Ros Clarke responded on her blog to the news of Willow Creek’s change of direction by asking:
It’ll be interesting to see how they respond when people start leaving the church as a result of the new onslaught of bible teaching.
The autobiography of the late William Still, Dying to Live, minister at Gilcomston South in Aberdeen, Scotland, gives the appropriate response. Mr Still went through a similar change of direction. He was appointed at Gilc in 1945 with the remit to “fill the kirk”, which he did “to overflowing, by the use of Redemption songs and fiery evangelistic sermons which soon set the town agog!” Billy Graham and Alan Redpath ran missions there and after 18 months over 2000 people attended on Saturday night rallies and Sunday morning services.
Mr Still writes:
It took a great struggle to come to the point where I knew that I had to call a halt to the Saturday night rallies in the church. …It was obvious that the necessity for maintaining a high level of novelty was too time-consuming and was taking up too much of our energies. I was tired of trying to be an evangelistic entertainer…
The change in direction was the same as Willow Creek’s, from attractive sub-culture to producing attractive “well rounded” Christians by applied, relevant, systematic bible teaching:
If I said eighteen months’ experience of ardent evangelistic work caused disillusionment, that was only part of the truth, and was really beside the point. The truth is, as I have said, that I was beginning to discover, almost by accident although I know the Lord has another name for it, the value of the systematic teaching of the Word of God. And as that took grip of me in the pulpit during the latter days and months of 1946, I saw that a commission was given me, which was to be my task for the rest of my life, rather than that of superficial evangelism which, alas, leaves so much of the glorious Word of God untouched. And if it is true, which I fervently believe (and with some experience to back up my opinion) that there is no part of the Word of God which can be left out if fully rounded Christian characters are to be formed, then there is no alternative to ministering the whole Word of God.
[My emphasis added]
The congregation dwindled from 2000 to around 500. Mr Still was accused of failure, burnout and there was concern for church finances. But out of that reduced congregation came 42 Church of Scotland ministers and over 300 missionaries, not to mention those who passed though and enriched other churches. Oh yes, and at least one Church of England minister.