What do you think of the Willow Creek church model that so many churches are following?

Thank you for your thoughtful question. It is a common question today in light of the success that Willow Creek has enjoyed in the Chicago area and the emulation of that model around the world. The same concerns have arisen around Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California. (He is also the author of the best-seller The Purpose Driven Life.) Before I go much further in my response to your question I should let you know that I am an elder in a church that, in general, looks favorably on what these churches are attempting to do, although I have reservations about some of the particulars in their implementation. With that said, I should add that I believe that it is unwise to ever try to replicate what another church is doing in a wholesale manner. This indicates a dependency on technique over trust in God’s Spirit to build His church in a given location.

As is usually the case, this issue has to do with deeper concerns than just the music that is heard on Sunday or the preaching style of the pastor. The question at the heart of the issue is whether or not God has ordained both the forms of worship, teaching, and church structure, or only the functions of the New Testament church. I tend to think that scripture focuses on the functions of the church and that we are free to establish culturally appropriate forms to accomplish them with. As we like to say at our church, we are not a seeker church, a Willow Creek church, a charismatic church, or a Bible church. We are a church that incarnates Christ in the town of McKinney, TX. Our goal is to help people follow Christ, and we will use music, teaching styles and programs that accomplish that task. Our teaching will be biblical and challenging, touching both the hearts and minds of our congregation. We desire to use the best music, both old and new, in genres that speak to the people walking through our doors.

The outcome over the last seven years has been encouraging. People are trusting in Christ and being baptized, they are growing in knowledge and grace, they are giving sacrificially and becoming involved in missions, and they are reaching out to the community in significant ways. Our numerical growth has been significant, but the spiritual growth of individuals is what has encouraged me the most.

If you are interested in reading more about the relationship between form and function within the New Testament church, let me recommend a book that might be helpful: Sharpening The Focus Of The Church by Gene Getz (Victor Books, 1984).


Don Closson
Probe Ministries

Don Closson served as Director of Administration and a research associate with Probe for 26 years, until taking a position with the same title at the Centers of Church Based Training (ccbt.org) in 2013. He received the B.S. in education from Southern Illinois University, the M.S. in educational administration from Illinois State University, and the M.A. in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. He has served as a public school teacher and administrator before joining Probe and then the CCBT. He is the general editor of Kids, Classrooms, and Contemporary Education.

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