As I mentioned previously, Jenni and I recently moved to Deerfield, IL and have been spending most of our Sundays at Lake Drive Baptist Church in Bay Side, WI, where I’ve been preaching/teaching three times each Sunday. A possible pastoral candidate is preaching there today, so this morning we decided to visit an (in)famous church: the main campus of Willow Creek Community Church located in South Barrington, IL, where Bill Hybels serves as the senior pastor. (For a very brief history of Willow Creek, click here.)
Rather than giving a blow-by-blow account with all of my impressions, I’ll keep my comments brief (drawing on some other exposure I’ve had as well, including attending services at two other Willow Creek campuses):
- Willow Creek’s building and parking lot are huge. It has the feel of a shopping mall. And this is an up-to-date shopping mall, complete with state-of-the-art accessories like escalators, elevators, dozens of flat screens, a food court, a bookstore, and first-class projectors and sound systems.
- Willow Creek’s service is well-planned. It is evident that they put a lot of thought into every little bit of the service, including seamless transitions.
- Willow Creek’s services seem more like a concert than a church’s worship service.
- Willow Creek’s speakers are skilled communicators. They demonstrate that they know the culture well.
- Willow Creek’s speakers are poor expositors. They do not demonstrate that they understand the Bible well. The question they attempt to answer seems to be “What can I say about this text/topic?” instead of “What does this text say?” or “What does the Bible say about this topic, and how does it address it across the Bible’s salvation-historical story-line?”
- Willow Creek’s general audience seems (I use that word carefully because I can’t be the final judge of this.) biblically illiterate and spiritually anemic.
- Willow Creek’s God reminds me more of a really kind, loving, influential, important friend rather than the unique, holy, transcendent, awesome Creator, Sustainer, and Judge of the universe. (Again, I’m not implying that every person who attends Willow Creek is an idolater! I’m simply sharing an impression I get from their “worship” service.)
I could say so much more. Instead, I’ll reference three of the most helpful related sources I’ve read:
- David M. Doran, “Market Driven Ministry: Blessing or Curse? Part 1,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 1 (Spring 1996): 54-84.
- David M. Doran, “Market Driven Ministry: Blessing or Curse? Part 2,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 1 (Fall 1996): 187-221.
- Gregory A. Pritchard, Willow Creek Seeker Services: Evaluating a New Way of Doing Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996). This informative book is based on Pritchard’s dissertation. His research is especially valuable because it is fairly impartial.