It’s been almost fifty years since Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois introduced the concept of a Seeker Service Experience. As someone who got married right down the street, I know the history of this youth group that began meeting at Willow Creek Theater in Palatine, Illinois. If you have ever visited the Willow Creek Campus, it’s an amazing sight to see. Yet, whenever any leader reinvents church by deviating from the first century blueprint listed below, there will be spiritual consequences that often go unnoticed.
And they steadfastly persevered, devoting themselves constantly to the instruction and fellowship of the apostles, to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper] and prayers. 43 And a sense of awe (reverential fear) came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were performed through the apostles (the special messengers), Acts 2:42-43.
Carey Nieuwhof recently put together several telling church statistics for the United States in 2021. The total attendance is only at 36% of what it was prior to the Coronavirus restrictions. Today, only 52% of church-goers want primarily in-person services. To be honest, church attendance in this country has been on a steady decline since September 11th, 2001. The Sunday after 9/11 saw the largest attendance at churches in American history. Whenever human beings are confronted by death or tragedy, there is a natural response to consider life after death. Or as 1 John 5:13 states, to secure your eternal destiny.
And all who believed (who adhered to and trusted in and relied on Jesus Christ) were united and [together] they had everything in common; 45 And they sold their possessions (both their landed property and their movable goods) and distributed the price among all, according as any had need. 46 And day after day they regularly assembled in the temple with united purpose, and in their homes they broke bread [including the Lord’s Supper]. They partook of their food with gladness and simplicity and generous hearts, 47 Constantly praising God and being in favor and goodwill with all the people; and the Lord kept adding [to their number] daily those who were being saved [from spiritual death], Acts 2:44-47.
The reason why so many Willow Creek Association Churches have failed to duplicate the success of the original is their failure to possess the same spiritual hungry. Willow Creek began as a youth group who fasted and prayed for their lost teenage friends. Like the words of Nehemiah 1:4-7, this was the spiritual force that produced a mega church. A spiritual revival in this western suburb of Chicago led to the formation of this massive church campus. While Seeker Services may get the unchurched into your building, becoming part of the body of Christ occurs by following the apostles teaching which ultimately produces Christ followers who are eager to come back week after week to serve the Lord.
by Jay Mankus