Most churches, regardless of denomination, meander along aware that they are failing in one respect or another, but unable to address it. Largely, this is because the church, to protect the offering plate, has fostered dependence rather than independence as the relationship model with members. The minister(s) are expected to be and do everything, whether they can or not, and the members are expected to warm the pews and mouth the right platitudes.
As a result, Christendom globally has receded like a hairline and left bald many societies and countries. In the United States, church members will worry and chafe over the state of everything from the state of the nation to the state of clothing styles but do nothing to influence either, and yet tell themselves that magically, through their mere presence in the church building, they have made all the difference they can. They trust God and when they might be shocked to realize, God trusted them.
The recent book Reveal – Where Are You? by Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, staffers at the Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois, however, may have turned on a flashlight that might lead us all out of the darkness.
Their book is available from their website, www.willowcreek.com. It is not really a book. It is really an over glorified color glossy pamphlet. It was designed to be read in about an hour. But, it is worth the time and money. That is not to say it goes anywhere near as far as it should. The analogy to a flashlight was chosen intentionally. But, in the darkness, so far, it is one of the few lights even on.
Their research led them to develop data using sophisticated marketing techniques to measure the actual success of their own church in developing long term spiritual growth. They spent years struggling with this adaptation, but it seems that they have out Barna-ed Barna. They have cleverly concluded that even if a church is winning the lost in its operational area and serving new believers, it may not be serving maturing or even mature Christians, and, indeed, may be hurting them. They discovered in their research, for example, that even quality small groups and quality worship services have a point at which their effectiveness has been maxed out.
One solution they adopted was to treat their own region as a mission field, rather than just building ever larger facilities and engaging their burgeoning membership with ever longer commute times. While they do not describe their regional campus system, if they have created and staffed infra-structure at each location, then they have created for mature believers many opportunities for service that a consolidated location would efficiently eliminate.
The other solution has been a new focus on relationship with Christ, first achieved with improved personal skills (prayer, personal Bible study, etc.) and then improved with greater involvement in personal service and ministry. Mature believers want to do things and they want to accomplish things, they do not want to be herded. The Willow Creek research demonstrated that mature believers will actually contemplate, if not leave, the “best” church in search of a church that actually needs them.