Thousands of Pastors Seduced by 'New Church' Gurus

For most of a generation thousands of evangelical pastors have been seduced by church growth guru Bill Hybels “seeker sensitive” formula that spawned the Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. For thirty years now, Hybels, Randy Frazee, Robert Lewis, Carl George, Rick Warren, C. Peter Wagener, Leonard Sweet, Thom Rainier and other church growth gurus too numerous to list have been telling gullible, shallow thinking evangelical pastors to throw out everything they have previously thought and been taught about church and replace it with a new way of doing church.    

Along with this new way of doing church comes a de-emphasis on Original Sin, hell, confession, repentance, vertical spiritual growth, Bible study, apologetics, and traditional hymns combined with a horizontal approach necessitating emphasis on felt-needs--especially the needs of youth--fun programs, energetic pop rock, slick marketing and cheap grace.

In "A Shocking Confession from Willow Creek Community Church," Bob Burney summarizes the 'new' measures of success:

"If the crowd was large then surely God was blessing the ministry. Churches were built by demographic studies, professional strategists, marketing research, meeting “felt needs” and sermons consistent with these techniques. We were told that preaching was out, relevance was in. Doctrine didn’t matter nearly as much as innovation. If it wasn’t “cutting edge” and consumer friendly it was doomed. The mention of sin, salvation and sanctification were taboo and replaced by Starbucks, strategy and sensitivity."   (Burney,, Oct 30, 2007) 

Thousands of star-struck pastors hung on every word that emanated from the lips of the church growth experts said Burney,

"Satellite seminars were packed with hungry church leaders learning the latest way to “do church.” The promise was clear: thousands of people and millions of dollars couldn’t be wrong. Forget what people need, give them what they want. How can you argue with the numbers? If you dared to challenge the “experts” you were immediately labeled as a “traditionalist,” a throwback to the 50s, a stubborn dinosaur unwilling to change with the times." (ibid)

But then things began to go wrong. In September of 2006 Willow Creek canceled its highly acclaimed Axis experiment, the “church-within-a-church” designed for 20-somethings.  The experiment failed to connect young adults with the rest of the congregation, and once they outgrew Axis they found it hard to transition into the rest of the Chicago-area mega church.  This failure led Gary Gilley to sardonically ask,

"Who would have thought that separating the young people from the body of Christ for a decade would result in integration issues when they grew up?  Somebody must have missed the fine print in a Barna survey. At any rate, Willow recognized its error and folded Axis into the larger congregation.  This move came too late however for hundreds of Willow clones who were in lock step with the mother church.  Many started similar church-within-a-church congregations under Willow’s leadership and most will now suffer the same fate."  ("Willow Creek's Big Adventure, Gilley,, December 2007)

Following quickly on the heels of the Axis failure came another, this one a real bunker-buster.  In the words of Senior Pastor Bill Hybels, “We made a mistake.”  Hybels is speaking of Willow’s new way of “doing” church.  Gilley elaborates:

"This is the approach pioneered by Hybels and company, honed to perfection and dissimulated to eager church leaders worldwide.  This is the approach which distinguishes the seeker-sensitive model from other models."

In a multi-year study on the effectiveness of the Hybels model published in the book, "Reveal: Where Are You?," co-authored by Cally Parkinson and Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek Community Church," Hybels himself called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking” and “mind blowing.” And no wonder: it seems that the church growth gurus were wrong.  (ibid, Gilley)

What Hybels and his 'new church' strategists discovered to their shock is that vertical spiritual growth requires heavenly bread rather than earthly bread in the form of pop rock, programs and community service out-reach. 

Our strategy said Greg Hawkins, was to try to get people, far from Christ, plugged into these missional activities.  We believed that the more people,

"....are participating in these sets of activities with higher levels of frequency it will produce disciples of Christ.” (ibid, Gilley)

Hawkins identifies three major discoveries.  First, that participation in missional activities does not predict whether a person will become a disciple of Christ.

Second, in every church there is a spiritual continuum in which,

" can look at your congregation and put them [the people] in one of five unique segments.  The segments are aligned around someone’s intimacy with Jesus Christ and how important that relationship with Christ is to their lives.”  (ibid, Gilley)

Accroding to Hawkins, the 5 segments are:

1. Unbelievers drawn to attend church on account of activities and services provided by the church.

2-3 New Christians and nominal believers who “might pray, read the Bible and have thoughts of God” on a daily basis.

4-5 Devoted followers of Christ and nominal Christians who do not invest time and effort to their relationship with Christ even though they regularly attend church and take part in missional activities.

The study concludes:

 “ is the ones in the first two segments who are the most satisfied with local churches.." while “the last three segments have increasing dissatisfaction; they are disappointed with the role that the local church is playing in their lives.” They are quite unhappy with Willow, saying “they are not being fed; they want more of the meat of the Word of God; serious-minded Scripture taught to them; they want to be challenged more.” 

And finally, it is those in the last two groups who are thinking about leaving the local church.

In order to remedy these “mind-blowing” mistakes Hybels and his team of change-making gurus are working hard “to rethink how we coach people to full spiritual development.”  They are inventing new and improved “personal spiritual growth plans – customized spiritual growth plans for everyone at Willow.” (ibid, Gilley)

Hybels 'seeker sensitive' prototype is but one of many transformative models premised on a counter-cultural, counter-traditional agenda that from its' beginning has been bent on utterly transforming traditional churches away from supernatural theism toward a natural or nature-based religion.

By the turn of the century, the beginnings of this movement under the leadership of apostate Protestants and Catholics had arisen and Pope Pius X noted with alarm that 'modernist thinking' was taking hold of the contemporary mind, and in that way taking possession of Western civilization.

The Pope called this movement  "Modernism" and in 1907 declared it and its' primary doctrine, evolution, a synthesis of heresies in the encyclical called 'Pascendi Dominici Gregis." (On The Doctrine Of The Modernists, Encyclical Of Pope Pius X, Sept. 8, 1907, )

In his analysis, the Pope noted that Modernist "Christian" heretics were claiming that Christ is in us (mystical pantheist monism) and that through continuous evolutionary change an immanentist Christ-force emanated from matter spontaneously and of itself.

Since evolution implies continuous change, becoming, or transformation, heretics claim that immutable (unchanging) truths do not exist, therefore there is nothing immutable in the Bible.  By extension of this reasoning, Original Sin, hell, confession, repentance, vertical spiritual growth, Bible study, apologetics, and traditional hymns must in fact be changed since the Bible and the Church 'live' and evolve.

Today's transformational models of which Hybels and Rick Warrens have thus far been most successful, have modernism and its primary doctrine evolution, though redefined as General Systems theory, as their source  and taproot:

"Systems theory has been rapidly disseminated in Christian seminaries during the past decade. It is a surrogate theological paradigm, replacing the old traditional doctrines about the nature of man and God with a new evolutionary worldview in which man is transforming himself, his community and society. Systems theory is derived from esoteric philosophies prevalent in 1800s Germany, most notably Theosophy (Luciferianism)." (The Pied Pipers of Purpose, Lynn Leslie, Sarah Leslie, Susan Conway,, May/June 2004)

Like Marxist Communism and National Socialism before them, today's gurus of transformation believe it is possible to harness the mystical forces of change so as to restructure the church, society and man. Like yesterday's socialist utopians they seek to create a new 'church' and a new order of peace and plenty populated by a new more perfect man.  And there are thousands of shallow-thinking, starry-eyed pastors who have jumped on the gurus bandwagon of transformational success built upon a modernist foundation of heresy, psychology, sociology, humanism, esotericism, communitarianism, and evolutionary change.

"Thus saith the Lord: Stand ye on the ways, and see and ask for the old paths which is the good way, and walk ye in it: and you shall find refreshment for your souls. And they said: we will not walk." Jeremiah 6:16

Whereas modern church growth gurus peddling seeker sensitive, purpose driven and simple church formulas exhort Christians to embrace change the prophet exhorts us to seek the old unchanging paths; the traditional paths of righteousness and holiness which from of old,

"...Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others, walked in, and follow them; and the way of salvation by Christ, which, though called a new way, Hebrews 10:20, yet is not newly found out, for it was contrived in eternity; nor newly revealed, for it was made known to Adam and Eve immediately after the fall; nor newly made use of, for all the Old Testament saints were saved by the same grace of Christ, and justified by his righteousness, and their sins pardoned through his blood, and expiated by his sacrifice, as New Testament saints; only of late, or in these last days, it has been more clearly made known; otherwise there is but one way of salvation; there never was any other, nor never will be; inquire therefore for this old path, which all true believers have trodden in..." (Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible)

But for increasing numbers of Christians the old paths are no longer visible, for through its' primary doctrine evolution, modernist and post modern gurus of transformation have introduced a whole new scale of inverted values grounded in the first instance, on the idea that everything in nature is the fruit of a constantly evolving process of upward growth (change) rather than the original creation of God, and in the second, that in a constantly evolving (changing) world, perfection is obviously somewhere in the future.

So complete has the contamination and transformation of Western and American consciousness been that the diabolical spirit of modernism has successfully inverted the order of creation and reversed the direction of Biblical theism.  With creation ex nihilo virtually replaced by evolution, it is now believed, even by many Christian theologians, that men have not fallen from perfection but instead are gradually evolving upward from their ape beginnings toward greater and greater spiritual perfection. Self-perfecting man no longer needs the grace of God as the idea of evolution means he can perfect himself, and perhaps even attain god-hood.

Modernism and its primary doctrine evolution are the fruit of apostasy, thus all who step out into its' seductive vortex of change will neither preach for very long from the pulpit of a successfully transformed mega-church nor progress upward toward perfection but rather swirl ever downward in a spiraling vortex issuing into outer darkness unless they repent and turn away.

@Linda Kimball