William C. Symonds:
Arnson suggested that instead of looking at numbers, Willow should focus on the inner spiritual lives of its members, especially how close they were to Jesus Christ. He then segmented members into four categories, from those “exploring Christ” to the “Christ-centered,” who are totally committed. Using this lens, his survey found that even as people grew closer to Christ, they tended to become less satisfied with Willow Creek. In other words, Willow was doing a better job of meeting the needs of seekers than of its more fervent believers. Yet Arnson’s research showed that half of Willow’s members fell into the two most fervent segments of believers: “close to Christ” and “Christ-centered.” Moreover, these committed Christians were the very people who were the most important to Willow’s long-term growth and vitality.
At first, this news came as a huge shock. “We went through our own stages of denial—anger, sadness, depression, the works—until we could finally embrace the brutal truth: We needed to change,” says Hawkins, who assumed the role of the leader and champion of Reveal. “But once we got through the denial, we changed Willow a ton.”
Hybels and Hawkins realized they had to customize their offerings to better meet members at various stages of the spiritual journey. For example, for 30 years, Willow offered a midweek service for all believers. Everyone received the same teaching. Now, after a brief worship service, members disperse to attend one of 15 to 20 courses, ranging from those for new Christians to demanding theology courses taught by seminary professors. Similarly, Willow’s thousands of small groups dropped the one-size-fits-all model. They are now using an approach akin to a university, Mellado says. “Reveal informs our whole strategy of resource allocation, and the whole point is to encourage life transformation.” In other words, the objective is to create more people who are totally committed to Christ, because these people are the most effective evangelists. So far, Willow’s leaders believe Reveal is working. “The feedback from Willow’s members has been very positive,” Arnson says. “People feel like their needs are being met more than before.” Willow plans a more scientific survey of member satisfaction this year.