Unit 5.1 The Third Wave of Cell Innovation: Willow Creek Community Church


Unit 5: The Third Wave of Cell Innovation

Lecture: Willow Creek Community Church

At some time in his mid-sixties, my father was visiting a high school friend who lived in the northwestern suburbs of Chicago, and she invited him to attend church with her family on Saturday night. He said that he wasn=t much for going to church; she said she thought he would like it. As he described it, it was the strangest thing he had ever seen. The building was huge, more like a concert hall than any church he had experienced. Down on the stage a big band was playing jazz arrangements of hymns. (A Abig band@ to my father meant a large jazz band like those of his youth, with 20-30 musicians; famous big bands were led by Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, the Dorsey Brothers, Count Basie and Duke Ellington.) According to his high school yearbook from 1944, my father=s ambition had been to play trombone with a famous big band. Now he was hearing familiar hymns played in his favorite style of music by his favorite kind of band. Then there was a very interesting message. He was so enjoying this Achurch@ that he hadn=t even realized that the service had lasted over 90 minutes. After the service he wandered down to the bookstore and asked them what he could buy for his Aminister son@ to learn about this new sort of church. They sold him an audiotape, #C9002, entitled ASeven-Step Philosophy.@ It is still one of my prized possessions.

My father=s first experience of Willow Creek Community Church had been in the presence of a trusted friend; that=s the key point. They were a small group of at least two at the beginning of his introduction to Willow Creek.

In the early days Bill Hybels would annually repeat the ASeven Step@ philosophy or strategy message to the Willow Creek church. In this message he would recount the story of the founding principles that undergird the church and call for a covenant commitment to them. The 120 page Participating Membership Manual for new members introduces the Seven Step Philosophy with this paragraph (numbers (1) and words below in bold print are my emphasis):

WILLOW CREEK IS NOT PREACHING A NEW MESSAGE. Unwrap the contemporary packaging, (1) which is obvious to the casual observer, and you will find the rich treasure of Jesus= 2000 year old Gospel. We have no desire to alter (as if we could improve!) our Savior=s message. We only want to translate it into the vernacular. As someone who is considering joining Willow Creek, you need to know this important truth: (2) Willow Creek=s innovative distinctive is not our theology. We stand firmly in the historic Christian faith Aonce for all delivered@ to the church (Jude 3). The teaching transmitted by Jesus through His apostles contained in the Bible governs our individual beliefs and conduct. It is our full and final authority. (4) Where we have become somewhat of a novelty among contemporary churches is in our approach to reaching seekers. That methodologyCwhat we call our Seven Step PhilosophyCis the summary of our strategy to reach the lost. It isn=t our message; it=s the plan for delivering our message.

Seven StepsCSinner to Saint

WE DO NOT CLAIM THAT OUR SEVEN STEP PHILOSOPHY is the only approach a church could take to reach the lost. We certainly don=t think it=s THE biblical formula, though it is supported by biblical examples and principles. (5) It is no more or less than a pragmatic approach that works. (6) It is effective in reaching the lost primarily though supporting the individual evangelistic ministry of our church members. (7) And beyond reaching seekers with the message of Christ, it guides them to
maturity in Christ. (3) In short, it=s the track we follow for cultivating fully devoted followers of Christ.

NOTE (my response)



The quote is from Major League Disciple Making: An Overview of the Best Research on the Cell Church, an online course developed for the Institute for Discipleship at www.BeADisciple.com in 2009. Course materials, including these lectures, can be downloaded here: http://www.disciplewalk.com/IFD_MLD_Class_Links.html

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please review the page How and Why We Use Quotes.

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