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Commonly Asked Questions
About Willow Creek Community Church

From Rediscovering Church by Bill Hybels (1995)

In starting Willow Creek volunteers went through the neighborhoods to ask people why they didn't go to church and then made adjustments in order to attract them. Isn't that tantamount to telling people only what they want to hear?

It's amazing how the lore about our community survey has grown up through the years and distorted our real intentions behind it. Actually, from the beginning we had a clear vision of what we wanted to establish -- a biblically functioning community. The scriptural elements of what constitutes a viable and biblical church were nonnegotiable. The Bible -- not a door-to-door canvass -- should determine how a community of believers operates.

The purpose of the survey was merely to determine what particular sensitivities existed in that community and to gather information that would help us meet the particular spiritual needs of that area. For instance, were there a lot of young couples with children in the vicinity? If so, that would influence the kind of ministries we offered. Were there a lot of atheists and hard-core unbelievers, or were most people Christians who had decided to stop attending church for certain reasons? That information would be helpful in fine-tuning the approach we would take in our services. Were people especially turned off by appeals for money? Then maybe we should downplay the request for funds.

Nobody should create a church based only on what people want. The blueprint should come from the Bible, but it's legitimate to have some flexibility in the methodology in order to reflect the particular needs of each community.

Theologian Alister McGrath of Oxford University commented in his book Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity that "Willow Creek is an excellent example of a church that has pioneered an approach that breaks down incidental barriers [that keep seekers away from church]. . . . Yet the Gospel is proclaimed effectively." He added that "there is no doubt that this church and an increasing number of imitators throughout the Western world are getting a hearing for the Gospel among those who would regard a traditional church setting as a no-go zone."

Isn't it inevitable that using modern art forms and language to communicate the Gospel will subtly change its content?

We don't believe this is inevitable, but we are acutely aware of the potential for this taking place. That's why we regularly bring together our best minds to make sure we're not accidentally distorting the Gospel. Every service we conduct is promptly evaluated by our elders, as a safeguard against inadvertently straying from a responsible proclamation of the historical Christian message.

It's also important to keep in mind that art isn't used to teach at Willow Creek. Its purpose is to pique curiosity, to evoke ideas, and to till the soil of the soul so that the seed of God's Word can be planted there. Music, drama, video, multimedia, and dance are only used as a prelude to a thirty- to forty-minute message that then brings strong biblical clarity to the topic of the day. It's this preaching of God's Word that ultimately has the power to change lives. Art plays a secondary -- though important -- support role.

In terms of using contemporary language, a distinction from theologian William Hordern might be helpful. He stresses the difference between transforming and translating the Gospel. Those who transform the Gospel are watering it down into something it isn't, in order to make it more palatable to seekers. That's totally unacceptable, and that's not what we're doing at Willow Creek.

We're committed to keeping the Gospel intact while merely translating it into words and images that our modern audience can understand. This has to be done carefully so that the original meaning of the Scriptures is captured, but we are convinced that it's essential to use contemporary communication in order to help today's seekers grab ahold of biblical truths.

The ironic downside of not translating the Gospel has been described by evangelist Alan Walker: "An idolatry of words has grown up in evangelism. There are people who, if they fail to hear the repetition of phrases and words with which they are familiar, make the sometimes absurd claim that the Gospel is not being preached."

How big do you expect Willow Creek to grow? Why doesn't the church spin off some satellite congregations instead of just continuing to expand?

From the beginning, we haven't discerned the Holy Spirit leading us to directly plant other churches. Instead our ministry has been to work through the Willow Creek Association to encourage church leaders around the world who have been led by God to start new churches and overhaul stagnant ones. We've seen numerous churches planted and rejuvenated as a result of our church leadership conferences, and we've provided resources and other assistance to many of them.

Besides, we have seen some tremendous benefits to having a large church. Because of our size, we're able to provide a wide-ranging inventory of ministries to help seekers and believers alike, as well as to make an impact for Christ in our local community.

How large will Willow Creek grow? We don't know the answer to that. There are 1.5 million people living within a twenty-minute drive of our campus, and yet we're only reaching one percent of them in a typical weekend service. So there's certainly potential for growth!

Willow Creek has more than fifteen thousand in attendance on a weekend. Don't some of your people--even your most involved and committed people--get lost in that large crowd? What keeps Willow Creek from becoming an impersonal, corporate entity, where folks feel as if they're only a part of a machine or an elaborate program?

We believe that our new system of small groups will continue to make the church small and personal to those who choose to get involved. With so many opportunities to experience life change in the context of these groups, there's no reason for anyone to get the feeling that Willow Creek is an impersonal place.

In addition, people are given the opportunity to be difference-makers in the church by discovering their spiritual gifts and putting them into action in one of our nearly one hundred different ministries. A by-product of this is an increased sense of ownership of the church; people feel needed and appreciated for the contribution they make.

Also, the large weekend gatherings aren't the only place where teaching happens at Willow Creek. We provide a variety of smaller settings where interactive biblical teaching is offered on a wide range of life issues.

Since Willow Creek was built on reaching baby boomers, what happens as that generation ages?

Interestingly, a study conducted in the early 1990s shows that the median age of Willow Creek attenders exactly matches the median age of the baby boom generation. But as any waistline-expanding, hair-receding forty-something will tell you, that generation is getting up in years. In fact, the leading edge of the boomers will hit the age of fifty in 1996.

As a result, in recent years Willow Creek began taking steps to continue ministering to boomers while stepping up its efforts to reach the preceding and following generations. In 1995 plans were being implemented to begin a weekly service aimed at reaching the so-called baby busters, the generation following the boomers. This group, also known as Generation X, has its own culture, its own language, its own issues -- and its own desperate need for the Gospel. At the same time, plans were afoot to create a new ministry to address the unique needs of older members of our congregation.

We're still trying to determine how these new ministries will play out. But even if both baby busters and seniors end up with their own services each week, the entire church will continue to get together at New Community for vision-casting, expository preaching, communion, and just being the church together. We believe it's biblical for all generations to gather on a weekly basis as the body of Christ.

What is Willow Creek's attitude toward major social and political issues, such as abortion?

Our approach has been to teach unapologetically on social topics that the Bible addresses, including racism, poverty, injustice, abortion, homosexuality, pornography, the environment, and so on. Then we encourage our attenders to be sensitive to the individual promptings of the Holy Spirit regarding their own social and political involvement in these causes through appropriate organizations.

As a church, we've been scrupulous about staying out of partisan politics, because there can be legitimate differences of opinion among Christians about how certain biblical values can best be translated into political policies in a pluralistic society.

On a person-to-person level, Willow Creek has been heavily involved in social issues. For instance, we have ministries designed to help women choose adoption rather than abortion and have helped finance agencies that place unwanted babies in Christian homes, and we've fought hunger and homelessness though our Food Pantry and Community Care ministries.

As a corporate body, however, we're committed to maintaining a tight focus on what we feel we have been primarily called to do -- reach lost people with the Gospel and help them mature in their faith. We're convinced that, ultimately, a person's perspective on social issues won't fundamentally change until his or her heart is transformed by Jesus Christ.

As Chuck Colson writes in Against the Night, "In the absence of a deeper conversion of perspective . . . minds are rarely changed on single policy matters, no matter how persuasive our arguments."

That "deeper conversion of perspective" comes when Jesus Christ works in a person's life. That's why we believe that our greatest contribution to society is through helping to bring irreligious people into an authentic relationship with Him.

Excerpted from Rediscovering Church by Bill Hybels. Copyright 1995 by Bill Hybels. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. Available at your local bookstore or by calling 1-800-727-3480.

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