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The Transforming Church (Part Eight)
by Tricia Tillin


The Purpose Driven Church


The Purpose Driven Church

We continue our study of the cell-church system by looking at organisations that have given rise to the term the "Purpose-Driven Church" (PDC). But the purpose is not so much to save people from sin and damnation, but to attract people to sign up as members of the churches represented by this movement.

According to one commentator "The Purpose Driven Church came out of the teachings of Campus Crusade, Young Life and Sun Life in the 70’s, researched and produced by the Fuller Institute In Pasadena, Ca in the late 80’s, and popularized by Rick Warren and Saddle Back in the 90’s."

The Seeker-Sensitive Model, exemplified in the Willow Creek Community Church since the 80’s targets people who want to find out more about God or Christians who have left church feeling bored or upset with what they found there.

These meticulously-run megachurches have a name for being "seeker-sensitive", which in practical terms means the meat is spiced into extinction for the purpose of wooing as many people to the meetings as possible and not scaring them away with anything "religious".Bill Hybels

Famous in this category is Willow Creek Community Church in Sth Barrington, Illinois, possibly the largest evangelical church in America with between 17 and 18 thousand people attending the weekend services. The Church is pastored by Rev. Bill Hybels, who claims Robert Schuller as his mentor. (See more about Schuller in the earlier part of this series).

Willow Creek is a high-tech and slick entertainment centre, where according to one article "drama and soft rock are served up on a stage washed in pink and blue spotlights". The building has nothing identifying it as a church. Inside, it is an auditorium with theatre seating, and twelve huge TV screens showing multimedia presentations of the big names and celebrities of the modern Church or closeups of the on-stage action just like any rock concert.

The live music, stage shows, dramas and other activities are reminiscent of a TV show and were it not for the soft-sell sermon and topics discussed you might imagine you were anywhere but a church.

Willow Creek is theologically conservative; it holds to the inerrancy of the word of God, salvation by faith alone and other tenets of the Protestant faith, yet it falls over itself to cater to the crowds and address their needs rather than openly challenging their standards and sins.

It preaches a gospel message, but one so compromised that it fails in its primary purpose to move people out of the fallen world and into the kingdom of God.

Willow Creek

The Willow Creek methodology as described in one publication is this: "Take a poll of lost people, find out what they want in religion, then make an all out effort in the church to provide what they want." (5)

In his book about Willow Creek, ("Rediscovering Church") Bill Hybels clearly sees himself as God's appointed leader to transform the world about him.

Claiming that when God needed to accomplish any great task of transformation in society he would seek out "leaders" such as Moses, David and Solomon, Hybels says " after all, who is going to cast the vision of, or creatively imagine the future for, a biblically functioning community?" (6) and "Leaders have the ability to cast a vision: People with the spiritual gift of leadership have a God-given capability to imagine a preferred future for whatever kingdom-related enterprise they're leading.....God has created human beings to respond to a worthy vision when it's passionately presented by a gifted leader". (7)

What a contrast to the Apostle Paul's denunciation of human effort and human words in preaching the gospel, for Paul recognised, in humility, that it is only the Holy Spirit's unction and drawing ability that will convince any human being of the need to repent.

"And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." (1 Cor 2:1-5)

Bill Hybels in several places in his book touches on this theme of "imagining creatively" as a method of introducing change. He even implies that Jesus "imagined" the Church into being because he "challenged his followers to imagine a city perched on a hill..." and " his followers imagined a beacon of hope, a lamppost of love, a torch of transforming power - and the church was born" (8)

Another foundational influence on Bill Hybels was the zeal of co-founder Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian who seems to have launched into the idea of seeker-sensitive churches after having a major warm fuzzy on the idea of "caring communities reaching out to the world in love". The blurb for the book "Community 101" by Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian on the WC home site says that "Nothing is more essential, or more basic, to the church than the oneness of community." I would have thought the doctrine of salvation in Jesus Christ was the bedrock of the Church, not living in community with other Christians.

But the idea of community in society and the world ranks as one of the most important theories of the New Age. One quote plucked at random from the thousands of New Age sites that preach this concept as a model for transforming society is this:

"We wanted a "co-creative community"- reflecting the integration of feminine and masculine virtues and whole-centered consciousness. We wanted, as individuals and as a group, to align the values of sharing and nurturing with the traits of focused purpose and action in the world. We wanted to replace dominance with partnership and empower each individual to express his or her unique gifts. This alignment of Self to Self, horizontally and vertically, is what we mean by "co-creation." (from Global Family)

Compare this to Dr. Bilezikian who "learned that the original church was a community of believers who were discovering their spiritual gifts, getting involved in small groups, having closeness and togetherness, and applying problem resolution (and) deeply desired for that kind of church to exist today. That passion permeated his teaching and eventually led he and a student of his, Bill Hybels, to start Willow Creek Community Church in 1975". (from [See also:]

The goals of "sharing, caring" partnership, empowerment of the individual, development of spiritual gifts, tolerance of other cultures and beliefs, male-female integration, love and acceptance for all, and transformation of society are also the goals of the cell churches and the seeker-sensitive churches.

Bill Hybels talks about his mission and the mission of his church organisation much more in terms of "changing the world" than bringing individuals to faith in God and saving them from hell. He has this trait in common with his fellow leaders in the cell-church and Church Growth system as a whole.


Compromise leads people to jump into bed with those they should be denouncing. Thus Hybels does not seem too particular about those with whom he keeps company. In 1989 'Christianity Today' photographed him with Robert Schuller and C. Peter Wagner at Schuller's Crystal Cathedral. He had monthly meetings with Bill Clinton and Tony Campolo according to one article, (1) and the Grand Rapids College (now Cornerstone College) carried Hybel's article in which he favorably quoted M Scott Peck, a prominent New Ager and ecumenist. (2)

At a leadership conference hosted by Willow Creek in 2000, "Bill Hybels interviewed Rich De Vos (Amway co-founder) and did a 90-minute interview with Bill Clinton" (3) in which he helped whitewash the President's activities and implied Clinton was a Christian brother. (4)


A month after the September 11 tragedy, a Muslim cleric, Fisal Hammouda, shared Hybels's pulpit for a discussion about Islam. The imam and pastor discussed strong ties between Christianity and Islam and the congregation was impressed. ... Hybels was concerned that there "are some Christians spreading rumors and half-truths that the Qur'an encourages violence."

Hybels's mentor in ministry is Robert Schuller, whose compromises with Islam are notorious. From personally preaching in the mosque of the Grand Mufti in Damascus, to allowing the Islamic leader's cleric son to preach from his own pulpit, these things are nothing new for someone who sponsors "Christians and Muslims for Peace" at his Crystal Cathedral. [from Berean Call Newsletter, May 2002]

Leaders like Schuller and Hybels tell us they are providing for a wide variety of personalities and lifestyles in order to introduce them to a better way of life in God.

But as one observer noted: "Carnal Christians led by consensus are more likely to FEEL secure in their group-led opinions and actions knowing they're not alone in them, even if they are unbiblical. But unfortunately, many today have made consensus their conscience in order to avoid any personal responsibility or accountability for sin". [Paul Proctor. See his article: The People’s Church and one on the related subject of Diaprax ]

Says Proctor: "For those unacquainted with the term 'Diaprax', it is simply another word for the Hegelian Dialectic or consensus process ... Diaprax, a word coined by author and teacher Dean Gotcher, essentially brings together people of diverse and often opposing backgrounds, worldviews and belief systems in hopes they will forfeit their own values, traditions and absolutes for the emotional rewards of group acceptance."

Again, the intention is to "save the lost" and no doubt many of the "unchurched" do develop a curiosity and belief in God by attending Willow Creek services, but when we mingle the vital truths concerning God, salvation and our eternal destiny with the worldly search for enjoyment, freedom, pleasure and excitement we end up with only one result - COMPROMISE.

God did not send Jesus Christ to make our life on earth comfortable and trouble-free. Salvation is not about meeting our needs, keeping us happy, wealthy, contented, and entertained! Faith and holiness is not about reaching a consensus in society about what is tolerable. It is primarily about our human condition of wretchedness before God, and our need to repent and submit our lives to Him. This brings joy and peace, but it is not designed for our pleasure, but for the greater glory and praise of God, and so that we might serve and honour Him in all things - despite our circumstances.

The word of God says:

"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever." (1 John 2:15-17)



Saddleback WorshipIn many ways, all that is said above of Willow Creek applies to Saddleback, for their philosophy is the same. Rick Warren has turned the church in Orange County, California into a centre for "reaching the unchurched" with messages that appeal to today's values.

But the Saddleback church itself is only the tip of the iceberg. The PDC philosophy is out there, in the wild and spreading round the globe - see The PDC website for details.

One report states that: "Over ten thousand churches in 83 countries around the world have adopted the Purpose-Driven Church paradigm for church health and growth. Over 175,000 church leaders have been trained in the purpose-driven principles through conferences, DVD, satellite and the internet. Over 1 million copies of Rick Warren's book, The Purpose Driven Church, have been distributed in 22 languages. Purpose Driven has grown beyond Saddleback Church -it's now a global laboratory."

In January of 1998, Dr. Dennis Costella attended a "Building a Purpose Driven Church" seminar where Warren taught that the following must occur to transform a traditional church into a dramatic growing church:

  1. A contemporary-styled, non-threatening "Seeker Service" must replace the traditional Sunday worship service;
  2. The dress must be casual;
  3. The music must be contemporary, the kind that people hear every day.
  4. The message must be only positive so that saved and unsaved alike can feel better about themselves after a message that often mixes psychology and an uplifting Scripture text;
  5. Church ministries must be geared to meeting needs, with support groups for depression, eating disorders, infertility, homosexuals' family/friends, post-abortion, and marital separation. Warren scoffed at the idea of passing out gospel tracts or going door-to-door since the typical "Saddleback Sam" is offended by such old-fashioned evangelism;
  6. Doctrinal instruction is not given to the church as a whole on Sundays, but is available in sub-groups apart from formal church services;
  7. A spirit of pragmatic compromise must prevail. Warren said, "It really doesn't matter your denomination, folks. We're all on the same team if you love Jesus." [March-April 1998, "Foundation" evangelical magazine]

As the above writer states:

"Warren's book "The Purpose Driven Church" and the related publications of Saddleback's literature ministry have influenced tens of thousands more who have never attended any of his seminars. As Warren indicated in a closing prayer, the impact of the Saddleback experience is extensive: "Thank You that there is a movement, a stealth movement, that's flying beneath the radar, that's changing literally hundreds, even thousands of churches around the world." It is necessary for the faithful believer today to be wary of any "stealth" (camouflaged, secretive) program intended to fly "beneath the radar" in order to avoid detection. For many years now the church growth movement has certainly flown into congregations undetected by thousands of churches worldwide. The onslaught must be detected, the warning must be sounded now!"



The two churches mentioned above fit into the category of "new paradigm" churches striving to alter the method by which churches operate. Megachurches, on the other hand, are as the name suggests, huge collections of satellites that are often cell-based but still headed by a pastor and highly-structured eldership.

Possibly the best example of a megachurch system run using cells is that of Yonggi Cho in Seoul, Korea.

It is a model which has cells as the primary meeting place for all participants but which revolves around the pastor and his vision and teaching for its basic doctrine.

The cells are therefore led by church-appointed elders and all are accountable to the church which has birthed the cells. The more intimate cell meetings are intended as a follow-up to the pastor's weekly sermon, and the leadership structure is intended both to reinforce the pastor's vision (in this case Yonggi Cho) and to enforce compliance with the philosophy and teachings of the church.

One well-researched report makes a comment that is true of the entire cell-church system:

The proponents of this "new church" claim that they wish to mobilize the laity and reduce the burden carried by the clergy. This would be positive. .... However, upon closer inspection, it appears that the CGC system actually centralizes power and authority. It is a highly structured authoritarian system which places the leading, preaching, and teaching function in the hands of a select few, mainly one, "anointed leader"--the Senior Pastor. The Senior Pastor casts his "vision" and then the people are to embrace that "vision" and work to fulfill it. [Quoting from cell-church books]

"The Senior Pastor guides the Church... The clear direction set for the church by the pastor is a mandate for the congregation to focus on one thing alone. As one cell group pastor said to me, 'This one thing we do!'... Pastor Paul Yonggi Cho goes to Prayer Mountain once a year to fast and pray, seeking God's mandate for the church's life for the next twelve months. When he returns from that time with the Lord, the goals which are given to him are printed and framed. These framed statements are then hung on every wall of every church worker on the staff. All is in perfect focus, and everything done by every person is directed toward meeting that objective." [From "Where Do We Go From Here" Ralph Neighbour p 76]

"The Senior Pastor is over the entire home cell system. He is continually giving the vision and motivating the District Pastors, Sectional Pastors, and Lay Pastors in ministry. Through sermons and communications he is actively recruiting lay people into ministry. He sees that they are given the proper training and supervision to be successful. The Senior Pastor's heart must be in the home cell ministry if it is to be effective. This is one ministry that cannot be handed over to someone else and forgotten". ["20/20 Vision" Dale Galloway p 128]

"Every Friday the Senior Pastor receives a detailed report of attendance, number of visitors, converts, contacts made, and how the district is doing on its goals from each of the District Pastors. The District Pastor makes up his report from the sum totals of all the reports that come in from the TLC group meetings. On Friday as Senior Pastor I know exactly how many people attended a TLC group meeting for the week. I pay close attention to these reports which let me know how we're doing on the reaching of our goals for the year". [20/20 p 149]

"In their weekly report sheets, our TLC leaders are required to tell us how much time has been spent in each of these three activities (Sharing, Conversational Prayer, and Application of Bible). We monitor this to see that our groups are kept balanced." [20/20 p 112 ]

In Dale Galloway's 20/20 Vision plan, the only power a lay person is truly afforded is the power to serve the vision. ...It is clear that the "successful" churches used as model examples, (e.g., Dale Galloway's, Paul (David) Yonggi Cho's), are strictly guided by the Senior Pastor. It is their "vision" which must be realized; anyone who questions the "vision" or authority of the Senior Pastor is released; anyone who fails to live up to the conditions required for service on staff, paid or not, is disciplined and soon released if not brought into compliance. The possibility that the "vision" of the leadership could be in error and appropriately confronted by the laity is never considered. It seems that loyalty to leadership is the real glue that holds the CGC together." [Church Growth Through Cell Churches]

Since the entire structure of Yonggi Cho's church is bound and constrained by the man's vision-casting, then we should consider what Cho's vision really is. As many before me have already pointed out (Dave Hunt report, PDF download) David Yonggi Cho's teaching is based on mystical, Word-of-Faith and Buddhist-like heresies. Hank Hanegraaff, in "Christianity in Crisis", claims Cho's teaching "is nothing short of occultism..." and "a departure from historic Christian theology..." (p.353)

Yonggi Cho's most famous book is entitled "The Fourth Dimension" in which he claims that a fourth dimension exists in which ALL supernatural and spiritual activities take place, regardless of source. Our task as Christians, he says, is to control and manipulate that dimension, as Jesus did, --- by our words and imaginations, through dreams and visions. He says:

"You create the presence of Jesus with your mouth. If you speak about salvation, the saving Jesus appears. If you speak about divine healing, then you will have the healing Christ in your congregation. If you speak the miracle performing Jesus, then the presence of the miracle performing Jesus is released. He is bound by your lips and by your words. He is depending on you." Fourth Dimension, (page 83)


Another megachurch with a cell group methodology is Faith Community Baptist. headed by Lawrence Khong.

The church began in 1986 and transitioned to the cell group strategy in 1988. Lawrence Khong (who trained at Dallas Theological Seminary) was fired from his church in 1986 and thus began Faith Community Baptist Church based on the Yonggi Cho model for church growth.

The vision of this church is primarily that of expansion, growth and NUMBERS; people stand at the doors of the church with "number clickers" to count every person. It is also fully committed to the "paradigm shift" in thinking about the global church, whereby the entire philosophy of "church" changes. Khong begins every Cell Conference he leads by proclaiming: "There is a heaven and earth difference; an east and west difference between a CHURCH WITH CELLS and a CELL GROUP CHURCH". This statement has become a major landmark of Khong's teaching about the CellChurch.

According to this way of thinking, the small groups that some tack on to their existing structure "merely amount to one more program to compete with all of the other programs which typically exist in a traditional program-based-design church." In the Cell Church, on the other hand, "the cell is the essential basic Christian community of the church."

Sandy Simpson reports::

Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) has a web site which has claimed gold teeth miracles, visions, dreams, etc. in their organization. .... When Rodney Howard-Browne and Robert Schuller visited Singapore many pastors, including those from FCBC went to their meetings. ...As for FCBC, their origins are from pastor Lawrence Khong who was "sacked" from Grace Baptist for reported "unorthodox and heretical positions". Then he and his followers started FCBC and he even visited Paul Yonggi Cho in Korea and brought many of their methods to FCBC (this is reported in their own web site). The membership of FCBC is now 5,000 to 8,000 (undisclosed). [from]

The Singapore FCBC model "cell group" I attended had no Bible study at all, and I am told they don't do that. The time is spent on a formatted schedule singing some innocuous songs, playing certain types of games to get people to loosen up, sharing time which may or may not include a shallow discussion of the pastor's sermon on Sunday, prayer in a circle holding hands, food, etc. The question asked in the sharing time I attended was "What is your spiritual gift(s)?" We were supposed to tell what our spiritual gift(s) were as we went around in a circle. [from]

Bethany World Prayer Center Larry Stockstill

Bethany World Prayer Center led by Larry Stockstill is a cell-based church with over 700 cells in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It uses an outreach called the Bethany Cell Church Network as a support ministry to spread its message about the cell structure of the Church.

And the message is a radical and total one. In his book "The Cell Church" Stockstill writes "A paradigm controls how we interpret what we see and experience. It consists of a whole set of perspective shifts, which usually require effort and a stretch to perceive things differently, leading to a paradigm-shift".[9] ... A commentator continues:

"Has your perspective for doing church changed? Has your vision moved from the position of the traditional twentieth century "program-based-design" church? Have you truly experienced the paradigm-shift that is required in order to see the cells as "the church"? I believe most CellChurch visionaries may indeed be looking in the (right) direction ... But, without consensus among CellChurch visionaries for identifying and then implementing a standarized system of the structure and strategy of a 'pure' CellChurch, this CellChurch movement may never be realized! Yes, understanding our CellChurch system requires a paradigm-shift. [A Paradigm Shift is Required by Richard R. Diefenderfer, Jr.]

Bethany World Prayer Center, with more than 8,000 Sunday worshippers and 2 million-dollar annual mission’s budget, is an influence we cannot ignore. Their annual cell church conference attracts more than 1500 pastors and key leaders, all eager to learn how to implement the cell church "paradigm" in their own churches.

In his book, "The Cell Church", Stockstill lists many leading cell-church leaders and models as his influences and he has cherry-picked from all of them. He lists Ralph Neighbour, Laurence Khong, Yonggi Cho, the Elim Church in El Salvador and the G12 principles from the International Charismatic Mission in Colombia.

Once again, the key to success is choosing, training and employing loyal leaders to herd your flock. The theme of Leadership Development dominates "The Cell Church" book.

Chapter eight of the book offers seven key principles of the “Bogota Model” or “G-12 Model” of cells. This is now the chosen cell-church model for Bethany, and the one it promotes on its websites. So we now turn to consideration of the G12 or "Government of Twelve" model.

continue  Part Nine: The G12 Model


(2) Calvary Contender, December 15, 1995
(3) "Reflections - Journey to Willow Creek" by Gordon Miller. at
(4) "Treachery At Willow Creek" October 17, 2000
(5) Plains Baptist Challenger, 1/96, p. 5
(6) "Rediscovering Church", Lynne and Bill Hybels, ZonderVan 1995 p 149
(7) Ibid: p 151
(8) Ibid p. 138
(9) The Cell Church; Larry Stockstill; Regal Books; Ventura, California, 1998 p30

© 1995-2013 Tricia Tillin of Banner Ministries. All rights reserved. Cross+Word Website:  This document is the property of its author and is not to be displayed on other websites, redistributed, sold, reprinted, or reproduced in printed in any other format without permission. Websites may link to this article, if they provide proper title and author information. One copy may be downloaded, stored and/or printed for personal research. All spelling and phraseology is UK English.