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More on Why Willow Creek and Saddleback and Losing Influence while North Point and are Gaining Influence

Written by Paul Steinbrueck

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Last week I wrote about why I believe Willow Creek and Saddleback and Losing Influence while North Point and are Gaining Influence.  The article ignited a lot of discussion, including the most comments we’ve ever had on a blog post. If you haven’t read it, where have you been?  Click and get reading!

Thanks to all of you who joined in the conversation.  Thanks in particular to all of you at Willow Creek, Saddleback, North Point, and folks who added your insight to the post.  It’s been a fascinating discussion.

Based on your comments, there are 4 areas I want to address.  (And sorry to disappoint some of you, but Reveal is not one of them.)

1) There’s a difference between being on social media and using it exceptionally well.

There were a few comments from Willow and Saddleback folks that were more or less saying, “Hey, we have blogs and are on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.”  That’s great, but if you have 200 Twitter followers and your posting once or twice a week to a blog and getting maybe a couple comments per post, you’re not in the same league as someone with 5,000 Twitter followers and dozens of comments a day on their blog.

It’s like the difference between being in the minor leagues and being a Major League All-Star.  There’s no shame in being in the minors leagues (I put myself in that category), it’s good start, you’re doing good work, and there’s even the potential to make it to the bigs, but being an All-Star is a whole ‘nother level.

2) There’s a difference between linking to social media and integrating with social media.

This week I’ll be participating in the Willow Creek Leadership Summit from the satellite location here in he Tampa, FL.  This will be the third year that I’ve blogged my notes live, and the first I’ve Twittered.  So, I went to the Summit site several times looking for a blog, chat, twitter profile, and a twitter hashtag for the conference.  I couldn’t find any of that stuff.

It turns out, it was partially my fault.  If you look at the very bottom left of the Summit site, there are little circular icons for Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.  The @leadersummit Twitter profile has 500 followers (modest IMO considering the 50,000+ conference registrations) and it looks like the hashtag #tls09 for the Summit was only announced last week.  But I’m actually quite impressed with the interaction on the Summit Facebook page.  It’s got 2400 fans and more importantly regular updates and quite a few comments.  I was disappointed to hear there will be no blog or chat for the Summit, though.

Now, take a look at the website for the Cultivate Conference, which is a small conference that will take place for the first time this year.   Cultivate has links to Twitter and Facebook built into the site’s navigation menu.  The homepage has links to all the facilitators’ Twitter profiles and it shows the last 5 tweets with the #cultivate09 hashtag.

Also take a look at the Echo Conference website.  It’s got links to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Vimeo at the top of the site.  Plus there’s a blog.  During the conference, someone I follow on Twitter tweeted the URL of the live video feed, and so even though I wasn’t there I was able to see an interview with some of the participants and chat with others watching the interview.  So, using Twitter, a free video feed, and chat, they were able to expand the influence of the conference well beyond its registration totals.

Granted, Cultivate and Echo are tech-related conferences, but the point is they’re ahead of the Summit site in terms of social media integration.

3) Willow Creek and Saddleback are Doing Some Excellent Stuff Online.

I mentioned above the very popular and well-trafficked Summit FB page.

Just yesterday, I got an email from Saddleback for the Life’s Healing Choices campaign.  Here is a screenshot of the page in for the campaign.

They did a great job with it.  There’s a video on the right.  Below the video are links to share the video in various social media sites. They’ve got a Facebook page and Twitter profile for the campaign, they seem to be updating them consistently, and there are lots of comments on the Facebook page.  And as you can see on the screenshot, links to the FB page and Twitter profile are prominently displayed.  Props Saddleback!

Additionally, I give Rick Warren props for giving Twitter a go.  He’s got almost 17,000 twitter followers. And though I think he tweets too many cutesy, church-sign-esque Christian sayings and too few links, retweets, and off-the-cuff comments, I give Rick Warren a lot of credit for actually tweeting himself rather than having someone on staff ghost tweet on his behalf. Authenticity matters in social media and Warren gets that.

4) A Lot of Influence Takes Place Behind the Scenes

I thought Bill Donahue, director of group life at Willow Creek, made some good points in his comments about how Willow Creek is influencing churches behind the scenes.  It’s Leadership Summit is the largest conference for church leaders in the U.S. and the Global Summit will take place in 57 countries this year.  The Willow Creek Association has put a ton of work into building relationships with the pastors and churches at each site and helping them to facilitate each summit location.  Bill Hybels has flown all over the world n an effort to maximize the number of church leaders who will get to participate in the Global Summit this year.

I might see a Christian leader with 10,000 people reading his posts and Tweets, but never know about a Global Summit site in Eastern Europe that serves pastors who minister to 10,000 people in their churches.  And yet whose to say which is more influential?

I’m sure similar things could be said for Saddleback’s website and PEACE plan.

Wrapping it up

So, yes, I still think no churches are influencing the culture and the church through online communiation more than North Point and  And, yes, I still believe Willow Creek and Saddleback have room to improve their online communication.  They certainly have the resources and leadership, it’s just a matter of whether they want to focus on it and make it more of a priority.

Maybe they should, but then again maybe not.  God doesn’t call any individual or church to be great at everything. God calls us all to focus where He’s given us gifts and passions.  And ultimately our goal is not influence but it’s to follow God’s leading in our life each day.

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    About the author

    Paul Steinbrueck

    Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck.


    • Sounds like good advise. Small Churches like myself , have very limited resources, because of limited funding, and numbers. So, I’m still learning about all the tech , out there. I still don’t understand , what is and how to use , “twitter”. I only have internet use for the PC , I have here , at Upper Room Miinistires, Gathering of Friends Fellowship. Please E-mail me at “” the info on this. I still believe, use all the tech out there, if it wasn’t meant to used , it would not exist. They are only tools. The annoiting is still what changes lives in the long run. Have a Jesus-filled Day!! Dr. R. Joseph Milligan/ Pastor/ Apostle; Upper Room Ministries, Gathering of Friends Fellowship

    • I find there is a flip side to blogging and networks.
      Sometimes you may offend/repel as much as you attract.

      When I hit the link to a church you mentioned that was effective in social networking, the first words I saw was his mention of his “hot wife’ in the photo.

      I was turned off. He could of said many kind things about his life partner but his comment extolled the virtue he must find most valuable. I felt he spoke of his wife not as a partner but as a thing, a pretty thing he has. I could not take any words after that with much weight.

      So blogging can be a great way to reach out, but the message should reflect you are a ministry

      His wife is pretty but I want to know about how she is doing Gods work, or is that his job and her place is to be ‘hot’? does he value woman’s leadership for today’s church? I left his site thinking he did not value women beyond their ‘hotness’ factor

      If we are to embrace current technology then let us also progress in our views about women. We are not just ‘Hot” we are on fire to do Gods work and have been given many gifts(including leadership) to do so.

    • Rev. Alexander, I think know what you’re saying. I get turned off when I see Christians using social media to be judgmental towards others instead of exemplifying grace, which is the cornerstone of our Christian faith.

    • I don’t recall the exact quote but it was Larry King, I believe, interviewing Dr. Billy Graham and asked him about his greatness and what he might expect in Heaven for his work. Dr. Graham said, “A missionary serving in one of the dark spots of the globe who has given his life for the Gospel, perhaps not seen many souls for his labor, will so outshine Billy Graham in Heaven…” You get the idea. Dr. Graham was making a point that all ministry is important work that God orders and blesses. Some speak to dozens, some hundreds and some thousands–All of these works are important and necessary. These four ministries you have been discussing and comparing are each great in their own outreach. LifeChurch.TV has a most unusual reach and blesses countless thousands around the USA & world. They give away resources that others might choose to sell. The generous spirit of that pastor and team and congregation is commendable and Christ like. To whom much is given much is required (Luke 12:48). I believe each of these works are attempting to live up to that charge. If there are flaws then we should be reminded that such is common to us mortals–we are each flawed and some more than others. Thanks be to God who has saved us and blesses us with eternal life.

    • OK – so I have read both articles and all the comments. Very few of which seem to be getting to the heart of the issue. I have just recently “given in” (ha ha) and started using Facebook and Twitter. I pastor a church of over 1000 and these two tools have increased my ability to influence and to communicate. It has made me more real to people as they have a chance to see me in the real world during the week and not just on Sunday. These tools are amazing and I look forward to using them more in the future. I wish I hadn’t resisted so long. It was not a matter of not agreeing with the use of technology – it was a matter of one more thing on my plate to keep up with. However they have actually made my job easier in a weird kind of way.

      I want to thank the four churches mentioned because they have each influenced and encouraged me greatly – each in their own ways!

      My thoughts are that both Creek and Back have blazed a trail and influenced others to go where no one else has gone. Great Leadership Principle by the way! It’s not as much about what they are doing but what we are doing to accomplish all that God has called us to do!

      The potential to getting the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the uttermost parts of the world has never been more plausible and exciting.

      PS. I am working on launching my own blog in the next few days and looking forward to that new adventure – bring on the technology!

    • Hey Jeff, thanks for the comment. I love hearing stories of people/churches who took chance on some new communication technology like Facebook, Twitter, or a blog and then found it improved their community and connectedness. That’s really cool.

      If you have the inclination to write more about that, that would make for a great guest blog article here on Christian Web Trends:

      Keep up the good work!

    • It really does boil down to relationship. People want to feel connected to our Father God, His Son, and His Spirit and connected safely to other safe people. I use all the technology available, except Twitter, to stay connected, yet I find it MUCH more rewarding, when I can connect with people in-person. When Paul was in prison, he wrote letters, but his longing was to be with his brothers and sisters in-person.

      It’s wonderful that we have Bodies of Christ out there using their resources to help us. But for those that don’t have the human or financial resources to use all of the technology, they do have God and His people. I want to encourage those people to remember that most all churches started with just those two “ingredients”.

      I’m SO thankful for the unity I’m seeing among churches today, even of different denominations! There is so much we can do if we all work together. We can do more and do it well. Thanks for the article, the research, and the ability to blog AND connect! 🙂

    • We are not a product, we are a faith. We can borrow methods of communicating but we should keep our message in line with our faith .

      I ask our men to speak about women as if God were standing next to them when they type in those words or open their mouth.
      Would you tell God ‘hey want to see a picture of my hot wife?” your wife is God’s child.
      God may find such talk as being ungracious
      If you think the language we use on line is ‘not the point’ and that the size of our on line following is most important then I think you miss the point.

      A large crowd my follow you but where are you leading them?

    • Thanks for the update. As you said; “They certainly have the resources and leadership, it’s just a matter of whether they want to focus on it and make it more of a priority” So its a conscious decision on what to use and how to use it. The problem I had with your original article was that you based the sphere of influence of the use of technology and who was winning that race among the organizations you choose to write about. However, we are all still on the same team serving the same God with the same mission 🙂

    • Rev Alexander, if I was having a cup of coffee with God I just might ask “hey want to see a picture of my hot wife?”

      Just like I might say, “Hey take a look at this beautiful picture of the sunset I took at the beach last weekend!” In my humble opinion I don’t think God would criticize me and say, “Hey I made that sun to bring warmth, light, and energy to plants and animals, and I made those clouds to bring rain to the fields. Stop marveling at their superficial beauty.”