The leaders of the Willow Creek Association Canada and the International Centre for Leadership Development and Evangelism have decided it’s better to work together than to act as seperate entities. In December the two organizations, dedicated to helping churches in Canada mature and grow, merged as The Leadership Centre/Willow Creek Canada and are planning several intiatives, including an April 20 conference in Kelowna lead by Bill Hybels, the founder of the now famous Willow Creek Church.
The International Centre for Leadership Development and Evangelism — commonly known as the Leadership center — based in Winfield, BC was started by John Baergen in 1992, as a Canadian branch of the Fuller Centre in California. Willow Creek Canada is the Canadian branch of the Willow Creek Association run by Willow Creek Church in Chicago under Hybels.
The two organizations were doing many of the same things, had very similar goals and were often co-operating, said Centre spokesman Scott Cochrane. So they began a year ago to talk and pray about a merger. The Willow Creek Canada office in Ontario was closed and one staff member chose to move out West. There will still be a representative in Ontario.
Tim Schroeder, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Kelowna, chairman of the board of WCA Canada and on occasion a speaker at Leadership Centre conferences, says both organizations have played an important role for him and his church.
“This merger is really an answer to my prayer of how we could unite the strengths of these two groups and benefit the churches of Canada even more,” says the pastor.
The suggestion that the two organizations should work together first came from Calgary pastor Henry Schorr.
“We were trying to reach the same target audience with the same message and resources,” said Baergen, who heads up the combined operation. “In doing so, however, we created the impression that we were competing with each other.”
After looking at many alternatives to cooperate and many better use of scarce dollars, they decided a complete merger would be best. The new organization is be associated with but independent from the Willow Creek Association in the US.
In this respect history is repeating itself. When Baergen left Sherwood Park Alliance Church in Edmonton and started the Canadian branch of the Fuller Centre in 1992, his organization was associated with the US parent started by Charles E. Fuller, a pioneering evangelist best known for his radio programs. However in 1994 the Fuller Centre closed down and Baergen continued on his own. (Fuller also founded the Fuller Institute, which still operates.)
These organizations develop and distribute resource materials and put on seminars across the country to help church leaders mature, develop and fine-tune their ministries.
In the past several years the Leadership Centre has been particularly keen on Natural Church Development a program developed by Christian Schwarz in Germany. It rests on the idea that churches need to concentrate on depth and maturity in their leadership and congregation as a basis for growth, rather than focusing on numbers.
“Churches have always wanted a way of measuring themselves,” Cochrane said. “NCD gives them a tool to measure their health.”
By asking the right questions Natural Church Development helps a church determine what its strengths and weaknesses are in eight critical areas such as evangelism, teaching, children’s, adult and small group ministries. Resources can then be allocated to concentrate on making improvements in the weakest areas.
The new association has 16 staff members and about 300 churches across Canada have taken out memberships which cost $250 annually.
The vision is to foster what Hybels calls a prevailing church in every city in Canada, Baergen says.
“What is compelling us towards this vision,” he says. “Quite simply it is driven by our renewed sense of urgency that we must be about the Father’s business as we equip and empower churches to reach the world for Christ.”
Hybels will be speaking in Kelowna April 20 and 21. His topics include the critical importance of leadership, turning vision into action, defining the focus of a prevailing church and developing an enduring spirit. It costs $119 for attendants of member churches and $139 for anyone else.