Church Growth Movement Fall Down and Go Boom!


It done blowed up real good!I’m late to the game in commenting on Pastor Bill Hybels’s recent admission that Willow Creek Community Church’s ministry model doesn’t make disciples like he thought it would. (Out of Ur has all the details in “Willow Creek Repents?” And yes, read the whole thing.)

No freakin’ duh on the certain failure of that ministry model. I could’ve told Pastor Bill that 16 years ago.

Enter now the Wayback Machine and witness a snotty-nosed, wet-behind-the-ears Wheaton College senior sitting in the third row of the massive balcony at Willow Creek circa 1991. Look at that guy. Consider the utter cluelessness, the vapid stare, the hapless scribbling of notes as Bill Hybels ladles up another patented feel-good message for Unsaved Harry and Mary. Who does this whippersnapper think he is, sitting in the crow’s nest examining the church? Examining!

That would be me.

See, as part of a senior ministry project, I did a semester-long analysis of Willow Creek’s ministry model. Back then, Willow Creek was hitting its stride as the church everyone else wanted to copy. If your church and mine were the waltz, Willow Creek was the lambada. We’re talking a sea change cultural phenomenon, especially in the Greater Chicago area.

So I spent the better part of my senior year attending Willow Creek. And when I’d scrutinized the last detail, my paper on the project came up with one conclusion: No sir, I don’t like it!

Now, I’d love to say that I—someone whose middle name is “Backup”—have a copy of that paper to post here, seeing as I saved it on not one, not two, but three separate floppy disks stored in three separate locations. But amazingly enough, over the years, a fungus destroyed all three disks and said paper is now lost to the ages. Urgh.

(Hey, and no jokes about my conclusion being rotten.)

Anyhow, the obvious problems existed in the model. Yes, just about everyone could see it was Christianity Lite. No cross, no self-sacrifice, no holiness, and a Jesus who kind of resembled that nice boy your daughter dated once. You know, Chip, or Biff, or Eugene, or something like that.

This is not to say that Willow Creek didn’t offer a lot of scientifically-derived programs styled to meet their target demographic. They could plug people into a small group Bible study faster than you could say “Hegelian dialectic,” though the Bible studies were not so much geared to babes in Christ as they were to zygotes.

But for all the trendiness, the slick production, the worship orchestra, the theater seats, the pre-sermon dramatic skits, and the general showbiz feel of Willow Creek, three glaring faults stood out:

1. Commitment – The major problem with Willow Creek and every single church based on a Church Growth Movement model is that at no point is anyone asked to make a serious commitment. Why? Because commitment exacts a cost, and Willow Creek could not expect Unchurched Harry and Mary to meet that cost. Ask them to commit to anything and they’ll pack up and leave. And under the CGM model, that’s the last thing you want them to do.

This is why the Gospel had to be made lowest common denominator to the point of no longer being the Gospel. This is why you never heard about dying at the cross. This is why the message had to be propped up with some man-inspired incentive.

All the offensiveness of a scourged Savior bloodied by Unchurched Harry and Mary and hung on a cross would be too much for them. Jesus said that no one could be found in Him unless they ate His flesh and drank His blood and He lost nearly every follower He had because that was too much to ask. No one could ask for a commitment like that.

So no one at Willow Creek did. No one bothered to stand up and say that if you want to follow Jesus you’re going to have to lay it all down. All of it. Even yourself.

Too much commitment.

You don’t create future martyrs using Church Growth Movement techniques. Snazzy businessmen with a fish on their business card, but not a martyr. Gleaming housewives in gleaming houses with gleaming children, but no one prepared to die for the Gospel.

Because nothing is asked, nothing is gained. Strangely enough, in the end, everything is lost. Including the”disciple.”

2. Communication – In a church that could not be more wired for sound, with hundreds galloping around the grounds with wireless headsets and walkie-talkies, how is it possible that such a church built around communicating like mad couldn’t communicate?

Blame it on the business world model the Church Growth Movement idolizes.

No large organization can function without communication. But as many of us who have been in the business world know, communication grinds to a halt the more levels of management exist. Monolithic corporations with a dozen layers of middle management still exist today, but their inability to get the message from the lowest rung on the heirarchy to the top means they operate in slow motion, stuck in endless meetings, never knowing what the right hand and left are doing. GM or Ford, anyone?

In the West, the more levels of church bureaucracy that exist between the average guy or gal in the seat and the senior pastor, the less effective that church will be. Try to have a one-on-one with the typical CGM-influenced megachurch pastor. Good luck! You’ll have to go through multiple layers of people with titles like “The Administrator to the Intern of the Assistant Undersecretary of Church Community Development’s Adjutant General” just to get an appoint with the Intern himself. Senior Pastor? Fuhgedduhbowdit.

I was in a church like that, where I’d known the pastor from when he was a small group leader, yet when the church started to drift off message—as all CGM-based churches will—I could not for the life of me get a personal appointment with the guy to say two words about it. I kept on getting routed through one level of bureaucracy after another. Yeah, they eventually got the message, but only after God knocked the supports out from under the creaking foundation they’d built. Then I had leaders calling me on the phone constantly to talk to me, but only after I’d left the church.

When a model exists that intentionally prevents direct communication between the lowest levels and the highest, failure results. Don’t believe me? Consider the whole point of the torn temple curtain. That’s an image CGM adherents need to understand.

3. Community – The one thing that immediately struck me about Willow Creek circa 1991 was that I could walk in and walk out without anyone caring that I had been there. No one needed to say one word to me. I could just go, sit in my seat, have a quasi-spiritual experience and then drift back into the crowd and be forgotten. And people went to that church and hundreds of other CGM churches like it just for that reason: anonymity.

But that’s not how you make disciples.

Yes, Willow Creek had a huge emphasis on small groups, but even then, the small groups felt disconnected from the Body. A white widower with one child would be herded into a group of White Widowers with Precisely One Child, but which of us wants to be stuck in a group that looks exactly like us? Even then, studies have shown that the maximum small group participation any church can expect runs at a measly 30 percent. How then does someone plug into that community?

In the end, most people have their connection through the Senior Pastor they hear give the message every Sunday, yet the layers of the ministry model never allow people to actually meet with him. Or with any other of the senior leadership. Disconnects exist at every level.

What results is that people are always looking in the wrong place for their growth. It’s better to sit back on Sunday and try to soak up the fluffy message. Forget about all the other stuff. Because of the anonymity, people can skate by unknown for years. Then because of the lack of commitment, they never come under any kind of authority on a direct level. The failures simply compound. The entire reason for the church to function as a discipleship engine shuts down.

I saw all this 16 years ago. Me, with a year of formal Christian Education training. How then did Willow Creek’s heavily-educated leadership miss this for more than two decades?

What troubles me even in the face of their acknowledgment that their discipleship model is broken is that they still don’t get it. As Hybels says:

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become †˜self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.

While I’m sure that confession from Hybels had a lot of Willow Creek haters hooting, it’s still only a partial truth. Worse, the haters can’t see the other half, either.

What strikes me more and more as I read the New Testament is the emphasis on the words we (plural) and you (plural). The Church is viewed as a Body, not pieces. Christianity is not a religion of individuals but of community. In light of this, Evangelicalism’s”personal Jesus” idea has damaged us as badly as the Church Growth Movement has.

So while some are happy that Willow Creek’s planning on making people into better self-feeders of the Gospel, the Gospel must be presented and worked through within community. That’s what makes it stick!

How many Christians go to churches that hammer the self-feeder message, yet aren’t making disciples because they continue to downplay community? I would suggest far too many for us to be comfortable.

We all know Paul’s Body illustration in 1 Corinthians 12. But where does the self-feeding ear or hand come into play? Cut off an ear and then try to force it to take nourishment. How long will that ear survive?

We need each other. A church with communication and community problems can have all the commitment in the world and still make deficient disciples.

Until Willow Creek gets this, their stab at making better disciples will probably not go very far. It’s sadly ironic that churches that criticize Willow Creek are making lousy disciples, too, because they completely miss how communication and community are essential to becoming all we can be in Christ.

So while it looks like the flagship of the Church Growth Movement has struck an iceberg, it’s far from clear sailing for those churches that criticized its captain and his charts. We might have superb commitment, and may even be adept at self-feeding, but unless we get our community and communication down pat, we’ll be adrift, too.

71 thoughts on “Church Growth Movement Fall Down and Go Boom!

  1. I’m sorry Dan, I know this is a very serious article, but I read the headline and saw the picture and started laughing uncontrollably. I’ll have to read the rest tomorrow when I’m not giggling anymore. 🙂

      • Jim Cooper

        Although I am no fan of CGM, all this “piling on” is not ever going to resolve or improve anything. Our congregation is every bit as spiritually shallow as any other one. The “real” problem is not simply the methodology used by CGM groups, but instead, a lack of effective leadership that values individual study of the Word. Leadership, to be effective in the lives of the flock, must have expectations of their people, and set in place things for people “to do” that insure the growth deemed desireable, is achieved. They must consistently inspect their expectations, AND take effective action to, not address, but resolve any deficiencies. Now there’s the rub. FEW have the gumption to, in love, call people into account without reverting to “Bible-thumping.” One look at the story Nathan told King David should be sufficient for leaders to see the proper way to assist “spiritual slackers.” If Nathan had approached David in a point-blank way, he would have been carrying his head under his arm by dark. He did’t. And David, seeing clearly what he had done, repented and became known as “a man after God’s own heart.” The quest should not be to stand & criticize, but to WORK to resolve the problem.

        • Jim,

          While other church models have deficiencies at some stage of their design, I believe that CGM’s core concepts are flawed. If you fix the core concepts, you wind up completely changing CGM to the point that it’s not CGM anymore.

          I agree that tact is always called for and that too many of us lack it when disciplining, teaching, or evangelizing others.

  2. Wolfgang Amadeus

    Greetings Dan!

    I have endured at least forty some years of this kind of Church. Its the oldest form of beaureaucratic (sp) as well as monarchistic form of religeon. You go to Sunday Service- technically they would like you to go daily- and you may as well be invisible. Once you leave- no one thinks of you again till next week.

    Needless to say- I don’t go there now.

    Great article- and I agree with it.


  3. Wow. I seriously couldn’t have said it better… and considering I’m on various forms of cold medicine, I won’t even attempt to.

    I just left a church who sent people to Willow Creek to learn… who used things they perpetuated in their own services… I love these people, but heaven forbid someone like me might say something. I got chastised for trying to know my own leadership. I was labeled all kinds of things because I wanted to know the people who lead me… granted this church wasn’t big enough back then to have all the layers. It is now. So hubby and I have finally left, for a church of approximately 87 people. I am getting to truly know my pastor and leadership and they are getting to know me. I am home here. I can run into my worship pastor while having a fight with my husband and laugh about it a week later and not be told that I’m horrible because of it. They are REAL about life…

    Anymore, I see the huge churches and wonder where the community is, I want to be discipled! I NEED THAT. Tonight I was stunned when my pastors wife grabbed ME and started asking ME questions and wanting to pray with ME! I didn’t have to search her out, she came to me wanting relationship with ME! I am still stunned by that. I’m blessed by that, and I can’t wait to get to know these guys more! THAT is the body.

    I’m grateful you have lit a fire under my butt. Seriously. You were a catalyst in me leaving, and finding a body I could fit into.

    • Ronni,

      The older I get, the more I believe that a solid community is self-discipling. If the individuals within it are outward focused, then they will be concerned about the need for sharing what they know with others, blessing other people, asking the Lord how they can be a means of reconciliation. That’s what works.

  4. George

    Well, Dan, you wrote a good column, but …

    WC is a good church, or it was when I attended briefly back in the early ’80’s.

    It attracted those who were curious and served them milk in the Sunday AM service, which Hybels called Christianity 101. Regular attendees — the seriously evangelical ones, anyway — would invite their acquaintances to try it out. I recall Hybels reading a letter one AM from a woman who talked about the losers’ bench — the bench in the foyer where people who’d invited friends waited and waited until they realized their friends weren’t coming. This was a woman willing to be a loser, over and over again, to be a link in the chain that got people to hear about Christ in a hospitable environment.

    It fed those who were able to digest more than milk. This service was Wednesday night, and Hybels called it Christianity 401. It dug deeper into the bible.

    Of course it was a very big church. So you could hide out there, or you could get involved. Sorta like attending a class at THE OSU, where you could either sit in the back of the lecture hall and just listen, or you could sit up front and engage with the professor.

    And also like OSU, you could study faithfully, or you could opt to open a book only in class, or you could form a study group and learn all three places. Plus there were labs, to practice what you learned. If you wanted to, tho.

    Does everyone move along to maturity there? No. Does everyone move along to maturity anywhere? Haven’t seen that church (yet). Have you?

    Frankly, one of my frustrations with churches is that few want to analytically assess how effectively they serve. Of course in every church I’ve attended — big and little — they count the heads and the cash. And of course they discuss “good stewardship” whenever they don’t want to share more. But as for investigating ways to expand their recognition of ways to share & disciple in God’s love in daily ways — that doesn’t happen too often. Now Hybels has actually done a thorough evaluation and has seen a need to change to improve WC service. To me, that’s a good thing.

    • George, et al.,

      No doubt it’s a good thing that Hybels is reevaluating their ministry model! Don’t get me wrong on that.

      The CGM model does not work. It makes for a church and for disciples that are a mile wide and an inch deep. It treats people like customers rather than disciples—the article notes Hybels’s little plaque, and it’s telling.

      The business church model is wrong and we need to dump it. That same model destroyed the church I used to go. In a bitter irony, when my wife and I left that church to move to CA, I told the then pastor to not allow the church to become a Third Wave Willow Creek. Shortly after we left, he nearly died and was replaced by his assistant pastor. I think the assistant pastor was desperate for direction and latched onto the Willow Creek Association. By the time my wife and I returned to OH 3.5 years later, that church had become exactly what I’d told the previous pastor to avoid. Exactly.

      I remember the assistant pastor, now senior pastor, stating one morning that people were asking, “When are we going to go deeper?” He was perplexed by the question, and rebuffed it by saying that this was as deep as it gets. I just sat there shaking my head. By then, we were having all these “famous” speakers coming in and talking human potential crapola and people in the seats were giving them standing ovations. Me? I was booing as loudly as I could—seriously. (Later, it turned out that one of those speakers was a complete fraud. And yes, he was the guy I booed.) The church had stopped preaching the Gospel.

      By then, my wife and I were desperate to leave, but I thought I would try to talk to the senior pastor, a guy I’d known for 13 years from the time he’d been a small group leader. Don’t get me wrong. I really like the guy. When he preached the way he used to preach before all the CGM stuff clouded the vision, he was soul-stirring. But even though he asked me to call his office and setup an appointment, I kept getting intercepted by lower levels of leadership. “Why do you want to talk with him? Who are you? We don’t know you. State your business.” That kind of stuff. And I was getting that from a church where I’d been heavily involved for 13 years!

      I finally sat down and wrote out a large letter to the senior pastor explaining where I felt the church had gone off the rails. Then we left. Two months went by.

      One day, out of the blue, I got a call from a brand new leader in the church. He’d somehow gotten my letter. He told me that everything I said in it was correct, and he had the same concerns. He wanted to talk with me about my observations.. Then I got another call from another higher-up who wanted me to come in and talk to staff about what I’d written. I was at the point of doing that, even though I’d broken from the church, because I didn’t want to see them go down in flames. I had a long history at that church and remember the days when they were a potent force in the city. I hated to see what they’d become. I still had many friends who went there. But I also had friends who left for the same reasons we did.

      But before this meeting could occur, the church leadership had a “Come to Jesus” moment. They called a whole church meeting and confessed they’d wrecked a lot of things. Nearly every point I mentioned in my e-mailed letter they discussed. I know because some of our friends asked us to come back to hear that admission. We did. But we did not come back to the church to stay. We’re happy where we are now.

      Everything that Hybels admitted this month, my old church admitted three years before. The CGM model destroys churches and makes flimsy disciples. Thankfully, my old church has realized this and has taken steps to rectify it. Good for them. They’ve fixed a lot of things and I think they may be back on track. Some folks we know who left have returned.

      I have zero confidence in anything CGM. It’s like putting a marshmallow in a microwave. Sure, the size balloons, but it’s filled with nothing but hot air. In time, all you’re left with is deflated, sticky goo.

      I have no doubt that Willow Creek was a great church when it started. But it eventually got in bed with the CGM devil and that’s bad company. I pray Willow Creek can turn it around. But before that, I pray that all the churches that have bought the garbage Willow Creek was selling will wise up before they drive their churches into the ground. And they WILL drive their churches into the ground if they follow CGM principles.

      • Jim Cooper

        Here’s the “rub.” By the time these megas see the goo, they cannot turn back. They are heavily invested in the program, are in debt that cannot be supported by fewer givers, and when they ask the masses to “go deeper,” the masses take their “floaties” and simply move to another shallow water pool. The masses cannot abide sound doctrine. They have had their itching ears scratched for too long, and the option to go down the street to another mega is the easy way out. The megas are in a no-win position with no way out. If they continue, everyone is in trouble. If they take the right path, it will destroy all they have worked so hard all these years to build. Ego destruction and financial ruin are bitter pills to swallow.

      • Steve


        I don’t think that you really responded to the main thrust of the post, in which George outlines the ways in which Willow Creek and other churches of its ilk do enable people to “go deeper”. An integral part of the Willow Creek model is a series of classes that progressively go deeper into Christian beliefs and what they mean for the individual Christian.

        You could certainly argue that a minority of the people who show up on Sunday choose to invest the time necessary to go deeper, but, having been involved with a large number of different church models in my life, I believe that this is true no matter what model you choose.

        The Willow Creek model makes it easier to go deeper if you want to, but just like anywhere else, you do have to want to, and most people just don’t.


        • Steve,

          I was at Willow Creek, too. I studied its models. What George speaks of for more “mature” Christians was called New Community when I was there. Willow Creek has dissolved New Community now. One reason is because it wasn’t working as they’d like.

          So yes, George did mention what Willow Creek was doing to address those issues. Unfortunately, what they were doing never worked.

          Does every church struggle with making disciples? Sure. But some models start people at a deficit, and I believe the CGM model is one of those. My biggest complaint against Willow Creek is that they exported that deficit to other churches, many of which drove their discipleship into the ground as a result.

          Part of the problem in any church is that most have given up their paid Christian Education departments and tossed everything onto the pastors. If we’ve learned anything in the last 30 years it’s that such a move is a huge mistake. We seem to be compounding it, too, not fixing it.

    • Steve

      Thanks for your reply, Dan.

      I cannot comment on what WC was doing to facilitate spiritual growth when you were attending. I can only address what my WCA church does with the 101, 201, 301, 401 model. I found very quickly that my church does facilitate going deeper into beliefs, and that they don’t water down the Gospel at all.

      You could call this disingenuous, in that they’re not being “up front” in the Sunday service, or you could say that they’re trying not to “hit people over the head” with hellfire and damnation in the Sunday service. I’d say that’s a matter of opinion.

      But, at least in my WCA church experience, the full Gospel is there for those who are ready and wanting to grow.

  5. Cheryl

    I think you proably understand this but small doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. Most of my small churches have bordered on cultic practices. The term ‘community’ freaks me out to some degree. Theres a reason why at mid 40’s I still don’t have a college degree..high demand groups.Loosing everything for Jesus.
    Well…. tell you what. I would like to scrutinize leadership to the point that I have been. Most might not even be in the positions they are in if truth is told. Sound orthodoxy is out the window.
    I still fight bitterness about it. 20 years in the shepherding movement.Pleeeeze. I look around me at said ‘disciples’ leading groups and to be honest it doesn’t seem fair..they havn’t lost a whole lot and I’m not even sure alot of them are saved anyway.

    Ronni, I like what you say but when its time to leave I will be curious to see what happens to you.

    • Cheryl,

      Some of the least healthy churches out there are small ones, especially if the leaders run it by coercion and fear, the old Toxic Faith Syndrome.

      We ARE called to lose everything for Jesus. That’s the point of the cross.

      BUT, how we get to that point and the community we do it within makes all the difference in the world. Some churches do this well and some do it in a way that resembles something straight out of hell.

  6. Actually Cheryl, my new church’s motto is “To Make Jesus Famous”… and that means they want people to come in, get whole, get fed, and GET OUT. That means if they need to leave, then leave. They even bless those that leave, ie, a recent family that left to work in another ministry just had a baby and we are blessing them with meals… etc… no hard feelings, because we are just a portion of the Church as a whole.

    I know what you mean by the cultic practices as I’ve seen that, but it isn’t limited to small churches either. There are a number of big named churches out there that I could tear apart doctrinally right now. A few are very cultish…

    The thing is, does the church really see themselves as “the church” (meaning just a branch of the bride), or do they see themselves as a destination or “a church”? I think that is what is a big tell as to the heart of a congregation.

    I think if I can leave a large well known church with big named people on staff who could have made my life pretty easy for me ministry wise, had I followed rank and stayed, leaving a small one isn’t going to be an issue if or when it happens. The heart of these people is what matters to me and seriously if it was in a 2k congregation, or a 25 person one… thats what matters.

    I pray you can find the family that allows you to heal from the bitterness. I understand you. I’ve been there. It’s a heavy thing to carry. It’s a freeing thing to say to your past leadership, “I don’t agree with you, but I love you, I thank you for what positive things you have poured into my life, and I forgive you for the things that have caused me pain.” I know I had to say it about 50 times before my emotions caught up with my will and I truly had forgiven them.


    • Ronni,

      That sounds like a healthy church.

      Be aware that we all have honeymoon periods with churches, though. At some point the honeymoon’s going to be over and we have to deal with whatever icky stuff we find as we get deeper into things.

      As long as a church is preaching the Gospel, I think we should stay, even if other parts of the ministry are broken. Even if some of the people are nasty. If the Gospel’s being preached, then at least we have a base to work from. And we have to view it like work because it is.

  7. Dan,

    Love the graphic and the title! I agree with your one-word assessment, “DUH!” Excellent insight in this article. It is amazing that they have missed it, but when you aren’t spending anytime with the sheep due to layers of bureaucracy you don’t see the end result of your misguided philosophy.

    One thing you didn’t highlight is the fact that they still think they are doing a great job with seekers. But that is quite possibly THE BIGGEST PROBLEM! They are successful at pleasing the unsaved and then wonder why these “professors” are still self-centered after their “conversion.” They might not be saved. And they have already been taught that church is “for” them, not “for” others or about God.

    • Don,

      One of the most basic principles in life is this:

      What you win people to is what they’ll keep seeking.

      Win people to Christ, and they’ll keep seeking Him. But win them to fluff…

      One of the most overlooked passages in the Bible, one every church leader should memorize (especially those in the CGM) is this one:

      Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
      —Acts 3:1-6

      The CGM says, “Let’s give them programs. Let’s give them cutting-edge ministry principles. Let’s give them a way to improve their lifestyles!” So that is what people expect to receive. And that’s what they get instead of Jesus. Do I have to state explicitly that none of that junk satisfies? Only Jesus satisfies. Give people Jesus. We do a massive disservice to the Lord when we feel we have to offer people “Jesus and ___________.” There’s no need for the andthere.

  8. Isn’t Hybels still missing the point, though, when he says “we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become †˜self feeders'”? And when he says “Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet”? Self? Us? There are plenty of self-made church models that equate commitment and taking up the cross to mean attending church programs several days a week, being part of small groups, giving sacrificially the church building fund, etc. And so many of those models do not work, either.

    We need to learn and to teach others how to receive revelation out of the Word of God: how to hear and obey the Holy Spirit.

    • Ben

      Hybels’ comment about “‘self-feeders'” was somewhat unsettling, but I think I see what he’s getting at: getting people to want a relationship with Jesus themselves and to want to cultivate that relationship themselves rather than believing or wanting to cultivate the relationship because of…tradition, coercion, nice programs, a church, etc. As William Winters notes (not sure which one), “self-expression is the dominant necessity of human nature.”
      As Dan points out above, though, the notion of community seems to be missing from Hybels’ new orientation.

  9. Michael,

    Even if commitment means more than showing up on Sunday or giving money, those are still part of the equation. Problems come when the business of the church is made the sole form of commitment. We can’t ignore that need, but neither can we make it the goal.

    As for hearing the Holy Spirit, I believe that in large parts of Evangelicalism that idea has withered to the point of non-function. The problem is that many don’t know how to revive it, even if they see the need. That’s a big problem afflicting the modern Church in the West. As I said in my 100 Truths post last week, Evangelicalism is largely clueless on the Holy Spirit.

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  11. David Riggins

    And you know what they say…The bigger they are, the louder the boom.

    Just as a jumping off point…I’ve never heard of Willow Creek, or Bill Hybels, and so I come in, as they say, like a babe in the woods. But I did just spend some time in my adopted country of Thailand, where Christianity has not grown much in over 120 years of evangelical pushes. Yessir, 2% of the population and not budging.

    The fiery message of a preacher not seen in the pulpit for several months revealed much of the issue: “You are not adults!” He thundered. “You are drinking milk when you should be eating meat! You do not grow because you are immature! You do not gain new members because you cannot explain your hope!”

    Cut to lunch after the service, when members of the elder committee wondered how they could find new members so that they could raise money for a new sanctuary.

    Do you see a disconnect here?

    Hybels mentioned that they had spent millions on programs that did not work. I have a hard time imagining a church with millions to spend, actually. But the idea that it took generations for the reality to sink in, is disheartening, to say the least.

    Why do we insist on the Henry Ford method of evangelism? As though disciples could be stamped, pressed and moulded? Why are we even having this discussion, 2000 years after Peter admitted to pandering in order to encourage church growth?

    Commitment? Hand to the plow, and don’t look back. To quote Mr. Green: “We are His workmanship, created for good works in Christ. He calls us to offer up ourselves a living sacrifice.” Death is involved here. How much more dedicated can one be? And yet we mutter when asked to sacrifice a Saturday to wash cars for the elderly members of the church. Wash Cars? We should be taking them into our homes, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner! Commitment to the body of Christ is not something we fit into our spare time, it’s something that should consume our life!

    Communication? “Confess your sins to one another.” You can’t do that without intimacy, and you don’t become intimate sitting in a building with 5000 others.

    Community? “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

    Public confession of faith, creating intimacy by opening thier lives to one another, sincere, faithful, joyful communion among believers. Now that, my friends, is a model for church growth.

    Church growth is not something we should aim for. It’s something that happens when we have given ourselves over completely to our Savior and allow Him to live through us. Our goal should be to live lives devoted to God, not to aquire members in our club.

    • David,

      Willow Creek, at the time I was going there (which was not even the peak), had somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 attendees per weekend. They had more kids in the nursery on Sunday than most churches have members. Their children’s ministry alone was a multi-million dollar affair. Their campus felt like Dallas/Ft. Worth airport in scale.

      Now sure, some churches like that have cropped up in recent years, but Willow Creek was the mold. In some ways, Willow Creek was the first “seeker sensitive” megachurch. Nearly every megachurch that came later was built using Willow Creek’s principles.

      That explains my nuclear explosion pic. Because the scale of this explosion is hard to imagine. In a way, it is the death knell for the Church Growth Movement because Willow Creek did CGM better than anyone and THEY couldn’t make it work. They exported their principles to churches worldwide and now their principles have been weighed in the scale and found highly wanting—by Willow Creek themselves. I mean, I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be a fly on the wall in that meeting when Willow Creek leadership was forced to do the gut check.

  12. Pastor M

    Several years ago, Bill Hybels addressed a group of large church pastors of The United Methodist Church (yes, there are a few large UMCs). The person introducing him said something to the effect that what Bill/Willow Creek was doing was similar to early Methodism–I wasn’t too sure about that. Anyway, Bill responded to the introduction
    by saying that he’d been called a lot of things but never a Methodist.

    Maybe John Wesley’s ways can still speak to our times in terms of both our personal faith and our need for community.

  13. Dan,
    You were right, you did get serious as the article progressed. I’m still giggling at that combo of picture and title, though!

    You said something interesting that I’d like to pursue, if I may. You said only about 30 % of any church is likely to be in small groups. I won’t dispute that, but I wonder if there is a hidden cause underlying that statistic that provides an unspoken motivation for the CGM.

    Jesus taught the kingdom would be like a field of wheat and tares. Sometimes, they are very hard to distinguish. Clergy share stories all the time about the tare-like in their congregations that make kingdom work difficult if not impossible. Church folk are often contentious, self-absorbed, stubborn and childish. If only some small percentage of a congregation is likely to get serious, pursue discipleship, or live connected in community, don’t you think a pastor may well think to himself, “if that’s what I face, why not develop an insulating organization that at least gives me the opportunity to spread the “evangelistic” net as far as possible without getting waylaid and stuffed by the tare-like.” In otherwords, if clergy feel their professional duty is to scatter the gospel seed in the widest broadcast possible, and that laity are just as likely to hinder as to help, why not circumvent them, and limit the harm they can do to “ministry”.

    That may sound Machiavellian, but I’ve talked to some ministers who, although they don’t come flat out and say it, actually imply it by what they do say. None of it is right, of course, but I do think it is part of the mixture.

  14. Thank you, Dan. I passed this post along to my pastor to encourage him to “keep on keeping on.” The answer is not in models, methods or programs … it’s in a relationship with a Person, and that Person as the head over His Body, the church. What God wants our church to do, I believe it will be something unique, not a copy of Willow Creek, Saddleback or any other ministry.

  15. ccinnova


    Thanks for another excellent commentary. I’m grateful for Bill Hybels’ honesty, and I hope his admission is the beginning of some serious changes not just at Willow Creek but in the CGM and the American church as a whole.

    One thing I’d like to say concerning your comments on community: The typical American family-centric church does a poor job of making its single members part of their community. I ought to know; I attend such a family-centric church, but I still feel like an outsider after seven years despite my participation in several community groups over the years as well as other aspects of church life. If the church ever hopes to evangelize and disciple unchurched singles that situation will have to change dramatically.

  16. John Santic

    great post, thanks for this….I agree with your sentiments and consider the loss of community and CGM message to be the greatest contributors to a shallow faith that lacks any meaning of discipleship.

  17. Wolfgang Amadeus

    Ja, Dan, it has been a long time wandering in the wilderness. I think, now I have found a place- and that is good. I do have some fears- mostly due to the brainwashing from the past Church I was in-however, I think I will overcome that too as time goes by.

    Right now, I am trying to get through my studies this week-the first one being Phillipians,then Colossians,and finally Philemon. Then I have some other things I need to peruse also as part of my “education” if you may.

    Man likes to create all sorts of governmental barriers- it seems to be the nature of the beast. The Church I have always been aligned with- from birth on, has many, many layers- and they have been that way for two thousend plus years. You were very lucky to get to the top.

    I am much happier now. I still cannot escape musical involvement, but that is OK. Here- I do it for the Lord- and there isn’t any pressure to sing to him.

    Wolfgang Amadeus

  18. Dan, great post, and a great analysis of the modern Church Growth Movement.

    I feel that there is something missing though. Having watched the two videos of Hybels and Greg Hawkins, and read almost everything connected with this latest “Revelation,” it looks like they are on to a winner.

    In order to find out the whole of the study, and how it can help the Churches, you have to register your church and buy the book “REVEAL” which “… helps you understand what has been discovered through the research thus far. In addition, you’ll gain a strong understanding of the science involved in identifying how individuals growing spiritually.” It is available to it’s WCA members for the knockdown price of $9.99, it retails for $12.99.

    That’s a lot of bucks they are going to make from the book, and then there is the ongoing material etc; and it looks like a lot of people are going to be sitting on the “Losers” bench, albeit for a different reason.

    What do you think?

    Be encouraged!

    • Ben

      The “‘science involved in identifying how individuals growing [sic] spiritually”? puhleez — if people are under the impression that this research will reveal how/why the last growth scheme didn’t work and how new research purports to explain how people do grow spiritually, it sounds like the authors, etc., are still looking for/have found a new “growth scheme” with which to grow the church that will work. puhleez…
      I hate that title, “Revelation”.

  19. This is an excellent article and discussion. One question jumps to my mind: How to you make disciples who are willing to die for the Gospel in places where there is no opportunity to do so?

      • This is a general answer to a very specific question. We’re not using the word “die” lightly, are we? I assume that Dan meant that we want disciples who would be willing to literally die for the Gospel. I agree that this would be good. But how is any church going to do that absent that being a real possibility for them? What are some specific examples of the opportunities to which you refer and how does taking them compare with being willing to die for the Gospel?

        • David Riggins

          When we are truly willing to die to self, then physical death becomes, well, moot.

          Do I watch TV, or turn off the TV and talk to other people? Do I buy a new car, or take a homeless person into my home and minister to them? Do I go to the beach, or spend time at the nursing home with people who need someone to just sit and talk to them? Do I get a job that takes up all my time in order to buy the lifestyle I want, or do I live simply, work part-time at Starbucks and spend my free time learning about God with others? Do I spend my money on me, or on serving others? All practical examples of dying for the gospel. Do I give away all I have? Or do I keep some for myself? It’s always about giving up my grasp of this life. It always comes down to Me or God.

          If someone is not willing to live a selfless life in a small way, then there is no way they will give up their physical life for the sake of the gospel. But if they are willing to deny their own desires to allow God to live through them, then actually physically dying is really no big deal.

        • David Riggins

          Just as an example: The martyr Stephen was responsible for making sure the widows and orphans got their fair share. He was picked because he was spiritually mature, and his task was to serve. In todays parlance, his was a menial position. He died for the gospel long before he was stoned by the mob.

          • These are excellent comments, David. Thanks. Living for Christ and dying to self are really 2 sides of the same coin. It seems that we can’t really have the first without the second (though we may try). And you are right about physical death being nothing in comparison to this. Would that it were that easy, sometimes….

  20. Dan,

    Thank you for your blog. I was led here recently and have learned a lot here (self-feeding in action!).

    I recently left a church that is run on this model, to which I belonged since coming to Christ 2 years ago, and you articulated perfectly most of my reasons for leaving.

    Based on my somewhat limited personal experience, I would add that there may be an element of selection for uncommitted people – that those who crave discipleship or have more passion may come to such a church because of its visibility but then take the initiative to move on to congregations where they can feel more connected. I’m active in two community service ministries that originated at the church I just left. The woman who initiated each ministry and a significant number of the participants now belong to other churches. We’ve stuck together for the activities in question because we’re committed to the people we serve and to each other. So perhaps these megachurches are incubators for something useful, even when they don’t directly display the fruit.

    A more troubling aspect is that I see members of this church who are content with the amount of (dis)connectedness but crave more teaching than they can find there. In their attempt to self-feed they turned to TV preachers and who do they find there? Word of Faith preachers, and those who preach the sort of dispensationalism that calls for racist political policies and preemptive military violence in hope of hastening the second coming. When naive believers haven’t been taught principles of sound exegesis, and aren’t kept rooted in Scripture, they have little defense against those personable, confident and eloquent celebrities on their TV screens. That’s as close as most of them get to their own pastor, unless they happen to sit in the front row where they don’t need to watch him on the projection screens.


  21. Wolfgang Amadeus

    Dan- as I think on it- the above discussion on “being willing to die for it”- as real Christians, we should be willing to pick up our staff, and go on a mission to spread our lords word. The church I am in now- offers that opportunity to both young, and old, all over the world. Many times, as Missionaries, you are exposed to trials- perhaps even death. As Christians, we are exhorted to do that- serve as missionaries-its even in the Bible. Today, many Chruches- the mainstream ones at least- are more interested in getting congregants in their buildings to hear their revisionist views on what their faith is and how they should live it. There is no fear, no worry about struggle or death in the sense that the original Christians had- or even those whom are abroad now serving missions, converting and also being ministers. No one said Christianity was easy. its inspired- and that is the crux of it. There are prophets today, as well as those whom heal, and lead, and serve. They exist.

    But how many out there are able to really belive that?

    Johannes C.Wolfgang

  22. Pingback: Monday Meanderings, 10/29/07 « Ponder Anew
  23. EJ

    I just happened on this article as I was researching better ways to reach my community. Not to sound too dissappointed or sarcastic, but it’s good to see that we (Christians) have just as good a paparazzi as the world. We never hesitate to knock each other down…like lions waiting to pounce on its prey.

    I personally applaud Willow Creek for the amazing impact it has had in its communuity and the world–for the Kingdom of God. A lot of us have that desire, but never really do anything about it. I’m not saying they are perfect…and again I applaud Bill Hybels for being willing to be transparent.

    It seems a better method of communication within the Body of Christ to encourage instead of tear down. I am picturing an unbeliever reading this article and the harsh comments about our brothers and sisters in Chicago and saying something like, “well, there goes those Christians again…tearing each other apart. No thanks, I don’t want to have any part of that.” I think I read somewhere that, “they will know we are His disciples by our love for each other.”

    Shouldn’t we want to draw as many people as possible to Christ? Shouldn’t we want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to hear the Gospel message? Didn’t Paul write something about that in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22.

    Willow Creek has done a phenomenal job at evangelism…no one can doubt that. Just imagine how amazing they are going to be at discipleship.

    Anyway, you all can continue to tear Willow Creek and other “CGM” churches apart (the “religious” leaders did it to Jesus all the time, even going as far as calling Him a “drunk and a glutton”). As for me, I’m going to spend my time actually getting people saved and discipled instead of talking, or writing, about it.

    Whoops, I just waisted 10 minutes writing this comment…my bad!

  24. EJ

    Interesting enough I just came accross another article about Willow Creek. It was good to see the comments a lot more encouraging instead of slamming. If you want to read it just go to…

    Here is a comment written by Greg Hawkins himself…the one who wrote “Reveal…Where are you?”. The book that started all this.

    The Truth About REVEAL


    I’m thrilled to see the high level of interest and energy behind the blogosphere comments about REVEAL. But I’ve read enough postings to think that it might be helpful to provide a few facts on three issues that keep coming up. Trust me. I’m not into “spin control here. I just want to fill in some gaps.

    1. It’s Not About Willow
    †¢ REVEAL’s findings are based on thirty churches besides Willow. In all thirty churches, we’ve found the six segments of REVEAL’s spiritual continuum, including the Stalled and Dissatisfied segments. And these churches aren’t all Willow clones. We’ve surveyed traditional Bible churches, mainline denominations, African-American churches and churches representing a wide range of geographies and sizes. Right now we’re fielding the survey to 500 additional churches, including 100 international churches. So, while REVEAL was born out of a Willow research project in 2004, the findings are not exclusive to Willow Creek.
    2. Willow Repents?
    †¢ The first blog started with this question, and the answer is “yes. But repenting is not a new experience for us. We’ve made a number of major course corrections over the years †“ like adding a big small group ministry for the thousands of new Christians coming to faith at Willow, and adding a mid-week service for our Christ-followers. We’ve always been a church in motion and REVEAL is just another example of Willow trying to be open to God’s design for this local church.
    3. Is Willow Re-thinking its Seeker Focus?
    †¢ Simple answer †“ no. My boss would say that Willow is not just seeker-focused. We are seeker-obsessed. The power of REVEAL’s insights for our seeker strategy is the evangelistic strength uncovered in the more mature segments. If we can serve them better, the evangelistic potential is enormous, based on our findings.

    I hope this was helpful. In any event, I’m enjoying following the dialogue. Keep it up! And let me know if you have any questions you’d like me to address.

    Greg Hawkins

    Posted by: Greg Hawkins at October 26, 2007

    Hope this helps.

  25. Brad

    Jesus said “feed my sheep”.
    Hybels said “they need to be self-feeders”.
    Hawkins said: “we need to do more surveys”.

    The “Christ Centered” group is leaving because their church is not Christ centered. Not rocket science.

    I watched Hawkins’ 13 minutes and Hybels’ xx minutes of video. I never once heard words like “pray, sin, repentance for (personal) sin, Holy Spirit, grace, Christ centered,” etc.

    What I heard was light-hearted, self-centered jokes about the thousands of people who have been fed junk food thinking they were learning truth and heading for heaven.

    Jesus said to go and tell the Gospel – the good news of salvation.
    He never mentioned anything about developing more prgrams.

    • Steve

      What you’re suggesting is akin to evaluating a company based on seeing an advertisement. You have got to be honest enough to admit that there is more going on in a church than you can see in a 13 minute snippet from a video.

      If you’re going to condemn Willow Creek, please do me the courtesy of looking at the whole before making sweeping statements.

      • Steve,

        In my time at (and study of) Willow Creek during the early 1990s, I can attest that they preached “Gospel-lite.” They attempted to take the offense of the cross out of the Gospel. But then it’s not the Gospel anymore, is it? I listened to many sermons and teachings, and the church WAS light on the things Brad mentioned. Many CGM churches are. It’s how they keep people from being offended and leaving.

        • Steve

          Hi Dan,

          Thanks for your comment. Yes, I agree that the Sunday morning services might qualify as “Gospel-lite”. Although WC folks wouldn’t like that label (preferring “accessible” instead), they argue (as you probably know) that it’s by design and make no apologies for it.

          However, the churches themselves (at least the one I’ve attended) don’t believe a “Gospel-lite”. At the first attempt to go deeper, the full power of the Gospel is there on display (though I’ve never been to WC, I’ve attended both WCA and non-WCA churches over the years). They attract people in with the way the Sunday services are structured, and then seek to grow them when once they’re ready. They don’t believe that spiritual growth is something you can force, and I think the Bible would back them up on this.

          As I mention, it’s the responsibility of the individual Christian to seek out their own spiritual growth, and the role of the local church to facilitate that growth. Obviously many differ, but I believe the WC does this effectively.


          P.S. – I do appreciate the tone and tenor of your blog, Dan. It does appear to be a place where we can discuss these types of issues with respect for each other (at least for the most part :).

  26. Brad

    To clarify…
    Jesus said “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” (paraphrased)
    Then he said it again. “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.”
    Then he said it AGAIN! “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.”

    I think he was trying to make a point!

    • Steve

      Nobody in Willow Creek’s leadership would ever say that they should not “feed the sheep”. I think you’re really missing the point.

      If “feed my sheep” were meant to communicate that only disciples/leaders should be involved in the feeding, then there would be no place in Christianity for individual growth or further discussion of spiritual principles.

      God meant for us to read the Bible and feed ourselves. Certainly, the Church needs to be a place where we receive the initial “milk” of the Gospel, but criticizing the Willow Creek “self-feeding” model by saying that it goes against what Jesus asks us to do in the “feed my sheep” passage is looking at one verse out of the context of the rest of the New Testament.

      • Steve,

        The Church is you plural, not you singular. Here in America, we’ve made it you singular (think “personal Jesus” here.) While there is nothing inherently wrong in self-feeding, you’ve got to know that that means as a buzzword in context to know what is actually being said here.

        That’s part of the problem. We’ve lost the sense of what terms mean, which allows people to say things that seem right on the surface but are deficient when we start digging.

        • Steve

          Thanks, Dan.

          I don’t think, though, that “self-feeding” has anything to do with individualism. It’s one of a number of models of “feeding” that the Church should be using.

          Yes, some feeding comes from the pastors, as it should. Some comes from interactions with others on the path, as it should. And some comes from our own explorations of our faith, as it should.

          I’ve not seen where WCA churches rely on one mode above the others. Yes, Hybels talks about making Christians “self-feeding” quite a bit. What he’s referring to, though, is spiritual maturity, where a Christian gains insight from all three ways of feeding that I’ve outlined.


  27. Pingback: Something to consider « Susannah Prill’s Weblog
  28. Susannah

    The problem I have with the reliance on “models and “programming is that it is not interpersonal and interactive; it supplants scripture; it encourages dishonesty and manipulation and has the effect of alienating believers. Small groups are used by some as an excuse to perpetuate “cliques and exclude others. Rather than build community, they destroy it. I find myself constantly struggling to renew my faith in the face of glaring contradictions between what is practiced and what it preached in the CGM.
    At a certain point one has to ask oneself, if a small group is so important to spiritual formation and growth then why attend a large church in the first place?
    In my view, the gospel response to the CGM is the story of Zacchaeus, unpopular and too small to see over the crowd, Jesus called him personally by name to come down from the tree and said “I must stay in your house today. For me this was as much for the benefit of Jesus’ entourage as it was to Zacchaeus. I believe in this act Christ was modeling how he wanted people to treat each other, with true hospitality and grace. This is not done by the CGM.


    Dear in Christ,
    This is the first time I am writing this message to ask how we can enter your movement?

    God bless you, waiting for a favorable response from you.

    Yours in Christ.


  30. linda

    Hi Dan,
    I think that there is more to the problems in church discipleship than communication and community. We need these things but disciples cannot be made for God, by man. The Holy Spirit has to be involved in working in the heart and mind of a saved person. I think what we are finding in the West is our inability to continue in methods and systems to ‘create’ disciples and ‘create’ maturity in believers.

    I guess I am looking at this like salvation. God draws an individual to be saved. Without this act on God’s part a person cannot be saved. Then the Gospel is preached to a person. If faith results from ‘hearing’ the gospel, this person can ‘receive’ Christ as their Savior. Confession and witness and testimony normally happens after salvation as the person is overjoyed at their amazing saving experience with God. They are aware of an amazing difference in themselves.

    Permission from God, faith, hearing, receiving, confession and testimony are needed in the salvation of a person.

    We start out in the spiritual, then we attend church and are led into the natural in the West. Man’s wisdom, methods, and strategies are used by our leaders to try and spiritually mature and disciple the saints of God. It’s like salt water expecting to ‘create’ fresh water from its well.

    Like a commenter to your post here said “the charismatic movement has produced a fair amount of ‘occult’ thinking and practices”. I’m not really familiar with this. My background after salvation was a legalistic church who functioned and encouraged the gifts of prophecy and other spiritual gifts operating in this church. The legalism and other leadership failings caused this church to stagnate in numbers and eventually dismember and close down.

    We know what God’s word says. The gifts of apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists are given for the maturing of the saints. It’s clear that what we have today in the West for these ministries ( generally speaking) is not ‘real’. If they were, I would think that maturity and discipleship would be a natural occurance as a result of the ministry to the saints from these individuals (gifts).

    So, we are looking for ‘true’ apostles, etc. We have many who say that they are apostles, but we must look at their fruit. This is what WC did, and apparently found a deficit of discipleship and maturity coming from the lives of people attending their church.

    I would almost think that this would be a ‘sign’ to the leadership present in WC to step down. What will they do to change this situation? Change their method? Apparently so. How can this idea work? By their own admission they have changed course a number of times in this church ministry in the past and have not found a successful result for discipleship and maturity of believers.

    We are looking for God’s way to mature the saints. What the current unsuccesful leadership in churches want, is for their hand to be at the helm of the work of God in our day. They are not in a position to do so. This is clear. They have not been able to find success with maturing the saints by their own admission.

    • Linda,

      The Holy Spirit works through people, both the individual and the Church. There is a reason why we have a Church, so that we learn to function as a Body, with all the parts in concert. While the Holy Spirit may work 1:1 within a person, He also works through the group. This is why no one person possesses all the gifts, talents, and offices. If the group is not functioning as a complete Body, then there will be something missing.

  31. linda

    Hi Dan,
    I just read this on a site dedicated to evangelizing children. It’s part of this organization’s statement of faith.

    “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7, 8). Therefore, he cannot see nor enter the kingdom of God until he is born again by the Holy Spirit.

    That no degree of reformation however great, no attainment in morality however high, no culture however attractive, no humanitarian and philanthropic schemes and societies however useful, no baptism or other ordinance however administered, can help the sinner to take even one step toward Heaven; but a new nature imparted from above, a new life implanted by the Holy Spirit through the Word is absolutely essential to salvation. Genesis 1:26, 27; Romans 5:12; Ephesians 2:1-3; John 3:3; Titus 3:5.

    Here in this statement it says ‘…can help the sinner to take even one step toward heaven;…’

    Nothing man can do or provide can save the sinner. God has to do it.

    This type of work by the Holy Spirit is essential to maturity and discipleship of believers, I believe. Man cannot do it. He operates in the flesh. He must have the ‘unction?’ of the Holy Spirit working in him to minister.

    Church leaders are shutting this work of the Holy Spirit down. They do not possess this ‘unction’, as they have found out, and so they are not going to let someone else display it in ‘their’ church and work of the flesh that they have so carefully presented to believers as having come from God.

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