One would think that major changes at America's second largest church and one of the most influential would make some news, but sadly most news organizations missed the story. Thanks to Christianity Today's Matt Branaugh, there is some news out there about the changes. However, despite my best efforts to find other news stories, no other news source seems to have picked up this rather significant story:
After modeling a seeker-sensitive approach to church growth for three decades, Willow Creek Community Church now plans to gear its weekend services toward mature believers seeking to grow in their faith.
The change comes on the heels of an ongoing four-year research effort first made public late last summer in Reveal: Where Are You?, a book coauthored by executive pastor Greg Hawkins. Hawkins said during an annual student ministries conference in April that Willow Creek would also replace its midweek services with classes on theology and the Bible.
Whether more changes are in store for the suburban Chicago megachurch isn't clear. Hawkins declined CT's interview request, and senior pastor Bill Hybels was unavailable for comment.
News organizations, particularly those around Chicago, don't seem to be against covering this major institution. They seem to just need a nicely packaged story in order to motivate themselves to cover big church news.
For example, see the Daily Herald's coverage of Willow Creek's efforts to send 3.5 million meals for African children. That's a wonderful story, but it's hardly a unique piece of enterprising journalism. See the Christian Post's version of the story that appeared within the same week.
Of course when church officials decline to comment, covering the story become difficult, but that doesn't mean news organizations should ignore this. Perhaps their refusal to talk to Christianity Today means there is more to the story?
Greg Pritchard, author of Willow Creek Seeker Services, told CT the church "sporadically has recognized it was not teaching a robust enough biblical theology and needed to turn the ship around.
"It is a huge shift," Pritchard said of the church's planned changes to its services. "But they're still using the same marketing methodology. Willow appears to be selecting a new target audience with new felt needs, but it is still a target audience. Can they change? Yes, but it will take more than just shifting their target audience."
Nationally this is a significant story since it may signal the early beginnings of a trend. The topic is at least up for a healthy discussion amongst churchgoers. CT's blog item is a good start on the subject, and other religion reporters, particularly those in the Chicago region, should consider covering this important story.