In the Hawkins’ video he says, “Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ.” This has been Willow’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, “I know it might sound crazy but that’s how we do it in churches. We measure levels of participation.”
Having put all of their eggs into the program-driven church basket you can understand their shock when the research revealed that “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more.”
People like Dallas Willard have been saying this for years, increased level of church activities do not produce disciples, it just produces people who spend more time at the church (and out of their communities where they could be making a redemptive difference). The reason we default to activities can be explained by Lyle Schaller in his book, Reflections of a Contrarian where he talks about the kind of statistics churches and denominations count. Because it is easy to count participation in activities, we count that and therefore do things to increase those stats. On the other hand it is really hard to quantify a person becoming a better disciple of Christ which in turn gets put aside. Especially when almost every
snake oil salesmen church growth consultant is selling churches on the idea of church programs (again, see what Darryl has to say about that). Good for Willow Creek to come to grips and their mistakes and for sharing them with the rest of the church. I think the problem runs deeper than teaching more Bible reading and spiritual disciplines but at least the discussion is happening.