Willow Creek North Shore
The newly-constructed Willow Creek North Shore building in Glenview, Illinois.

Willow Creek Campus in Uproar Over Sweeping Staff Cuts & Vision to Centralize

By Julie Roys and Cindy Mallette

A campus of Willow Creek Community Church is in an uproar over massive staff cuts—part of a new vision by new Senior Pastor Dave Dummit to streamline costs and centralize the embattled Chicago-area megachurch.

Some are saying they want to secede from the multi-site church. Others say they’re withholding tithes until they feel their voice is heard.

The sweeping changes took effect in early October, when central Willow Creek leadership eliminated 92 positions across Willow’s eight campuses.

This included 13 staff at Willow’s North Shore campus in Glenview—some of whom had been in their positions for more than 15 years. Other staff were offered the option of taking a buyout or a position in the church’s new model.

To date, a stunning 14 Willow Creek North Shore (WCNS) staff members have taken the buyout option. This means that of the original 32 staff, only five remain to minister to a campus of more than 2,600 people.

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The WCNS congregation is also struggling to accept the loss of their popular lead pastor, Amy Mikal, who resigned suddenly on September 27.

Yesterday, Willow Creek Executive Pastor Tim Stevens announced that Ed Ollie, the former pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel’s Chicago Cathedral campus, would replace Mikal.

Willow Creek North Shore Amy Mikal
Former Willow Creek North Shore Pastor Amy Mikal announces her resignation. (Video Screengrab)

In a YouTube video in September, announcing her resignation, Mikal said she realized, after discussing the new vision and values with Willow’s new leadership team, that “God was turning the page on the chapter where I serve as the lead pastor at Willow Creek North Shore.”

According to an FAQ Willow Creek published on October 7, central leadership had asked Mikal to serve in a different role that involved less teaching and preaching. And Mikal did not feel that the new job fit “her passions and strengths.”

Many members of WCNS are stunned by what they say feels like a decimation of their once-thriving campus without any warning from pastors Dummit or Stevens.

Cliff Nelson, a founding member of WCNS, said congregants were shocked to learn on Sunday, October 4—through word-of-mouth—that most of the staff had been terminated or resigned.

“There was not a single communication of any type to the North Shore community,” Nelson said. “It seems hard to believe that this new team, without talking to us, implemented this kind of strategy after being on the job for less than six months.”

Jason Lee, another longtime member of WCNS, said that the sudden loss of so many staff, who were like family to the congregation, left the congregation feeling blindsided.

“As a churchgoer, we were not given time to process this or time to assess the changes that were given to us. It was really shocking,” Lee said.

Communication Breakdown

The sharp backlash from the WCNS congregation led to two tense question-and-answer sessions with central leadership at the North Shore campus on Oct. 6 and 7.

Due to COVID-19, the meetings were held outside. Members turned out en masse, filling the entire WCNS parking lot on one night and spilling over onto the surrounding lawn.

Willow Creek North Shore Dave Dummit
Willow Creek leaders Tim Stevens (far left) and Dave Dummit (2nd from left) meet with WCNS congregants on October 6. (Video Screengrab)

Nelson openly complained that Dummit and Stevens made the changes without consulting the staff or even the advisory board at WCNS. (Though the campus is represented by several members on Willow Creek’s main elder board, WCNS maintains its own advisory board to handle campus issues.)

Similarly, Steve Lake, a founding member of WCNS and a member of Willow for 33 years, commented: “You don’t do any major changes in your first year. (It’s) supposed to be spent getting to know people, build(ing) trust, and invit(ing) people to help develop the vision. . . . Why didn’t you make more of an effort?  To have positive, long-lasting change, you have to have intense dissatisfaction with the status quo. Can’t speak for Willow world, but we love what we have here.”

Congregants also expressed frustration that central leadership didn’t give the local campus a chance to respond to a shortfall in donations, which reportedly motivated the massive cuts.

“You’ve always said we’ve been good financially,” Nelson said, adding that WCNS always ends the year in the black and provides major financial support to other organization-wide ministries.

Dave Dummit Willow Creek
Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Dave Dummit

Then Nelson added, to cheers, honks, and flashing headlights from those gathered: “My spiritual home is here, and I told you, Dave (Dummit), home is where you love people and where each one gives. I see what God is doing—and having all this staff leave—I’m not grieving. I’m really pissed.”

According to Willow Creek Executive Pastor Tim Stevens, giving is down 20-percent churchwide. However, Stevens acknowledged that “there’s not an impending financial disaster today,” citing an unspecified amount of financial reserves and $5.9 million in PPP loans the church received in April.

In July, soon after the PPP loan money had expired, Stevens told The Roys Report that Willow Creek intended to furlough some employees. But at that time, he said Willow had “every intention” of hiring those employees back once the church could resume in-person services.

However, last week, Stevens expressed a very different perspective.  

“If we waited six months to a year (to do the restructuring), we would be in the red. In 2021, we’d be a hot mess,” Stevens said. “We’re looking at the flashers on the dashboard, and the warning lights are blinking.”

Congregants at the on-campus meetings seemed unmoved by Stevens’ and Dummit’s arguments and several asked Dummitt whether he would allow the North Shore campus to separate from the mother church.

Just four years ago, WCNS built a 72,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art worship center in Glenview, which is owned by the central Willow Creek organization.

Dummitt responded, “I felt called to be a church planter, not a church splitter. I just (don’t) think God would bless it.”

But Dummit added, “You all are able to do whatever—I mean, you vote with your feet and with your pocketbook. I don’t have any power over you.”

Moving Forward

Despite the many pleas from WCNS congregants, Dummit and Stevens say they’re committed to moving forward with their restructuring plan.

Dummitt, who was away at a conference last week and unable to talk by phone, said via email that God had led him to Willow Creek to rebuild the church in a healthy way. He said one means of doing this was by restructuring the church staff.

“While under normal circumstances, these would have been slower changes implemented over years, COVID’s impact on the organization has demanded a faster pace,” Dummit said. “I say it all the time, but I really do believe that because of Jesus the best is yet to come.”  

Stevens, however, admitted that central leadership executed the roll-out poorly. “Where we didn’t nail it was on communications,” he said.

Dr. Jim Bedell, a longtime member of Willow Creek’s Crystal Lake campus and a clinical psychologist, wrote in a recent blog that central leadership’s actions reveal a complete misunderstanding of the issues at Willow.

Bedell said Willow members have been traumatized by the events of the past two years—by revelations of sexual harassment and abuse by founding pastor Bill Hybels and the resignation of all members of Willow’s elder board and top staff.

“If you have an awareness of how trauma affects cultures—like the trauma of what happened under Bill Hybels—you understand that there’s a question of, how do you trust leadership?” Bedell wrote. “You don’t say, ‘Just trust me.’ You take care of the culture first.”

The congregation at WCNS say they haven’t decided what their next steps will be.

“I think, right now, there’s a lot of people searching for God. There are a lot of people praying to find out what that next step is,” Lee said.

The broken trust in church leadership has caused many at the North Shore campus to commit to 40 days of fasting and prayer to seek discernment from God.

The time of fasting and prayer will end on Nov. 22. And it is unclear what steps WCNS members will take after the 40 days is over. But some say, whether there’s a split or not, the damage has already been done.

“This is a tragedy, and I don’t see anything good—long run—happening out of it. There will be a division, and some people will walk away from church altogether,” Nelson said. “I think it might get really ugly before it gets better.”

Cindy MalletteCindy Mallette is a communications strategist and writer living in Austin, Texas.

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46 thoughts on “Willow Creek Campus in Uproar Over Sweeping Staff Cuts & Vision to Centralize”

  1. I think we are seeing in the current mega church meltdowns the inherent problem in satellite (or better said franchise) churches. Local members – who pay the bills and provide the manpower- have no say in how their local Church is administered. The central organization owns everything, controls everything and the people in the pews are not even members. They are giving units and are expected to do the heavy lifting to support the celebrities.
    When growth and brand are the goal – people always lose and so does Jesus.

    1. Julian, very well said. Again, very, very well said. The mega-church concept when it first came into force several decades ago, may have been viable at that time. But I think because of its sheer size, and the enormous amounts of money needed to run it, the evangelical mega-church model has seen better days. The secular type management practices that have been adapted to run mega-churches just will not work in the body of Christ. There are however several notable exceptions, which I’m sure everyone is aware of. But as a whole, evangelical mega-churches and how they have been operating over the past, probably two decades or so, are open to all sorts of financial and managerial abuses. It seems to me, that the management of resources and people in the mega-church setting is a delicate balancing act and, unless you have pastors and elders who are both experts in ministry and management, it’s just not going to work very well. Maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know. That’s just how I see it. I welcome any comments or observations.

    1. Anti-Mega Church since 1990's

      Amen. The fact that they took PPP money is horrible. A church should take care of their staff not the government. One thing many don’t realize is that church employees are NOT eligible for unemployment insurance. That 501c3 status to not pay tax on income also screws over church employees.

  2. What you didn’t capture in these two articles is the 4th reason for laying off staff and offering a buyout… and maybe the most prominent: cleaning out the cancerous Progressive Christianity that infected Willow during Hybels’ tenure until now. Since there were no uniform standards for what staff had to believe to work there (i.e. they don’t have to agree to any of the official positions held by the elders), you had a large percentage of staff that didnt believe in core historical doctrine; in the authority and inerrancy of scripture, worship leaders (both staff and contracted) posting pro-lgbt messages on their personal social media accounts, staff promoting secular “reconciliation” resources that heavily pushed critical race theory, etc. Cleaning house was absolutely needed to restore any semblance of real Christianity.

    However, they really should’ve been more honest and upfront about this with the staff. Explain to those affected that their beliefs aren’t in line with the elder’s positions and that this is creating problems and confusion among the congregation, division among the staff, etc, instead of just using Covid and the declining financial situation over the past couple years as cover for this.

    Maybe they didnt want to risk another lawsuit.

    1. I think you’ve just begun to scratch the surface here, Fed Up.

      I could a write a book backing up what you’ve said. But until then, I contend that God is more interested in pruning the Church than propping it up. A church of 25 or 250 sold-out followers of Christ will do more heavenly good than a church of 25,000 filled with thousands upon thousands of people who have never been born again, lack the Holy Spirit, and therefore cannot or will not please God.

      May God continue to open eyes to the glorious light of Christ until He returns.

      Grateful His return is one day nearer today than it was yesterday.

      mm

      1. That’s just a ridiculous conclusion! For its 40th anniversary Willow built 52 church buildings in poor countries. Also it provides a prison Christians package to the 7000 prisoners in the state of Illinois. Yes we have problems but people matter.

        1. Reclaim Christ's church

          The true Gospel message of Jesus Christ matters! That’s it! Programs and churches mean nothing without it!

    2. Anti-Mega Church since 1990's

      We are seeing the repercussions of what Hybels/Warren/Schuller/Drucker did to the Christian church. I predicted this was going to happen in the early 1990’s as these men began their seeker sensitive, let the world dictate the church movement. I so wanted to be wrong. Look at our culture. These men say they are drawing in thousands of people each week yet we have the most Biblically illiterate churches that only want to put on shows and performances to keep the masses coming back for more.

  3. The problem IMO is not the model, it’s the message. WC’s message has been off for years. Since when is it okay for a woman to serve as a lead pastor? Not that this was the cause of WC’s fall but it is certainly a symptom.

    1. Mediocre leaders are terrible

      And folks we see here a great example of why a mediocre white man who thinks he is in charge and knows everything is the worst type of leader.

  4. So Tim Stevens thinks they didn’t “nail it” on communication. Not only did they fail at that, that tells me the people of the church were not in their minds when they decided all of this. Didn’t Tim write some book on love? This does not show love…at all.

  5. I will begin by apologizing for the length of my comment. This is somewhat cathartic for me.

    What I’m reading is the ongoing story of Willow Creek Community Church. I was a tithing member there for 16+years. I dove deep into studying and living my Christian faith, joined a small group, was baptized, created friendships, and became involved in many ministries, too many to even list.

    My son participated in Promiseland, Elevate, and Students Impact. He was also baptized there and went on to lead a high school small group while he attended a Christian college.

    We grew spiritually and enjoyed the peace of belonging to and living life as a part of a Christian community. Then things changed.

    The past few years were unsettling and tumultuous. But I and others prayed, were obedient and faithful, and looked to church leadership to sort through truth and lies, as the church seemed to crumble and fall apart around us. Still waiting on the selection of a senior pastor, people coming and going, the instability was challenging. In the winter months, when the story and accusations involving a female member and Dr. B came to surface, we could only wonder, what next?

    I attended service that Saturday night when the elders and pastoral staff gave their speeches and briefly discussed the fresh scandal. As a faithful member, I sat and listened. Then the teaching pastor took us down the road of prayer. Not for the church, not for the wounded, not for wisdom and guidance, but for us to sit there, reflect on our own failings, and to pray for forgiveness from God.

    I was outraged. Once again, leadership chose to ignore the monstrous elephant in the room and distract us with self-reflection. Really?! We were invited to come down to meet with staff and elders after service. Absolutely!

    I spoke with the eloquent female elder, who had spoken at the beginning of service. I asked what the purpose of that evening’s “service” was all about. I asked what was happening to our church. What were the core members to expect next? There were senior pastor candidates, and now they were starting the search again. I said, “Who are we now? What is our vision? What type of a church are we even trying to be?” The elder agreed with me and said that the board was in the midst of answering those very questions.

    I began to attend a smaller, local church whose focus is on biblical teaching and humbly walking in the way of faithful Christians as a community of believers. I had enough and was craving spiritual guidance, and found it there.

    Still I receive emails from WCCC. The last was teaching the congregation about justice and mercy. Again, really? Where has the justice been in our church? Where? Oh, wait, let’s look under the rug. And mercy? No justice, no mercy, you say? When I responded to the email, I received a stunning response, as if I had never heard of the passage nor the concept. In a sense, it felt very condescending until I thought about it.

    I now look at the situation this way. It is as if the current leadership team walked into the end of a sad movie as the credits were rolling and the audience was wiping their tears, and they proceeded to tell us what the movie was about. We experienced the deception, confusion, disappointment, and loss. They ignore the emotional state of those who are grieving, with a “get over it” type of response. This is so sad. They just don’t get it. Or maybe they do, and want to just move along. Hence the ongoing lack of communication, sensitivity, and consideration.

    I believe it is time for the satellites to choose between staying associated, or branching out on their own. I also believe it is time to change the name of the church, since it barely resembles the church that many of us knew and loved. Jesus instructed the apostles to go out and spread the gospel, not chaos and discord.

    I am not bitter, but I am grieving, as I know others are. I did not leave my church; rather, I believe this church left me. So on our faith journey we go. His will be done. God provides a path for us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and in Jesus’ name.

    1. Pamela, your comment was extremely thoughtful and well written. I was a 30 year member of Willow SB, and I share in your grief of the loss of my church. It breaks my heart to see the north shore congregation going through this dismantling of their church family.

    2. A true church will point you towards Jesus as the start and the end of your faith and then simply get out of the way. A false one will leverage Jesus so that you start looking to the institution as the solution and subtly it becomes an idol that actually eventually becomes a stumbling block in your faith. The fruit eventually comes out as what you thought was your church gets tested. If your faith is real the church can cease to exist but you just keep going. If your faith has become an idol then you stumble and become part of the wreckage along with the whole institution. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. No institution can ever be any of those things. They are either making you a disciple of Jesus the Rock. or of their own ways which is nothing but sand. Time tests the institution. What you have been through is not uncommon at all. Many such institutions fail the test…

        1. Back in March of ’93 when I was much younger I had my two personal Christian role models fall into the most wicked and sordid sins at the same time. It shook my faith to the core and messed me up spiritually for over two years. I eventually recovered but only with the emotional scars where I learned my lesson. Now Jesus is the center of my faith and men and their institutions will never hold that place in my heart again.

          I only recovered after fully dealing with my own idolatry which I did not even know I was doing until I stumbled right over it. It is from this painful lesson that I know that many other Christians are idolizing certain role models and certain church institutions. This is why God has sent a pestilence on the earth. God is a jealous God. He did not give us other people and churches for them to take our devotion away from Him and give it to them. It is a damn hard lesson to learn but I am sure glad now I did…

  6. The sad song continues. I am glad the some find stability in smaller, less worldly, more humble church families.

    There is life outside a mega-church setting because Jesus is always life-giving. Sometimes an over-organized church can actually get stuck on its lifeless “structure” and make its survival the top goal. For true believers, we are all one church in Christ whatever name we choose to function under.

    Jesus told us: I call you My friend. Even Jesus shares His plans with His followers.

    It might be helpful if the new pastors and elders at Willow Creek also try to do some form of 40-Day Fasting and Prayer now to seek God’s specific guidance. God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. We all need genuine spiritual revival, desperately.

  7. Speak loud and clear by tithing to a worthy missionary or Christian organization and stop giving funds to the church!! As Stevens said congregants can speak by withholding $$$ and or walking.

  8. I am in the process of membership at the new church and have been donating my tithes to other ministries and churches that feed my soul.

  9. We get so caught up in the upkeep of programs and activities of our big church operations that we become less aware of some mission work in other regions of the world. There are the unreached areas (see missionpathway.org, Global prayer Digest, Frontier People Groups, Crossroads Publications, etc. ) and the hidden churches in persecuted lands that could use our prayer support.

    Our youth today needs serious challenges spiritually and life discipleship to grow their faith and their relationship with their Savior Jesus Christ. Who can demonstrate the holiness and humility of Christ except those who are one with Him in Spirit and heart? The culture is killing us with entertainment, lure of money and sex, power, leisure, pleasure, superficial beauty and success… at the expense of our soul. Who will be pure enough to lead these young people on a godly path?

    Are our “rich” churches still lost in the games of the business world? Budgets and restructuring…. Maybe we know about Jesus, but don’t know Jesus enough?

    Thankful for a place to share these concerns. Thankful for all who pray.

  10. I appreciate these comments. I am sad about the continuing notion that is alive and malfunctioning at WC: that corporate structures of governance are best for the church. Even corporations are learning the pitfalls.

    Ex:18:21 “Find some capable, godly, honest men who hate bribes, and appoint them as judges, one judge for each 1000 people; he in turn will have ten judges under him, each in charge of a hundred; and under each of them will be two judges, each responsible for the affairs of fifty people; and each of these will have five judges beneath him, each counseling ten persons. 22 Let these men be responsible to serve the people with justice at all times…. 23 If you follow this advice, and if the Lord agrees, you will be able to endure the pressures, and there will be peace and harmony in the camp.”

    A wiser strategy would be to circumvent the present one, and let people communicate and be heard by a vote rather than a tithe: government on behalf of the people, by the people. All this ruckus with Willow is due to Ezekiel 34. God’s Word is perfectly capable of guiding Willow, if they humble themselves and listen.

  11. My acquaintance with Willow Creek is long and varied, I have prayed for it often, I have studied it thoroughly, but I have never felt compelled to give myself to it for a number of reasons which, sadly, has born some rotten fruit.

    The first time I heard about it I was living a few miles from the main campus back in the late 1980’s. My father decided to go visit on a Wednesday night and was impressed. He said? “They actually are sharing scripture with one another. It was amazing.” He was a practicing Roman Catholic at the time but he was impressed by the emphasis on the Bible as truth.

    About five years later I came to Christ and went to Moody Bible Institute and my roommate was saved at Willow Creek. He loved Bill Hybles and talked about his sermons all the time, he had a whole suitcase of them on tape. The strange thing is in preaching class he tried to preach just like Bill. I said, “Be yourself when you preach, Christ wants you to be you.” And I will never forget his response, “But I am not polished or professional in my own skin.”

    Wow! That said so much. I asked him, “Where does scripture ever say you need to be polished and professional?” He said, “Well if I am ever going to serve at Willow I sure need to be.”

    Over the years I eventually served at a few small to medium sized churches. I remember my roommate came to hear me preach once and said, “Wow, you are so blunt and honest in the pulpit. Don’t people think you are a bit too raw?” I didn’t understand the question. He said, “At Willow we need to make sure our words don’t offend people because you never know what walk of life they come from.”

    Over the years I have had many friends in ministry go to the huge leadership conferences at Willow, it became a machine. I personally have chosen to preach simply, honestly and focused on 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I decided to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.” A bloody man hanging on a tree is not polished, nor professional, and the image is definitely intended to be offensive.

    Sadly when a church is built on polish and professionalism the purpose is lost. Bill Hybels was a gifted man, many people where touched by the early years of Willow’s Biblical emphasis. But the organization became a monster and the gospel got lost in the weeds of running a business.

    I grieve for what had happened. But weirdly success has a way of making the essential things seem boring and mundane. Polish and professionalism does that.

    And God won’t be mocked for too long when the gospel is buried under other things. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 11:3 says, “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

    Sadly, I think it veered away from sincerity a long time ago.

    1. Bingo, Christopher.

      Although I would add the gospel didn’t just get buried. It became all but unrecognizable as it morphed into a felt-needs, man-centered message built on the wisdom of man rather than the foolishness of God.

      Bill Hybels, along with members of his family familiar to Willow, apostatized from the faith a long time ago.

      If you’ve never read the 3 1/2 page “A Christian Response to a Common Word Between Us and You”, it’s nothing short of utter blasphemy. I can’t emphasize this enough.

      https://www.acommonword.com/

      Look closely about a fourth of the way into who signed and endorsed this and you’ll find Bill Hybels’ name on page 5. It’s beyond troubling. It’s signatories looks like a Who’s Who list of defectors from the faith.

      Much much more could be said why I remain convinced Bill defected from the faith long ago and how Willow Creek abandoned the biblical gospel equally long ago.

      Incredibly sad.

      1. I have spent a considerable amount of time understanding what the Koran, the Hadith and the writings that claim to come from the 1st generation of Mohammad’s followers. Love of the neighbor is most certainly not something Jews, Christians and Muslims have in common. Muslims are told only to respect other Muslims and the rest of infidels are worth being taken advantage of in every way possible. The Christians and Jewish people who have signed this document are completely ignorant of dhimmitude. Islamic scholars know that their signatures are lies and they do it for that purpose alone. Bat Yeor is an author I have read and has a book where 1/3 of the whole book is references to historical documents. See https://www.jewishmag.com/57mag/dhimmi/dhimmi.htm

      2. Correction—This link provides “The ‘Christian’ Response to a Common Word Between Us and You”—and the list of 300 prominent ‘Christian leaders’ who signed and endorsed this response. One again, after reading this response which is nothing short of utter blasphemy, look at the list of people who endorsed it. Bill Hybels is on the list. I don’t see how it’s possible to endorse this response without defecting from the faith. Simply put, A Common Word is pure heresy (lies about God), blasphemy (insults to God), and apostasy (abandoning of God).

        The list of endorsers, including Bill Hybels, is a Who’s Who list of folks who have for all intents and purposes, apostatized or walked away from the faith, effectually renouncing their one-time belief in the Jesus of the Bible, no longer following Him.

        http://wrfnet.org/resources/2008/02/christian-leaders-respond-common-word

        1. I distinctly remember one Willow service 3 or 4 years ago where instead of a weekend message they had Heather Larson interviewing a Muslim leader on stage, to “try and build bridges between our communities.” At one point the Muslim leader stated that “Christians and Muslims worship the same God.” Neither Heather not anyone else on stage corrected him. I looked around in horror thinking of all the “seekers” around the auditorium that would now think that Allah and the God of the Bible were one and the same. I emailed them about it and the response I got was that they “didn’t want to offend” their guest by correcting him. I guess they’d rather let a room full of people believe a lie about God then slightly “offend” someone of a different faith.

          And that right there is the way of the mega church.

          1. In the Bible the seed of Abraham was Isaac but Ishmael was a seed as well and ishmael’s mother the handmaiden Hagar cried out to the one true God the God of Abraham Isaac,jacob Moses, Noah, ect ect. And God answered her and said fear not I will make your son into a great and mighty people, church, Nation. And God did just that the great mighty church and people of Islam. So they have the same God as us as their foundation. I believe that’s what others are trying to say but we all must come to Christ he is the door.

        2. It appears the Christians who signed are conceding that God and Allah are one and the same. Would you say that is correct?

  12. Thirty years ago, Fuller Seminary in California released a talk that examined the inner foundations and applicational workings of a church. The target audience was church leaders and church cultural influencers. Interesting enough, the talk was first given at a staff meeting at Willow Creek Church in 1990 by one of its own teaching pastors at the time. (FYI…not John Ortberg)
    It was a riveting and humorous talk full of real life stories and experiences this teacher lived out in his ten year pastorate at his previous church on the east coast. Since my wife and I had a front row seat at that church all ten years, I was curious about his biblical and experiential conclusions. What he shared with the Willow Creek staff and the greater Fuller Seminary network in 1990 is fascinating given what Willow has experienced and is experiencing right now.
    This teacher concluded that the 3 foundational building blocks of “the Church” from scripture (primarily the book of Acts) and his experience were summarized by the words Community, Cause and CORPORATION. I have struggled with his conclusions for 30 years now. He categorically stated that Bill Hybels strengths were Corporation and Cause.(True enough) He said he was brought to Willow Creek to balance the 3 legs of the church stool by bringing more Community.(which he did)
    I acknowledge and surrender to the idea that the church is Community (Acts 2) plus Cause (Matthew 28). I have chewed on it and just can’t quite swallow that the third leg of the stool is “Corporation”. My experience in churches over the last 40 years has definitely taught me that Corporation is experientially the third leg of the church. (Undisclosed multi- million dollar pay offs for senior executives, brand protection at any cost, non disclosure agreements, optics, narrative control, balance sheets, 90 million dollar buildings, corporate attorneys to name a few). I understand that order and doing things well (the teaching pastor’s single “proof” text for corporation) is important to any group endeavor, but the question I still struggle with today is “should corporation be the third leg of the church?”
    Willow’s “new” vision for Everyone in a Group (Community) and Every Group Missional (Cause) seems biblically and experientially spot on to me. But is it possible to ever so slowly replace a culturally entrenched third leg? Maybe we should consider an alternative teaching alliteration for the third leg in 2020, something like “Christlikeness” for example? What if seminarians and church influencers in 2020 hear less about corporation and more about Christlikeness?

    1. Thank you for sharing this, Bean. I do wonder if the way that they used “corporation” became mixed up with its common association with business. The actual definition of corporation is “a group of people authorized to work and act as one entity, and to be recognized as such.” We are so used to it being associated with business, that we forget at its core it is about a group of people acting as one. So, in other words, unity. We are called to unity.
      But unity doesn’t start with a c (like the other terms) which takes away from its catchiness….and clearly misled many to think of the church as a business.

      I have known many who called Willow home for years and spoke of it so affectionately. I pray for those who are clearly grieving as it tries to find its way back to Christ.

      1. MH, You might be right. When I read Brad’s comment above, he used the word “Corporate” and it reminded me of the Fuller talk I loved your definition of “Corporation” being a group of people unified or acting as one. If that was the speaker’s idea of “corporation”, that would feel much better in reference to a foundational aspect of a church.
        However, that said, the examples/illustrations actually given in the talk, if I remember correctly, were things like “bosses and firing your mother”, So MH, I sort of think the third leg of the stool given to the church influencers, seminarians and Willow Creek staff had more of the CEO ,buildings and money concept that I referred to above.

  13. “Others say they are withholding tithes…”

    Research has shown that very few Christians tithe, that is, give 10% of their gross income to their local church, which is the consensus teaching.

    As a former believer, I love it. Most teachers teach that tithing is a mandate. And almost no one actually does it.

    Except low income people. They give the highest percentage of their income.

    Anyway, tithes in that sentence is highly presumptuous. Donations would be the better word.

    (Oh, by the way, research has shown that a significant number of people who say they tithe…don’t.)

  14. In my lifetime, I have heard many churches proudly proclaim that they intentionally over-budget, believing that God will provide. (Often times, as the fiscal year is coming to a close, this means additional requests for money.)

    So why isn’t God providing?

    1. Anti-Mega Church since 1990's

      Because you can only do that for so long. One church I served at literally used to say “Santa Claus will provide.” There was always someone or maybe two people in the church that would write a check for the deficit each year. Those people are dying because another cancer of this movement was that people have no commitment to a church to give their offerings to. The older members die off and there is no one in place to cover the deficits anymore. Preachers keep spending though.

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