Willow Creek is one of those churches that can be divisive for people. One side loves the worship experience. Others think this massive church has been a bad influence on smaller congregations around the country. So I wasn’t completely sure what my reaction would be as my wife and I visited the main campus this past weekend.
I think the most successful communications achievement at Willow Creek is making a big place feel personable and non-intimidating. Finding a place to park was easy. Signage was clear from the parking lot and throughout the building. There were a lot of smiling greeters. Finding a seat was simple. From the pre-service announcement slides (there aren’t worship folders) I got a clear sense of what was going on with some of the ministries in the church. After the service, it was easy to find out more about the church from their guest reception kiosks. It was comfortable roaming around the building. In fact, of any church I’ve been to, I lingered around Willow Creek the longest. It’s set up to be a place where you hang-out. We ate lunch at the cafeteria and cruised through the bookstore all without feeling like we were part of a mob of people or out of place. Overall, it was quite the experience.
It was during the worship service when I realized what Willow Creek does best. They use the resources they have to create a great worship experience. Everything felt intentional. It was clear that every element of the service had been planned out. It was also clear what this church believed. Things had a natural flow not just during the service, but before and after as well. And I think this is something a church of any size can take from Willow Creek. Regardless of your budget or resources, are you providing the best worship experience you can? Are you being intentional about everything? Are you trying to be creative with what you have? Or are you just going through the motions?
There are a lot of people who are critical of the influence Willow Creek has had on other churches. Plenty of churches have tried to copy what Willow Creek does—and Willow made it easy by providing resources through its association. I’ve seen firsthand how trying to be like Willow Creek can stifle the creativity of a church. I once attended a church that justified doing a lot of things because that’s what Willow did. They even hired ex-Willow employees. I jokingly called that church “Willow West.” I think that church lost out on a lot of opportunities to create a unique experience that better fit what it was.
So for me, it’s time for churches to put away the Willow Creek copycatting and instead learn from what I saw. Use what you have, through your resources, people and vision, to create the best worship experience you can. Be true to who you are and use what God’s giving you. Sure, Willow can do big things with a lot of resources. But you can have a big influence on your own scale by using your resources well, too.
(Juice on the Loose is a feature where we visit a church and share what we learn from the communication stuff they’re doing. To read other posts in the series, click here.)