Christianity Today’s blog, Out of Ur recently posted a couple of interesting blogs titled, Willow Creek Repents? and Willow Creek Repents? (Part 2).

One of the interesting quotes is by Greg Hawkins who is the executive pastor of Willow Creek.

In the Hawkins’ video he says, “Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency, it will produce disciples of Christ.” This has been Willow’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, “I know it might sound crazy but that’s how we do it in churches. We measure levels of participation.”
HT: Out of Ur.

You can see the video here:

This has me thinking a lot about ministry….specifically the college ministry that I direct. Most of the time it is easy to point the fingers at large “seeker-churches” that grab the headlines and think of them as only being concerned with big numbers and large programs.

But I have to look at myself. I pastor a college ministry at a church of about 2,500 attendees on Sunday. That’s a large church. Not large in comparison with Willow Creek, but large compared to most churches. So then I have to start looking at how we do things….ask the tough questions.

Then I think of our college ministry. We probably see about 400-500 different college students cycle through our program in the nine month school year from UCLA, USC, LMU, Pepperdine, CSUN, actors, musicians, etc. Of those 400-500, we probably have about 150-200 that continue on in the group in a somewhat continuous basis. Then of that 150-200 students, about 100 are committed to coming to our weekly Wednesday night worship service. Then to narrow it down even further, of that 100, about 30, to maybe 40 are in small groups.

That’s a synopsis, only to make this point. That I and we probably spend the majority of our time trying to create events for the 400-500, that by the time we get to the 30-40 we are completely exhausted, or worse….burnt out. Especially since that 30-40 are there because they want relationships which take a lot of really hard work. But by the time it comes to developing those relationships we are sometimes so exhausted from all the energy spent trying to create a really big program.

I think that in our hearts, most of us know that the really great ministry and discipleship comes in those 30-40, but we are handcuffed to numbers to a degree. Why? Because usually the first question we often get in mnistry from people is “How many people showed up to your event?” Or, “Your group looked kind of small last night.” Or “How big is your group?” You may not get those questions, but I do. I get them from students, from congregants and from staff. So whether we state it out loud or not, numbers is a cultural value in many ministries, and as pastors we often feel handcuffed to a program for the sake of maintaining large numbers.

This is why I am impressed with Willow Creeks acknowledgment that programs doesn’t necessarily translate into making disciples of Christ.

So I need to continually ask myself the question regarding our college ministry, “Am I running a program to maintain large numbers, or am I directing a ministry in order to make disciples of Christ?” And remember, we all would probably say, “to make disciples of Christ.” But is that reflected in how we do ministry?

That’s what I’m wrestling with. Because it’s just not Willow Creek who is guilty of this, but all of us in ministry to some degree or another.