Monday, May 26, 2014

What is a Willow Creek Church?

A Willow Creek church (often simply shortened to a ‘mega-church’) is a modern American evangelical body of Christ followers. They are part of a loosely collected seeker sensitive group that exists to bring in as many unchurched people as possible and turn them into fully devoted followers of Christ. They speak to people’s problems and felt needs, whether it be financial, moral, or relational, as the work out the idea that the world is a hurt place, and the church needs to be its hospital. Large size aside, most Willow Creek churches have a few distinctive traits that are easily recognizable:

    Skewed demographics. Big (and increasing) attendance for 40-50 year olds, small and decreasing attendance for other adult ages. Big numbers of baby Christians, small and shrinking numbers for mature believers. 

Particularly low level of commitment from people. The children’s programs have a lot of polish and class, and they do teach the kiddos the Bible stories, but quite often they have a lack of volunteers to run them. Most kid programs exist so the parents can attend worship without distraction.

Preaching aided by modern communication methods. Videos, dramas, musicals, testimonials, are frequent sightings on Sunday mornings.

Increasing emphasis on “doing something” for the community. I mean this in a social justice sense. “Preach the gospel, use words if you have to.” Show the light of Christ by getting out with a rake and cleaning up the park for the neighborhood kids.

Partnerships with “para-church” organizations like World Vision or Financial Peace, or adherence to things like Advent Conspiracy.

Decreasing congregational participation during service. The worship leader using the word “audience”, a smoke machine, or laser lights is typical of the next generation of Willow Creek model (the emergents) who display this trait much more strongly, but the principle is the same. They key indicator is if the primary thing heard is the voices of the congregation or not.

Orthodox words are updated. Sanctification is retooled to “Spiritual Formation.” Christian becomes “Jesus follower.”
Baptism becomes “Conversion story.” Pastor becomes “vision caster.” Church goers become increasingly illiterate of the historic terms and cut off from the saints who labored to preserve these doctrines.
Surveys. The most telling sign is when the church leaders give a survey to find out what people want. While the idea is put forward as a good way to find out what people need so we can give them what they’ve asked for, in practice the survey seems to be complete irrelevant. I say that because Willow Creek recently recanted of doing church in this way, and followed up by ignoring the implications of their admission and doubled down on social justice, in effect continuing to do what they repudiated.

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