Willow Creek Community Church with Bill Hybels in control gave us a new way to build churches, a "successful" way that would fill pews and build large churches. They called their method "seeker sensitive," which seems to be just another way of asking people what they want and then setting out to give it to them. The "success" of Hybels and Willow Creek drew thousands of imitators. A new wave in church building was under way. Anybody who argued with the success of the seeker sensitive way of church building was dismissed as a crank.
Now it seems, Hybels and his helpers have had to face the nasty truth that their scheme was a flop. They got it all wrong. Willow Creek itself has admitted as much. A recently produced study of the effectiveness of their programs and methods has produced what Hybels has termed "ground breaking," earth shaking" and "mind blowing." In a stunning confession that he and his strategists did not even teach people who professed faith in Christ to study the Bible on their own and thus feed their souls, Hybels says, "We made a mistake."
An Ohio radio commentator, quoted by the Baptist Press, summarized the seeker sensitive debacle:
"The size of the crowd rather than the depth of the heart determined success. If the crowd was large then surely God was blessing the ministry. Churches were built by demographic studies, professional strategists, marketing research, meeting ‘felt needs' and sermons consistent with these techniques. 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."
Now Willow Creek's leaders want to try again. Greg Hawkins, the church's Executive Pastor, put it like this:
"Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he's asking us to transform this planet."