Marketing the church


(courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

I read my local free weekly newspaper-magazine, The Messenger (North Lakes, Qld., Australia), 16 November 2013. At page 3, there was a full-page advertisement for a local North Lakes church, Axis Church, with the theme, ‘We do LIFE together’.[1]

This theme was with the backdrop of a smiling middle-aged man (the church’s Facebook page says it is a photo of Pastor Greg Luckey), holding a plate that contains food (it seems). The pastor’s image dominated the advertising. Contact details and service times for the church were at the foot of the advertisement.

Here it is:

Axis Church: ‘We do LIFE together’

Pastor Greg Luckey (full page advertisement courtesy The Messenger, North Lakes, Qld, Australia, 16 November 2013, p. 3).

What does this theme in advertising mean for this local church in North Lakes, Qld, Australia? What message is it meant to convey in relation to the church’s message for the general public? Which other media are being used by this church and other churches in the region to promote their activities? I am writing as a Christian living in North Lakes who generally quickly browses that newspaper-magazine. Advertising is meant to catch my attention with a message. I’m a former radio and TV advertising copywriter (and DJ, interviewer and newsreader).

Three thoughts went through my mind as I read this advertisement. I am responding as a committed evangelical Christian to this church’s ad:

(1) I was encouraged to see a local church with an evangelical reputation promoting itself through a local, secular newspaper. It was a full page advt and not some almost unseen advt in the ‘Community Notice Board’ at the rear of the magazine. Big money would have been spent to get an advt that size. That church was meaning to grab people’s attention. I ask: What kind of attention?

(2) The theme of the advertisement greatly disappointed because of what seemed like a superficial message being communicated, ‘We do LIFE together’. That’s a bland, self evident statement.  There was no message of, ‘Jesus Christ is the centre of what we do. He offers eternal life’.

(3) Could this be an example of what the apostle Paul spoke about: ‘Become all things to all people that by all means you might win some’ (1 Cor 9:22)?

This promotional advertisement was for a Wesleyan Methodist Church, called Axis Church, not too far from where I live.

Could you imagine the apostle Paul, John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, or John Stott promoting their churches with such an innocuous theme as this?

The content of advertising for businesses is critical. It needs to be accurate to represent the product that is being sold. It doesn’t matter whether it is advertising of a supermarket, department store, car dealership or government. The advertising needs to accurately represent the product being sold.

Church advertising should also have a face that accurately portrays the ‘product’ being ‘sold’ by the church. ‘We do LIFE together’ is hardly profound with its call to the Gospel and to follow Christ. What would A W Tozer have thought of such a downgrade[2] of biblical content? This is an advertisement for a church and not a gymnasium.


A W Tozer (courtesy Wikipedia)

A. W. Tozer on the battleground

In an article A W Tozer wrote on ‘this world: playground or battleground?’ his ideas were not far from my thinking. His perspective was that ‘our attitude towards things is likely in the long run to be more important than the things themselves’ (Tozer 1989:3). While his immediate context was the early days of Christianity in what became the USA, his comments have contemporary application in the 21st century.

He wrote of when Christianity had a dominant influence on thinking and ‘men and women conceived the world to be a battleground. Our fathers believed in sin, and the devil and hell as constituting one force, and they believed in God and righteousness and heaven as the other’. Tozer explained that ‘by their very nature, these forces were opposed to each other forever in deep, grave, irreconcilable hostility’. Therefore, people had to choose which side they belonged to. There was no neutral position. For Christians, ‘it must be life or death, heaven or hell, and if they chose to come out on God’s side, they could expect open war with God’s enemies. The fight would be real here below. People looked forward to heaven as a return from the wars, a laying down of the sword to enjoy in peace the home prepared for them’ (Tozer 1989:3-4).

Tozer explained that the sermons and songs of those days often had an appropriate martial quality to them as they were homesick for something better. ‘Christian soldiers thought of home and rest and reunion, and their voices grew plaintive as they sang of battle ended and victory won’. They reached this kind of thinking as dealing with the enemy’s guns and dreaming of the end of hostilities, war coming to an end, and the heavenly Father welcoming them home. ‘They never forgot what kind of world they lived in – it was a battleground, and many were wounded and slain’. Tozer found this to be a scriptural way of expressing the battle with figures and metaphors that are throughout Scripture. His language is that ‘it is still a solid Bible doctrine that tremendous spiritual forces are present in the world. Humanity, because of its spiritual nature, is caught in the middle. The evil powers are bent upon destroying us, while Christ is present to save us through the power of the gospel’ (Tozer 1989:4-5).

His analysis was that to obtain deliverance from these, ‘we must come out on God’s side in faith and obedience’. That is what the founding Christian fathers of the USA nation believed ‘and that, we believe, is what the Bible teaches’ (Tozer 1989:5).

Tozer exclaimed: ‘How different today. The fact remains the same but the interpretation has changed completely. People think of the world not as a battleground, but as a playground. We are not here to fight; we are here to frolic. We are not in a foreign land; we are at home. We are not getting ready to live, but we are already living, and the best we can do is rid ourselves of our inhibitions and our frustrations and live this life to the full’ (1989:5). He continued:

The idea that this world is a playground instead of a battleground has now been accepted in practice by the vast majority of fundamentalist Christians. They might hedge around the question if they were asked bluntly to declare their position, but their conduct gives them away. They are facing both ways, enjoying Christ and the world, gleefully telling everyone that accepting Jesus does not require them to give up their fun – Christianity is just the jolliest thing imaginable. The ‘worship’ growing out of such a view of life is as far off center as the view itself – a sort of sanctified night club without the champagne and the dressed-up drunks….

A right view of God and the world to come requires that we have a right view of the world in which we live and of our relationship to it. So much depends upon this that we cannot afford to be careless about it (Tozer 1989:5-6).

In another editorial, Tozer wrote about our motives in what we do:

THE BIG QUESTION AT LAST WILL not be so much, ‘What did you do?’ but ‘Why did you do it?’ In moral acts, motive is everything. Of course it is important to do the right thing, but it is still more important to do the right thing for a right reason. Intention is a large part of the action, whether done by good or bad people….

We should carefully consider our motives. Some day soon they will be there to bless us or curse us. And from them there will be no appeal, for the Judge knows the thoughts and intents of the heart (Tozer 1989:38-39).[3]

This was from one of Tozer’s editorials in the Alliance Weekly (now known as Alliance Life), ‘This world: Playground or battleground?’ It was originally published on January 23 1952 (see Tozer 1964:2). Tozer died in 1963 at the age of 66.

What would he say of the church in the 21st century with its Gospel lite and topical, contemporary soft-sell messages from evangelical pulpits, rock bands to entertain the people of God, and singing songs that are not meant for congregational singing for a general audience, but are rock music for a modern-day performance.

For further exposition of what I see as a downgrade in the evangelical churches, see my articles:


B. Now to that advertisement

These are some of my thoughts about this advertising as an evangelical Christian living in a country that is very secular and has little time for God and his son, Jesus Christ, in the public arena:

clip_image007There was not a word in the advertisement about Jesus and his birth, death and resurrection. This was at a time when we were only 5.5 weeks away from the celebration of the greatest event in human history – God becoming man at the first Christmas. The incarnation of the Son of God! There could be no crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ without his becoming a human being (the God-man) at the first Christmas.

clip_image007[1] What on earth was this advertising theme meant to communicate about the meaning of Jesus’ coming to earth that eventually led to his crucifixion and resurrection? Perhaps that was not what was on the minds of that church’s leadership team that authorised the ad.

clip_image007[2]Is this a seeker-sensitive approach to entice secular people into a friendly church that has meals together, under the theme, ‘We do LIFE together’? This is hardly a profound theme about the most momentous intervention in human history – God becoming man as an infant in a manger!

clip_image007[3]There is absolutely nothing in this advertisement about Mary being pregnant with the son of God, Jesus: ‘She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:22 ESV, emphasis added).

clip_image007[4]What would the apostle Paul think of this kind of theme? It was he who wrote to the Galatian Christian church with this thunderous meaning of the incarnation: ‘But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons’ (Galatians 4:4-5).

clip_image007[5]Isaiah 7:14 prophesied this event: ‘Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel’. ‘Immanuel’ means ‘God is with us’. So Christmas time is the season to celebrate the birth of Immanuel, to affirm that ‘God is with us’ through the person of the God-man, whom we celebrate at Christmas time.

But this church in North Lakes, Qld., had the marketing expertise to miss this proclamation, ‘God is with us’ and replace it with, ‘We do LIFE together’. It is true that the Church of the Lord Jesus is a wonderful place of fellowship, but doing life together is hardly a focus on the excellent church fellowship that can exist in some churches.

clip_image007[6]What is it going to take to get a prominent, growing church in this burgeoning northern suburb of Brisbane to get back to core Christian teaching about the Christ who came at the first Christmas – in its public advertising?

clip_image007[7]This is the apostle Paul’s view of the Gospel and what ought to be proclaimed: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek’ (Romans 1:16).

The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. Shouldn’t that be what is promoted by a local evangelical church, especially at Christmas time when there is so much hoopla about Santa Claus, gifts, Christmas cards, smells and bells? Or does that not have a marketing appeal to secular people?

C. Advertising with honest clout

(courtesy Google, public domain)

A significant issue is: What should decide the content of our church’s advertising? I put it to you that that soft-sell, like, ‘We do LIFE together’, should be abandoned for something that points to the incarnation, and especially to the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the son of God. This needs to be stated in terms that do not camouflage the content of the incarnation and the passion-resurrection of Jesus.

‘We do LIFE together’ is hardly a way to announce the Gospel that is ‘the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes’.

I can hear the opponents: You are being too harsh! Don’t you understand that it was the apostle Paul said, ‘To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings’ (1 Corinthians 9:22-23)?

I’m in no way opposed to putting some contemporary emphasis on the advertising to gain secular people’s attention. After all, this local advertising was in a secular, weekly, free newspaper distributed in my suburb. However, we must not disguise the true content of the Gospel and the truth of the incarnation that we celebrate at Christmas time.

What is the reason for the church’s existence? To agree with secular people that ‘we live life together’. That’s hardly a profound statement. Jesus was clear as to the reason for the church’s existence in his command to his disciples:

And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:18-20).

There are three essential elements to this Jesus’ kind of church:

  1. Go and make disciples.
  2. Baptize[4] them.
  3. Teach them.

Here is my suggested series of advertising in the lead-up to Christmas, each run as half-page coloured ads in a local paper (also appearing online on the church’s website). The identification of the church, with service times, at the base of the advertisement is appropriate for this promotion to get to the truth of Christmas or the Gospel. But such a promotion was not in the advertisement to which I refer – as this reader understood the ad. My suggested theme could be:

Truth at Christmas

clip_image009 Truth suffers at Christmas time – there is more!

clip_image009[1] Santa the cover-up – truth is needed at Christmas!

clip_image009[2] Christmas and God’s colossal event – there is more!

clip_image009[3] The baby in the manger means “God with us”

clip_image009[4] Jesus became the God-man at the first Christmas. Why?

clip_image009[5] The baby in the manger clip_image011 the cross and resurrection of Jesus clip_image012 getting you and Australia out of this God-damned mess

clip_image009[6] Jesus changes lives for the best. Phone or visit us to discuss

D. Am I being too harsh about this theme?

Two weeks prior to the above advertisement, this was the theme that Axis Church promoted in a full-page ad in which a man and a woman were hugging each other, with the theme at the top of the page: ‘A Warm WELCOME HOME’ (The Messenger, 2 November 2013, p. 9).

The church’s website indicates that in October-November 2013, there was an 8-week series (presumably a sermon series), ‘LET’S BE the CHURCH’. Of this series, it was stated:

Join us as we launch a powerful new series and take a close look at the characteristics of the very first Church that gathered.  This will be an 8 week series entitled, “Let’s Be The Church”, and will open up the book of Acts 2:42-48 in a way you have never seen before. After this series you will be convinced that the local Church fully alive in the power of the Holy Spirit is exactly what this world desperately needs.  And you will discover practical ways that you can be a special part of God’s great redemptive plan for the world through the Church.

A similar message is on its Facebook page:

‘This 8 week series will convince you that the local Church fully alive in the power of the Holy Spirit is exactly what our world desperately needs. Discover practical ways that you can be a unique part of God’s great redemptive plan for the world’.

There are many preachers on the Internet who have preached on, ‘Let’s be the church’. See:

There’s even a theme, Let’s be the church – together; Let’s be Christ centered’ (sounds like an Axis Church theme). I did note that

  • Clontarf Beach Baptist Church, Qld, not too far from Axis Church, North Lakes, has an identical theme for its youth: ‘Come and meet some awesome guys and girls as we do life together. Meeting Fridays 7-9pm’ (emphasis added).
  • Forest Lake Baptist Church in Queensland also has a similar theme in promoting its small groups, known as ‘life groups – information. It states: ‘The main thing that happens at a life group is that we do life together!’ (emphasis added)
  • Cells-church Consultants International has the theme, ‘Small Groups are where we do life together!’; so many churches have ‘life groups’.
  • And this YouTube video gives an example of what a couple understands by ‘we do life together’.
  • We do life together’ is a daily devotional online.
  • Harvest Christian Fellowship Church, Calgary AB, Canada, has the motto, ‘We do life together’.
  • Use your favourite search engine to explore how many churches around the world are using ‘we do life together’ as a theme for various aspects of their ministries.

Here are some emphases from the Axis Church’s website, including the church’s list of values:

  • ‘At Axis Church everything revolves around Jesus. He is the Axis upon which our lives revolve.’ [I did not pick that up in the two ads mentioned above.]
  • ‘The world we live in seems like it’s spinning out of control. Life speeds up each day, and many spend their life spinning aimlessly. It begs the question, “What is at the center[5] [sic] of it all for you?” Is it the abundant life of God? Or does it turn up empty in the end, leaving you dizzy and without true meaning?’
  • ‘At Axis Church, Jesus is the centre of it all. He holds it all together perfectly and in balance. The Bible says in Galatians 2:20, “It’s no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me”’.
  • ‘When we invite Jesus to take his place at the very center [sic] of our lives, everything revolves around his forgiveness, love and purpose – no longer spinning aimlessly. It’s not that life is without it’s [sic] challenges, but now God becomes the Axis upon which we build our lives. It’s this truth that redeems us from the inside out, changing our hearts, transforming our families and communities, and shaping our world’.
  • ‘Axis Church is a safe place to discover God in an authentic way, and experience his love in a powerful way. We have experienced a truly powerful movement of God’s healing and love in North Lakes, Brisbane’.
  • ‘We look forward to welcoming you into the middle of a movement of God’s great love’.

There are some strong statements in this set of values with which I heartily agree:

  • In the church, everything revolves around Jesus.
  • Jesus is the centre of it all.
  • For Christians, Christ lives in us.
  • When Jesus is at the church’s centre, everything revolves around forgiveness, love and purpose. Jesus gives aim (direction) in life.

Perhaps this advertising series in the local newspaper is designed to focus on the fellowship that people need in our conflicted society. However, the absence of the public proclamation of Jesus is inadequate, particularly when it states on its website that one of its values is: ‘‘At Axis Church, Jesus is the centre of it all. He holds it all together perfectly and in balance’. He was not ‘the centre of it all’ in this advertisement.

I met a friend in a local store, who attends this church, and he said that the advertisement was meant to communicate the fellowship among people who attend this church. If that is so, I would have thought that a focus on breaking down the hostility between sinner and Christ was the first step. Fellowship with one another as Christians comes after reconciliation of sinners with God.

E. ‘This little church went to market’

(courtesy Google public domain)

What I read about this local church reminded me of the warning and challenge that Gary Gilley gave in his book, This little church went to market: Is the modern church reaching out or selling out? (2005). This book is available in pdf from The Berean Call HERE. See a review of this book HERE.

Part of Gilley’s concern is expressed in these words,

The most successful arm of the evangelical church in recent years, in terms of growth, money and prestige, has been the market-driven (seeker-sensitive, new-paradigm, user-friendly) church. Because of this success these churches are being mimicked all over the country, and indeed, the world. But is this church fully dressed? Is she outfitted in the biblically prescribed robes of evangelism, edification, worship and instruction? Or, is she wrapped in rags composed of empty human philosophy stitched together with bits and pieces of truth? If the latter is true, why have so few seemed to notice?…

Growing churches are creating an atmosphere, an environment of fun. So fun has replaced holiness as the church’s goal. Having a good time has become the criterion of an excellent, growing church, since fun and entertainment is [sic] what consumers want. Yet Bible references encouraging churches to become havens of fun are, as one may suspect, lacking. John MacArthur observes, ‘Many Christians have the misconception that to win the world to Christ we must first win the world’s favor. If we can get the world to like us, they will embrace our Savior. That is the philosophy behind the user-friendly church movement’[6]….

History tells us that it would not be many years after the liberals of early 1900s ‘won’ their war against the Fundamentalists that their churches went into a decline from which they have not yet recovered. It did not take people long to realize that if the church was not offering anything significantly different from what the world offered then apparently the church was unnecessary. The liberal church marginalized itself through compromise with modernism. It ceased to be a light and became a reflection of the secular philosophies of the times.

The new paradigm church of today is following the same pattern. Flushed with success she is rushing headlong down the slope of secularism. It will only be a matter of time before it is realized that this modern church having lost its message, having compromised the faith, having mistaken numerical success for the blessing of God, will implode, for there will be nothing left to sustain it. The fallout will undoubtedly harm many but hopefully God will raise a stronger church, a church serious about truth, a church that is more concerned about feeding the sheep than entertaining the goats, a church that knows the difference between worship and amusement, a church willing to be despised by the world for the sake of the cross — a church not ashamed of the true gospel, for it will know that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Gilley 2005:13, 19, 116-117).

F. Become all things to all people

The Barna Research organisation in the USA (September 28, 2011) has found that ‘nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15’. This is research from the USA.

Read its articles:

Could these statistics be influencing the seeker-sensitive, rap music, topical message, Bible-lite churches?

Also, could I be in error and over-reacting? Is it possible that I have misinterpreted the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22, ‘To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some’ (ESV, emphasis added).

I sent the introductory portion of this article to a friend and he replied that he could find half a dozen biblical verses in as many minutes to support exactly what that advertisement pictures. He provided no verses, but could he have been thinking of 1 Corinthians 9:22 as the advertisement could seem to comply with what Paul is teaching? Is that so?

What does this verse mean in context of 1 Corinthians 9?

1. Who are the weak? He is probably returning to the argument he was presenting up to 1 Cor 9:1 and now continues. In chapter 8 Paul was probably dealing with those with whom there was a conflict in Corinth – the Jews. He seems to be ‘reflecting on his differing conduct in Jewish and Gentile settings, the central issue being questions of Jewish law’ (Gordon Fee 1987:427).[8] The social setting issues of chapter 9 included:

(a) To win his fellow Jews (9:20);

(b) Specifically, those under the law (9:20);

(c) To those ‘outside the law’ (9:21);

2. The ‘weak’ are mentioned in 1 Cor 8:7-13 as those who were former idolaters with weak consciences who were eating food offered to idols. Paul would not eat food offered to idols so it would not make his brother in Christ stumble (8:13). He would refrain from eating.

3. In 4:8-13, Paul spoke of apostles who were ‘weak’. Even earlier in the epistle he wrote of the Christians: ‘God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God’ (1:27-29). So,

4. ‘To the weak, I became week’ probably refers ‘to a more purely sociological category than a socio-religious one’ (Fee 1987:431). But I can’t be dogmatic. Fee’s comment is insightful: ‘Whereas he is intransigent [uncompromising] on matters that affect the gospel itself, whether theological or behavioral (e.g., 1:18-25; 5;1-15, etc.), that same concern for the saving power of the gospel is what causes him to become all things to all people in matters that don’t count’ (Fee 1987:431, emphasis added).

5. So becoming ‘all things to all people’ meant that Paul was adapting to different Jewish and Gentile situations, but never contrary to God’s commands. He did this to win people to Christ.

How can this be applied to the advertisement in my local paper? Jesus and Paul could have contact with prostitutes, tax collectors, Pharisees, idolaters, and other prominent sinners, but Jesus and Paul would not compromise with these to ‘win them’. In his comments on 1 Cor 9:22, Lutheran commentator, R C H Lenski, warned: ‘The danger is always present that we may either yield too much to love, which then ceases to be love, or that we may forget something of wisdom, which then lands us in folly’ (Lenski 1937:381).

‘We do LIFE together’ sounds too much like a flattering approach to the world’s standards to try to gain a hearing. It is missing the point of dealing with the alienation from God that needs to be solved before ‘LIFE together’ in fellowship with God and one another is possible. To me, a better approach would be: ‘We all suffer from the same misery – sin. Come to Axis Church to hear the Jesus’ solution’. ‘We do LIFE together’ is too safe to hit the Gospel mark upfront. However, ‘we do LIFE together’, sounds politically correct, which is a way of admitting conformity to the world’s marketing standards.

Now we are back to Tozer’s challenge: Will we present the truthful issues in a transparent, accurate way? This world is a battleground, not a playground. And we dare not disguise that challenge when we present the public face of the church to a very secular society in Australia.

G. Conclusion

The core message that a local church gives in its advertising is critical to understand the nature of what that church represents. The public, advertised theme from an evangelical church, ‘We do LIFE together’, is hardly earth-shattering in its content. Where is the reconciliation of sinners to God through Jesus Christ’s forgiveness? This is advertising a couple months before Christmas. Where is the reason for the baby in the manger? The Church could say, ‘That was not the reason for this theme’, but a Christmas theme contrary to the world’s standards should be presented.

The market-driven church is ‘flushed with success’ and it is ‘rushing headlong down the slope of secularism. It will only be a matter of time before it is realized that this modern church having lost its message, having compromised the faith, having mistaken numerical success for the blessing of God, will implode, for there will be nothing left to sustain it’ (Gilley 2005:116-117).

Bill hybels photo.jpg

Bill Hybels admits seeker-sensitive failure

Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church, Chicago, one of the gurus of the seeker-sensitive, market-driven church, has admitted, ‘We made a mistake’, with their kind of seeker-sensitive emphasis that has been exported around the world. This is how he put it:

Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back, it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for….

We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own (Willow Creek repents? Out of Ur, October 18, 2007).

Greg Hawkins, an executive pastor of Willow Creek, admitted:

Our dream is that we fundamentally change the way we do church. That we take out a clean sheet of paper and we rethink all of our old assumptions. Replace it with new insights. Insights that are informed by research and rooted in Scripture. Our dream is really to discover what God is doing and how he’s asking us to transform this planet (Willow Creek repents? Out of Ur, October 18, 2007).

You can read more of these admissions in Greg Hawkins & Cally Parkinson, Reveal: Where are you? The answer will transform your church (2009). You may be interested in Matt Branaugh’s assessment of ‘Reveal’, in Christianity Today, ‘Willow Creek’s “Huge Shift”’ (15 May 2008). Bradley Wright (a sociologist) has his evaluation of the ‘Reveal’ research in, ‘A review of “Reveal: Where are You?” by Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson’.

See Gary Gilley’s assessment of the Willow Creek ‘reveal’ assessment and ‘huge shift’ in ‘Willow Creek’s big adventure (December 2007). Part of his conclusion is:

Having discerned that the old way of the seeker movement failed to produce the spiritual product they desired, Willow is fast-forwarding to the newest wave that now promises what they did 30 years ago – ‘authentic, Acts 2 communities of faith.’[9] This, however, is an even more tragic step, for while the seeker movement has gone astray in many areas in their attempt to change the way we ‘do’ church, the majority within the movement at least gave lip-service to the fundamentals of the faith. The emergent church, however, seeks not to change how we ‘do’ church but to change the church itself by challenging the non-negotiable doctrines of the faith. Combining the emergent deconstructive philosophy with Willow Creek’s influence and money could prove to be a powerful force for destruction. What may be written on this next ‘clean sheet of paper’ in the future is far more concerning than the one that is being thrown away today.

Is the seeker-sensitive, market driven church really getting it yet? Has it woken up to what Bill Hybels stated, ‘We made a mistake…. We should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become “self feeders”’? Is that really biblical anyway? What about ‘making disciples of all nations’ (Mt 28:19)? Is that talking about becoming ‘self feeders’ or of churches demonstrating that their mission should be dominated by discipling Christians? That cannot be done without Paul’s exhortation to Timothy,

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound[10] teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2 Timothy 4:1-4).

Scripture informs the church what it is to do. But the seeker-sensitive, approach wants to be informed by research and Scripture. Is this saying that Scripture alone is inadequate in determining how to develop a healthy, disciple-making church? It should be noted that research is valuable in helping churches discern whether they are being successful in making Christian disciples. See the article, ’12 reasons why your church doesn’t produce spiritual growth’, by Tony Morgan.

The Willow Creek assessment surely should cause any seeker-sensitive church to rethink its market-driven strategy in drawing people into the church. ‘We do LIFE together’ is a country mile from an overt statement like Paul’s: ‘‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes’ (Rom 1:16).

Works consulted

Fee, G D 1987. The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The First Epistle to the Corinthians. F F Bruce (gen ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Gilley, G E 2005. This little church went to market: The church in the age of entertainment (online), rev edn.[11] Darlington, England: Evangelical Press. Available from The Berean Call at:–Word%29_0.pdf (Accessed 16 November 2013).

Hawkins, G & Parkinson, C 2009. Reveal: Where are you? The answer will transform your church. South Barrington, IL; Willow Creek Association.

Lenski, R C H 1937/1963. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.[12]

MacArthur, Jr., J F 1994. Reckless faith: When the church loses its will to discern. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.

Tozer, A W 1964. This world: Playground or battleground. Alliance Weekly, January 23, 1952, in The Alliance Witness, March 16 1964, 2. Available at: (Accessed 18 November 2013).

Tozer, A W 1989. H Verploegh (ed), This world: Playground or battleground? Camp Hill, Pennsylvania: Christian Publications. Also available online at: (Accessed 18 November 2013).


[1] Available at: (Accessed 24 November 2013).

[2] ‘Downgrade’ is the language that C H Spurgeon used in ‘The down-grade controversy’ in the late 19th century. Available at: (Accessed 19 November 2013). For Spurgeon, he was addressing false doctrine in his era. In 1887, he wrote: ‘We have had enough of The Down-Grade for ourselves when we have looked down upon it. What havoc false doctrine is making no tongue can tell. Assuredly the New Theology can do no good towards God or man; it, has no adaptation for it. If it were preached for a thousand years by all the most earnest men of the school, it would never renew a soul, nor overcome pride in a single human heart’. I am not using downgrade in this sense of false doctrine, but as the compromise used by the seeker-sensitive approach, which tends to give a marketing face to the 21st century approach to the Gospel and Christian doctrine.

[3] This is taken from a Tozer editorial in Alliance Witness, ‘Motive is all-important’, which is the title of this chapter in Tozer (1989:38).

[4] The Anglicised (Australian) spelling is ‘baptise’.

[5] ‘Center’ is the USA spelling, but the Australian spelling is ‘centre’. This set of values is not consistent in its spelling of centre, using both American and Australian spelling in the one online document.

[6] Here he references MacArthur (1994:52).

[7] ‘The millennial generation is the generation of children born between 1982 and 2002’. See: ‘Who are the millenials?’ at: (Accessed 2 December 2013).

[8] This was Fee’s comment on 1 Cor 9:20.

[9] Here he referred to an earlier edition of: (Accessed 19 November 2013). The earlier edition is not available now online.

[10] Or healthy.

[11] This was first published in 2002 (Gilley 2005:4).

[12] This is a limited edition printed in 2001 by Hendrickson Publishers, licensed by special permission of Augsburg Fortress.


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 28 September 2018.