of the place doesn’t suit me if I had the opportunity to attend there week-to-week, and the expense of the place might have been better placed with poverty issues, I praise God for WC!



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Anonymous

posted July 3, 2008 at 9:21 pm


Discovery :: 7 :: Following the Reveal « The Third Mile: Ponderings, Parables, & Other Discoveries

[…] While reading? Scot McKnight’s? blog? I ran across a post about the Reveal study and the next stage. […]



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