Recently I read about a major change taking place at Willow Creek Community Church in the USA. It’s one of the largest churches in the world, which has grown by adapting a thoroughly contemporary style to its worship and life; geared totally to the lifestyle and experiences of the younger non-churchy suburban Americans of Chicago. They didn’t only chuck out the chintz and build swish corporate-style facilities; they ditched the candles, the cassocks, the collections; even the crosses; everything that smelt of old-style irrelevant boring church; and they gave people what they wanted. In the words of the Baptist Press report last year:
“We were told that preaching was out, relevance was in. Doctrine didn’t matter nearly as much as innovation. If it wasn’t “cutting edge” and consumer friendly it was doomed. The mention of sin, salvation and sanctification were taboo and replaced by Starbucks, strategy and sensitivity….Forget what people need, give them what they want. How can you argue with the numbers?”
But now a new report for the church based on a multi-year study has shown that most of what they have been doing for so many years has not been forming responsible sincere Christians. It’s been drawing in the crowd for sure; but it has not been helping people grow and develop spiritually. The founding guru of Willow Creek, Bill Hybels has said this:
“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…..”
Many churches have looked at the Willow Creek model in the past and felt that it has been the way to go. But it has diluted the challenge of being a Christian. Surely, candles, cassocks and tatty carpets are not intrinsic to Christian worship! But the call to follow Christ in the way of service is an indispensable element of our faith. Willow Creek Community Church has always done things in spectacular style – now they are repenting of their mistake in a big way – but all Christians are on that same journey to fulfil that promise made at baptism: to turn to Christ.