Willow Creek Community Church, headed by Bill Hybels, is a huge church based in Chicago. It began in 1975. Bill, the senior pastor, admired the works of his late father who used to lead fellowships in his house. As a young man of 17, he began holding youth meetings, leading them through bible studies.
His unique approach to the word coupled with his zeal captured the hearts of these young men and women drawing more of them closer to God. To his surprise, the number grew so big that he had to change the venue of his meetings as well as the name of his audience. He called it a “community” that now began to assemble in the “Willow Creek Cinema”, a hall that initially sheltered cinema fanatics.
This is where the name of the church was born. Since then, Bill and his youth co-workers have been spreading the gospel of the church not only to the people of Chicago but also to entire world at large. They have employed marketing strategies like developing a vision statement, awful buildings, among others. However, both Christians and ethicists have viewed these elements differently. Though popular, the contrast its philosophy has on salvation ranks the church low in the global Christian world.
The missionary passion of Bill and his staff leads to the growth of the church. Basing our argument on how Bill starts the church, it stands out that he is passion driven. He is doing it from his heart and not body. He is looking forward for a large fellowship of people sited down listening to him as he gives out what he has longed for.
This is exactly what happens. It is out of this strategy that the Willow Creek Community starts. He comes to realize that his purpose and that of the church in the world at large is to shed lights to those in darkness as well as restoring life to the dead. “Every church needs to grow warmer through fellowship, deeper through discipleship, stronger through worship, broader through ministry, and larger through evangelism.” (Warren 2003).
Providing exciting and entertaining worships is another strategy employed mostly by mega-churches like willow Creek. Just like many other churches, entertainment is a priority to the Willow Creek Church. This tells why a good number of its congregants are the youth.
They are much drawn by the music, cinemas, and other forms of arts, rather than the sermon itself. According to Kotler, the preaching is brief and direct with no deep explanations (2010). Availing food is also used as a strategy in the Willow Creek Church. This is a criterion that has caught the attention of all congregants and more so the youth.
“…And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (Rom 10:14 NLT). God is omnipotent and omnipresent and if there is any mission He wants to accomplish by Himself, He is well able to make it happen and be experienced everywhere in the world at once. However, if He wants to accomplish it through man, who is limited, there must be a starting point. He used Israel as the origin of the living word.
Like wise, He is using Bill and his staff to reach the world and this is not subject to argument. There is no way people will know Him unless they hear His story from others. In addition, it is Godly to feed the hungry and water the thirsty. Many devoted Christians consider the word as a spiritual food and give it a priority greater than the physical food.
They end up starving unknowingly. From the holy bible, Jesus realizes that He has spent three days with his audience and as a caring minister like Bill, he feeds them with fish and bread (Mat 15:32-34 NLT). This shows that feeding the church is not besides the bible, but an example set by God and is worthy imitation by Christians and willow Creek Community is not an exception.
These approaches, though fruitful, are subject to criticism. For instance, a philosopher who spends most of his sermon hours teaching the philosophical doctrines rather than the word heads Willow Creek Community.
Though interesting, they contradict true salvation. They capture the minds of those who hear them for their first time and in turn make the church employ its knowledge of philosophy as an element of fetching new members of the church. It has worked successfully for the church but regardless of this, the church has the number but not the disciples.
The element of entertainment as applied in the church is highly despised by other churches. It has gone further to invite popular artists not basing on the type of music sung, the dressing styles, among others. Provided it works, pragmatism does not matter to the church. It distinguishes this church from the rest because it is the only outstanding strategy behind the church.
Marketing elements are not new to churches neither is marketing a church illegal. In fact, all churches have methods they use to increase their popularity and fame. These methods range from advertisements, strategic plans, among others. Of interest is the identification of the product being marketed, the reason for the marketing as well as the methods to be employed.
For churches, the product is salvation and not shoes or vehicles. It calls for wisdom for one to identify the relevant elements when marketing the word of God. The willow Creek Community provides a living example of a church that has employed irrelevant strategies to sell its name like pragmatism. This is why it is large but ranking low in the global Christian world.
Bible: New Living Translation. Wheaton: Tyndale, 1996.
Kotler, P. (2010). Principles of Marketing (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Warren, R. (2002). Purpose Driven Life. Zondervan: New York. P.48.