Up willow creek without a paddleRemember when Willow Creek was all the rage? Everyone else began looking to the seeker service as the silver bullet. Yet what they didn’t see was all the foundational work of intentional relationship building before seekers were brought to the service. There was a lot of prayer and all kinds of relational dynamics going on behind the scenes.

But what other churches saw was the seeker service. They grabbed the methodology and ran with it—oftentimes ignoring the principles beneath what Willow Creek was doing. Given the number and quality of the relationships that were formed, any number of surface methods could have been effective—including the seeker service.

One pastor tried in vain to imitate Willow Creek’s seeker service model, until he finally gave up. He concluded, “I was up willow creek without a Hybels.” That was an insightful remark, as he was realizing who he was and who he wasn’t.

This story points to the need for customization. We can’t just take methodologies that others have used effectively and transport them over. Our context may be—and likely is—different than theirs. The gifts and strengths they have may be different. Your culture group may not respond the same way. It’s easier to just look for something we can copy, but it’s unwise to try to universally impose a method or approach.

Instead, the better question to ask is, “What are the principles that are being applied here?” That question can help you find common threads that can help you design processes that will work for you.