Willow Creek were shocked with the findings from this survey and spent more than two years assimilating the research. The results have led to a total rethink as to how Willow Creek is coaching Christ-followers. Specifically, they have made three strategic changes:
1. They Changed Their Message to the Congregation. They realized that they had been wrong in thinking that their job was to meet all of the spiritual growth needs of their congregation. They have endeavored to shift people from dependence on the church to a growing interdependent relationship with the church. They now let people know early on in their journey that they need to look beyond the church to grow. Getting a weekly dose or two of what the church has to offer (even if it is great) will never be sufficient spiritual nutrition for survival, let alone growth. They now see that their people need to learn to feed themselves through personal spiritual practices that allow them to deepen their relationship with Christ.
2. They Now Coach Next Steps. They are endeavoring to shift the church from a spiritual parent role top that of a spiritual coach. Like attending a gym and meeting with a trainer, each person needs a personalized workout plan. One of the church’s initiatives is to create a tool everyone can use to assess the current state of their relationship to Christ (‘spiritual fitness’) and then to recommend a customized growth or ‘workout’ plan that provides direction fort their next step spiritually.
3. They Have Extended the Impact of their Weekend Services. Weekend services are very important on the early stages of spiritual growth but have less value for those further along the spiritual continuum. They are experimenting with ways to provide more additional follow up resources for those who would like to go a little deeper on a particular topic.
As a result of these changes, Willow Creek are moving beyond merely asking “How many?” to asking, “How did this event help people grow?” and “Which segment of people was this event intended to help, and did it actually help them?” They are also moving beyond asking, “How are you?” to deeper questions such as: “How is your relationship with God?” “What is helping you grow spiritual these days?” “What ministry is making a difference in your life and how?” and “What could the church do differently that would help you grow more?”
Speaking at a leadership conference, Bill Hybels summarized the findings this way: “Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for. We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”
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