LCMS churches which are members of the Willow Creek Association

Recently a question arose as to how many LCMS congregations belong to the Willow Creek Association. It turns out that it is an alarming number. Click here to view the chart. Willow Creek is church in the northwest Chicago suburbs that has set the standard for using church growth principles to grow the church. They use psychological and sociological principles to change the church so that it is more appealing to the culture. It is not a confessional church. They reject the efficacy of the sacraments to forgive sins and reject the power of the word to create faith. It is unacceptable that so many parishes of the LCMS are taking advice from this sort of congregation. This is more proof that we need a change in leadership in the LCMS.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.


LCMS churches which are members of the Willow Creek Association — 66 Comments

  1. I held my breath as I went down the list hoping that I wouldn’t see my beloved congregation and Praise God it was not on the list. I have long been a fairly loud voice against the Willow Creek Association having been a member of a church (not LCMS) which was lockstep with their heretical philosophy and I have seen the damage it does to the heart of the faith. Please learn about their teachings if your congregation or a single member shows a slight flirtation or more than slight interest. I think if we would be about the business of our own church body then we would not listen to the gossip from other denominations about how “great” their church is doing. Let’s lift up Christ in our own LCMS way and let others do their own thing.

  2. In regard to #46, Matthew’s comment. You assume we do not know what we are talking about? You sir are most mistaken. I know first hand what WCA is all about and I do not have a “prideful” interpretation of my church. I chose my church because of its undaunting teaching of Christ for all ages. I find your comments most insulting. We are told to test the spirits, not test them out to see if we like them or not. We are told to test them to see if they are true.

  3. I spoke to the pastor about having free Rick Warren CDs passed out to visitors following the Christmas Eve service. The “conversation” was very discouraging and non-productive. I even spoke to the circuit conselor, and that was also discouraging and non-productive. I imagine the same would be the case for confronting them regarding the Willow Creek Association thingy.

  4. The church that I was confirmed in is on this list. I think the WCA membership is a symptom of a larger problem, which is a full embrace of church growth ideology. Persuading them to drop WCA membership would not necessarily solve the problem. Some observations:

    Most members of this church have no idea what the WCA is or that their congregation belongs to it. I know someone on the call committee who is clueless about this.

    This all comes with a spirit of pride and arrogance. This congregation is not the least bit open to correction or education on this from outside, and will denounce and smear any “right-wingers” who dare to comment on their theology and practice. They proudly insist that they observe correct Lutheran teachings, despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary. They would be no less open to discipline from a DP or SP, I think their response would be pure rebellion.

    And this church has been attempting to call a senior administrative pastor for almost five years. Their failure to fill the position is a source of much consternation. My friend on the call committee thinks they are being too stingy with salary. I have another couple of theories:

    Confessional pastors want nothing to do with a congregation with built-in video screens and a church-growth attitude that became deeply entrenched as the congregation ran out the dissenters. Most pastors reading this post would never walk into such a situation!

    And those pastors who favor church-growth want nothing to do with it either. Why? Because growth is their god, and this suburban neighborhood has already experienced all the population growth it is going to see, and the city is growing in a different direction. The dirty little secret of church growth is that it is all about population growth, and this neighborhood is grown-out.

    My prayer is that this congregation will prayerfully humble itself so it is once again capable of being led by Christ through a called-and-ordained servant, instead of a “leader” with a “vision” that he invented himself.

  5. “Most members of this church have no idea what the WCA is or that their congregation belongs to it.”

    I suspect that may be the case with most of the churches on that list. The church that I’m ending my membership in within the next few weeks is on that list. I wasn’t surprised. What did surprise me is that this is not common knowledge, and was news to both me and my parents.

  6. We don’t know who we are. It shows big time. It ain’t your grandfather’s church. It ain’t even your church–meaning the church you thought you belonged to.

    Scary stuff. Itching ears. Bah, humbug!

  7. Ministry is sometimes tough. It’s not that the problems r theological … the problems are common-sensical. Common sense is NOT that common.
    12:05 PM Aug 7th from TweetDeck

    Pr David Maier Twitter Quote

  8. membership in wca is not a theological membership. wca is not the same as willow creek community church – it is a separate organization that does not declare orthodoxy. it tries to help leaders develop and grow in whatever context and understanding they are in. it could actually help lutherans be better leaders just like it could help non-lutherans be better leaders. i am hopeful that you all really don’t believe that anyone not “lutheran” in your strict interpretation of it is a heretic and destined to hell? otherwise Jesus (and paul) are destined to hell because they were not lutheran. in reading these posts, i sense a dangerous allegiance to lutheranism over Jesus (kinda like paul was dealing with in various groups claiming they were disciples of paul or appollos, etc).

    and, to all those who love to quote the “test the spirits” verse – you are taking it out of context. the rest of the verses say: “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” SO, the TEST is do they proclaim that Jesus came in the flesh. Willow Creek (both the church and association) clearly confess that statement. You (along with most other denominations) add multuiple sub-points to that “test” to make your prideful attacks on others feel “Biblical.” They are not. And, it wasn’t just a pharisee who gave broader allowance for those “not aligning perfectly to one interpretation” – Jesus himself corrected the disciples when they tried to tell Jesus that people were doing things and “not one of us (not a lutheran…)” Jesus says “not against us = for us.” Again, you all have not been given some secret insight into exactly how the Christian faith is to be lived. You don’t get to say who’s in and who’s out. That’s God’ job. Spend more time being the people Jesus calls you to be and you won’t have to worry about what others are doing. Direct your energy where Jesus tells you to – loving God and loving others.

  9. Dear Matt:

    All Christians need to be reminded that we should be like the tax collector and not like the Pharisee in Luke 18. That was the text in the one year series today. Lutherans, and members of Willow Creek, and indeed of every denomination – should examine themselves and allow the law to convict them to be more humble and less haughty. Absolutely.

    But it does not make one a Pharisee to have concerns about fellow members of the LCMS – with whom we share communion fellowship and altar and pulpit unity – also being members of the Willow Creek Association. WCA is indeed more than a generic organization dedicated to organizational and managerial excellence, time management, effective leadership, using technology to assist in management of resources, etc. It is concerned with *church* growth. As Dan has pointed out, they have a “theological statement.”

    This is not to say that they don’t have anything valid or helpful to say at all. Maybe they do. But the problem is that we Lutherans and Willow Creek Christians have different definitions for *church* as well as differing theologies of the Holy Spirit – which according to our theology, is how the church grows. The underlying theology guiding the WCA’s principles is rooted in a different understanding – which is in some ways hostile to Lutheran theology. It’s not unreasonable to be concerned about this.

    Another example might be if there were a Roman Catholic church growth association whose advice was based on suggestions like praying the rosary and invoking the Virgin Mary, and whose underlying theology was based on the primacy of the pope. If a lot of LCMS churches were joining this association, would it be unreasonable to be concerned?

    Protestant theology differs from ours just as much as Roman Catholic theology does.

    If you want to allay the concerns of people who are watching Christians churches (even some with the name Lutheran) implode into all sorts of false doctrine right up to heresy and apostasy – the best way to do so is to be a little more charitable yourself, and not simply dismiss people who have very real concerns by accusing them of evil intentions and ulterior motives. That’s not helpful.

    When I was a layman, I was routinely scandalized by LCMS churches and their worship practices that looked more like Willow Creek than the liturgy that the Church has been using since the days of the apostles.

    And is it sheer coincidence that none of these WCA-member LCMS churches make exclusive use of the liturgy and our own native hymnals?

    We have valid grounds for concern. If there is nothing to our concerns, then it should be pretty easy to put those concerns to rest.

  10. @Matt Phillips #3
    to be like the rest of semi-pelagian heretical churches and herd goats instead of feeding sheep, my DP is a member of the WCA and I would like to see him repent or be removed from office

  11. New to this thread, I am a recent refugee from the ELCA, after finally coaxing my wife to leave our church. We found a nice LCMS church with two young, dedicated pastors. We’re in a Bible study on Acts. But to my shock, our church is in the Willow Creek Association. While the WCA website claims to support Biblical inerrancy, I see that Hybels was a disciple of Schuller, who basically believes in the total goodness of the human heart, and has nothing to say of sin, hell, the need for Christ’s Blood Atonement. And yep, our pastor’s admitted to using “Purpose-Driven” by Warren. I cannot believe the SBC doesn’t defrock this guy. While I know LCMS and SBC are worlds apart on the Sacraments, SBC takes the high view of Scripture. Warren tramples on this with his easy-believism and forcing members to sign contracts in which they must vow not to disagree with church practices, under penalty of disfellowship.
    Our new pastor is encouraging the whole church to delve into the Bible, and is an excellent preacher. And I applaud efforts that might bring folks to our church to hear the preached Word. But Church Growth-ism tends to dumb down the Law and Gospel to grow the visible church at the expense of the souls of the invisible true flock that needs to be fed. Now we have Eric Swanson coming in to talk. He’s a Dominionist Church Growth disciple who seems to put the social “gospel” on equal par with the Gospel of salvation. Don’t get me wrong, Christians are indeed commanded to tend to the poor and hungry within and without the Church. But giving them bread for this life, while ignoring the Bread of Eternal Life, Jesus (because the true Gospel involves total depravity, hell and repentance tied to it), will put an LCMS church in the same boat the ELCA is in.
    Check the website, I’m in this church for life, and so far the Mrs. and I are very fond of our pastors. But I’d rather see this ship sink with its compass set for Christ crucified and risen, than stay afloat drifting off course. It is my fervent prayer that the latter will not be the case. Imagine, sacrificing the invisible church for the visible. Face it, Christianity is apostasizing in the West. If Church-Growth-ism is all we’ve got to keep the visible church viable, the invisible true confessional Lutheran church will have to go house-church. Steeples may be falling, but by God’s grace a remnant will remain.
    Thank the good Lord we’re not doing “centering prayer”. But the cross behind the altar has disappeared and the wide-screens are going up. If not for the facts that our pastors want us to delve into Scripture more, and they themselves are the best preachers I’ve heard in my entire life, I would quietly make my exit to Pr. Fisk’s church some 30 miles away. But after having finally gotten my wife to see the light about the ELCA she was in for half her life and finally reached the Promised Land of LCMS, I cannot even think of ever leaving. As long as the pastors stick to the Scriptures and the Word and Sacrament are still administered, I’ll just sit by and hope that the “bread and circuses” approach to evangelism will run its course. The average megachurch “convert” is out the door in 5 years anyway… Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison…

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