I've been attending the second annual REVEAL Conference at Willow Creek. At the first one, Willow announced that a survey called REVEAL had shown them that a lot of their members had stalled out in their spiritual growth. This was a surprise to Willow leaders, though many long-term critics of Willow shook their heads and said, "We told you so!"
Whatever one's views of seeker-sensitive or market-driven ministry or studies (like REVEAL) that claim to be able to statistically measure spiritual growth, this much is clear: Willow is not the only church that is desperate to learn whether it is being a good and effective servant. The auditorium is filled (I'm guessing 2,000 in attendance) with pastors and staffs from hundreds of churches, and churches of all sizes and shapes.
The conference attendees are mostly white, suburban males, but the presenters have been a healthy mix of suburban/urban, white/black/multicultural churches. Some years ago, Hybels had committed his church to a more multicultural friendly direction, and he has done so, at least from what is presented from the front.
What is more striking, however, is the passion that exudes from the audience as they participate in worship, and applaud or laugh with speakers. This is a leadership group that is desperate to know and follow Jesus, and to lead their congregations and communities into deeper knowledge of God and larger concern for neighbors.
In an age time when many evangelicals seem ambivalent about evangelism, here is a larger group whose hearts burn within them to share the gospel message. In a time when nuanced and sophisticated discussion of hermeneutics abound, here is a group that is more interested in obeying biblical commands we do understand than writing articles on the verses we don't understand. In a time of postmodern doubt and narcissistic self-questioning, here is a group who knows whose they are and what they are called to do in his name.
It's not hard to find things to criticize at a conference based on a survey that traffics in marketing language and the latest business maxims. Really, do we, as one speaker said, "need to completely reinvent spiritual formation" - as if the desert fathers and medieval saints and reformation heroes hadn't already taught about spiritual practices that are supposedly being rediscovered by a contemporary marketing survey?
To argue about method, though, would be to fall into cultural mindset that St. Paul seems to reject: The point is the longing to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. And that longing is palpable here.
(For more of a play-by-play look at this conference, check out the Out of Ur blog from our sister publication, Leadership.)