Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Willow Creek Community Church in the News

What is "new urbanism"? How does suburban sprawl hinder the work of the church? And what is Randy Frazee doing at Willow Creek?

New Urbanism
New Urbanism, the movement that calls for interdependence among residents by promoting pedestrian-friendly streets, parks and town squares in neighborhoods where shops and homes coexist.

The values of New Urbanism, whose national leaders gathered in Pasadena last week, are consistent with those of Christianity and a possible antidote to the isolation experienced by many churches and Christians, Jacobsen said.


Suburban Sprawl and the Church
[After WWII, churches] adapted suburban development patterns, buying sizable plots of land, building a church and surrounding it with a surface parking lot. Churches then offered multiple programs to draw members, who drove to the site, leaving neighborhoods behind.

Sprawl makes it more difficult for churches to achieve their objectives, Bess said. For example, anyone who can't operate a vehicle, the young, old or disabled are disenfranchised, he said....

"Just as a matter of social justice it's arguably better to make mixed-use, walkable environments,' Bess said.

Jesus did much of his ministry in the context of everyday life. For instance, Jacobsen notes, in one Bible story Jesus was on his way to heal the daughter of a synagogue ruler named Jarius, when a sick woman touched his cloak and was healed.

The woman may not have been noticed by today's ministers, Jacobsen said.

"She's not going to call for an appointment,' he said.


Randy Frazee and Willow Creek
Nationally, Randy Frazee is among leaders who favor New Urbanism. Frazee is a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, a trend-setting Illinois mega-church attended by more than 20,000 people.

Mega-churches have become like castles surrounded by moats, Frazee said. The drawbridge is lowered a few times a year to let people in, where they become a subculture separate from the outside world.

"You have to disengage from your community to be involved in the church,' Frazee said, describing the problem. "Now the church has become irrelevant to the community.'

Frazee said Willow Creek is changing so members spend less time on campus and more in their communities. The push for integrating the values of New Urbanism will include the 10,500 churches in the Willow Creek Association, which links smaller congregations that share the mega-church's philosophy of ministry, Frazee said.


Interesting ideas. To be honest, I'm so used to suburban sprawl and having strangers for neighbors, when Willow kicked off it's new neighborhood plan it kind of freaked me out! I haven't gone to a single one of the local Elgin get togethers. Maybe this summer I'll finally check it out.

8 comments:

Friar Tuck said...

Kim, I support the passion and the vision of what goes on at Willow, and at other mega churches across the country, but here is one of my more serious objections.

It seems to me that most of these megachurches (the main ones I have visited being NEW LIFE and WOODMEN VALLEY CHAPEL here, SADDLEBACK in Orange County, and WILLOW CREEK) all seem to be all about suburbia. And suburbia is the most---well let me say I hate all that suburbia stands for. And isnt the church supposed to be built on going to the poorest of the poor, instead of the high-rent neighborhoods that megachurches are based in.

Now I know WILLOW is doing more in the inner-cty, but really that work is important work, but token work and more about suburbanites feeling good about themselves than making a meaningful difference in the world.

I remember you saying that people had issues with megachurches, and that basically those people were non-evangelical if they did not uncritically embrace everything that megachurches do.

And I say that you comprimise the gospel when you uncritically embrace business values and suburban culture so that you can sell professions of faith to wealthy people, and forget that true faith is "doing justice, and loving mercy".

Friar Tuck said...

But of course, I am in a downtown church of 200 that also uncritically embraces those values.

I guess that means I am a duck out of water wherever I go.

Kim Traynor said...

Whoa there, Friar Tuck! Where is all this coming from?

For a great discussion, with differing views, on Willow (in which I make a brief cameo:-) click here.


Besides that, I just want to respond to a couple of things in your comment.

"Willow is doing more in the inner-city... but [it is] token work and more about suburbanites feeling good about themselves than making a meaningful difference in the world."

What makes our efforts a token effort, and how can you judge the motives of 20,000 people? This sounds kind of like you're saying "suburbanites and/or megachurch attenders are incapable of altruistic behavior, so this must not be genuine."

Willow Creek is passionate about helping those in need. I don't have numbers in front of me, and numbers make people nervous any way, so let me tell you my story.

I grew up in a family with a disabled mother and a father trying to single handedly support four children. We were whites living in the suburbs, but we were not wealthy. The utilties were always being shut off. We boiled our bath water on the stove for months at a time because we couldn't afford a water heater. My mom carried water to and from the bathroom for a year because we had no running water in the kitchen. My sister's south facing window had no glass for years because we couldn't afford to replace it. My Dad was laid off several times and the six of us lived off unemployment checks and handouts.

By the time I went to Willow for help our home was in ruins from years of neglect and there were 5 people in our house over the age of 16, four of them with jobs, two of them (mom and brother) quite ill, and all sharing one car.

I had one meeting with a Willow Creek case worker and by the end of the month the church had given us a Buick Century, a one year pass to the Willow Creek Food Pantry, and they sent a team from the 20-something ministry to do home repairs and yard work.

I know that we weren't poor poor. We never went hungry. But we were poor in hope. How do I describe the difference Willow's generosity made to us? I believe that it absolutely changed the trajectory of our lives.

And what Willow did for us, it has done for thousands and thousands of needy people. Just in the last year the congregation raised $300,000 for Tsunami relief and the $591,000 for AIDs work over and above the regular tithes, and that money is only a fraction of the resources this one congregation has dedicated to helping those in need. Like me, I bet those people would tell you that what they received was much more than an empty gesture from self absorbed suburbanites trying to appease their guilt.


"I remember you saying that people had issues with megachurches, and that basically those people were non-evangelical if they did not uncritically embrace everything that megachurches do."

I never said anything like that. I think you might be misremembering my post about the anglican priest and her visit to Willow. Maybe you should reread it.

"And I say that you comprimise the gospel when you uncritically embrace business values and suburban culture so that you can sell professions of faith to wealthy people, and forget that true faith is "doing justice, and loving mercy".

I haven't been to any of those other churches you mentioned, but I have spent a lot of time at Willow and I don't think these criticisms are fair. Applying business knowledge is not the same thing as "uncritically embracing business values." Speaking the language of suburbanites is not selling out. And maybe you don't believe that I care about "doing justice and loving mercy" but I've seen Willow Creek live out those values in amazing, life changing ways.

Steph Stanger said...

"...And isnt the church supposed to be built on going to the poorest of the poor, instead of the high-rent neighborhoods that megachurches are based in....And I say that you comprimise the gospel when you uncritically embrace business values and suburban culture so that you can sell professions of faith to wealthy people, and forget that true faith is "doing justice, and loving mercy..."

I don't feel like I even need to defend Willow's views on doing justice and loving mercy. I know Willow's actions speak for themselves. And if you did some research on the matter you would see what I mean. However I do hope I'm misinterpreting the bitterness I see in this statement. "wealthy people" matter to God as much as unwealthy people and I believe God calls us to build churches every where.

Friar Tuck said...

I am not bitter, but I become very angry at what the church has become in America.

Your personal experience is well taken. And, you will notice I never said that WILLOW wasn't generous.

My comments throughout your blog show I have a great appreciation for your church and the many things that it does well.

Do you know how suburbs came about? To segregate white and middle class from poor and minorities. It is still the ethos that dominates the suburbs.

What was Jesus about. Living among the poorest of the poor. And the outcasts. And those who were sinful. What are most American churches about? Getting the wealthy to build the institution.
Where are most megachurch campus's located? In the wealthiest neighborhoods. Abandoning the inner cities, and backwoods towns for the wealthy, well-educated, suburban elite.

I respect and admire many things that your church does. That does not mean that it too, and not just mainline or smaller churches, deserve an honest look at both its strengths and weaknesses.

Kim Traynor said...

Hi Clint. You have never been stingy with the encouraging and loving words and that makes you one of my favorite people to have around! But as for this particular post, I do disagree.

You didn't say "Willow is ungenerous" but you did specifically name Willow, you did categorize their efforts as "token," and you did say "you compromise the gospel."

I agree that as Christians we are responsible for speaking truth to one another. The Bible calls us to very high standards on issues like inclusivity and poverty. I believe that exhorting and encouraging one another on these issues is essential. But when we jump from talking about the issues, to naming and critiqueing another person's church, I believe our conversation becomes less edifying and more divisive.

Churches are like families. We can have a million complaints with our own family, but it is still where our loyalty lies, and if an outsider starts complaining about our family the defenses go up.

I'm not saying that if you have facts about Willow (or your church) that you would like to discuss we shouldn't discuss them...But your entry seemed more about broad issues, and naming individual congregations and not offering any facts to support why you named them seemed kind of like a bad idea.

zalm said...

That was a brief cameo??

Heh.

Thanks for the link to the article on "new urbanism," Kim. I hadn't heard of this movement before, and what I read in that piece was extremely interesting.

If you remember, one of the things that worried me about larger churches is that they tend to divorce a churchgoer's spiritual community from their immediate geographic community. New Urbanism seems to be an encouraging reaction to that very issue.

My inlaws are coming into town this weekend, so I probably won't be able to do too much reading, research, or dialog on this. But I'd love to find out more about what Randy's vision is for the WCA churches and what changes that will involve.

Kim Traynor said...

Zalm! It's an honor to have you here!

I'm curious to see what Frazee's vision for Willow is too! He's brand-spanking new. Last night he gave his first message, and while it is clear that he is passionate about community, he did not go into any detail as to his vision for our neighborhood ministry.

I'm going on vacation so won't be updating my blog much for a while.
Enjoy the in-laws!