Willow Creek Community Church, What Really Makes a Difference

By William Meehan III, Davina Drabkin
2012 | Case No. SM198

Willow Creek Community Church, located outside of Chicago, IL, was one of the best attended and most influential churches in the United States. It was devoted to attracting seekers, people who were otherwise “unchurched,” and helping them along a journey towards conversion and spiritual maturity. Greg Hawkins, executive pastor, wondered, of all the things that the Church did, what really made a difference? If a generous donor gave Willow $100,000 to invest in having the biggest impact on helping parishioners grow into disciples of Christ, would Hawkins and the leadership team truly know what to do with the money? In 2003, Hawkins was about to lead Willow in a strategic planning process. He was introduced to a consumer research expert who had helped an impressive list of large companies understand “what was happening in the hearts and minds of their existing and potential customers.” This case explores Willow’s decision to bring this type of research to its church and apply rigorous analytical techniques to understanding the needs and motivations of its congregants. It traces how Willow used the startling findings to identify which programs and ministries truly helped people grow spiritually and transform its approach to church. Available for purchase from European Case Clearing House and Harvard Business Publishing, link provided below.

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