In the course of clicking through some links, I came across this article that, perhaps, the Council of Bishops should consider in depth before recommending anything from the Call to Action report.
The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, "I know it might sound crazy but that's how we do it in churches. We measure levels of participation."Turning inward and creating some kind of criteria for "vital congregations" ignores the reality that most United Methodist Churches are vital. They have Christian Education programs, Disciple Bible Study, small groups of various kinds studying this book, or that spiritual discipline. There are prayer groups and the United Methodist Women, whose focus is mission, local and global. There are connectional ministries local churches participate in through apportioned giving. All of it toward the end of being the Church of Jesus Christ, the people called Methodist (to quote John Wesley).
Having put so many of their eggs into the program-driven church basket, you can understand their shock when the research revealed that "Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone's becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more."
[S]piritual growth doesn't happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships.
If we choose the path of programmatic intension, instead of evangelical and mission-oriented extension, we may just find ourselves in the same position as Willow Creek. With one exception - having betrayed our heritage in the search for a quick fix, we will no longer have a link to our past.