Willow Creek Community Church

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Willow Creek Community Church
Country United States
Denomination Non-Denominational, Evangelical Christian
Website www.willowcreek.org
Founder(s) Bill Hybels
Senior pastor(s) Bill Hybels

Willow Creek Community Church (or simply Willow Creek Church) is a non-denominational, multi-generational Evangelical Christian megachurch located in the Chicago suburb of South Barrington, Illinois. It was founded on October 12, 1975 by Bill Hybels, who is currently the senior pastor. The church has three weekend services averaging 24,000 attendees, making it the third-largest church in the United States (this ranking includes multi-site churches).[1] The church has been listed as the most influential church in America the last several years in a national poll of pastors.[2]


Bill Hybels

Willow Creek Community Church started when Bill Hybels and Dave Holmbo[3] were inspired by the success of the South Park Church’s youth ministry, of which they were both leaders (Dave had invited Bill to work with him a few years earlier), and aspired to start a church that used relevant biblical teaching, music, and drama. On October 12, 1975, the church met for the first time, renting Willow Creek Theater in Palatine, Illinois. Gilbert Bilezikian was Hybels's theological mentor at this time.[4] In 1977, the church purchased 90 acres (360,000 m2) in South Barrington to build its own building. The first service was held in the new building in February 1981. Since then, the building has been doubled in size and the property expanded to 155 acres (0.63 km2). The changes included a new worship center with more than 7,000 seats, which replaces the 4,500-seat Lakeside Auditorium. There are now ministries designed to serve a variety of needs for different age and people groups.[5]


Willow Creek Community Church states that its mission is to "turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ." The church bases its belief on the Bible, asserting it to be inspired by God, inerrant, infallible, and the final authority on matters which it covers. Based on its understanding of the Bible, the church then draws the following conclusions:

  • There is one God, eternally existing in three persons— Father, Son, and Holy Spirit— each possessing all the attributes of Deity.
  • Humans were created by God to have fellowship with Him, but due to their rejection of God, they need His saving grace, which must be received by repentance and faith, in order to end the separation from Him.
  • Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth and then voluntarily paid for the sin of humans with His death on the cross. This payment offers salvation for those who believe in Jesus. He rose from the dead and is the mediator between us and God. Christ will return to the earth to consummate history.
  • Worship is not only done by singing, but the lifespan should be devoted to Christianity. In addition, it is believed that worship is done by everyday activity.
  • The Holy Spirit draws sinners to Christ and equips believers for personal growth and service to the church.
  • The church's role is to glorify God and serve those in need.
  • At the end, everyone will experience bodily resurrection and the judgment. Those forgiven through Christ will enjoy eternal fellowship with God.

Church organization[edit]

Willow Creek Community Church's leadership is divided into three sections:

  • Teaching Pastors
  • Board of Governance (includes Elders)
  • Leadership Team

In addition to the South Barrington central campus, Willow Creek has 6 "regional congregations" around the Chicago area:

Willow Creek has different ministries depending on the age of the person:

The church holds three weekend services and a midweek service on Wednesdays. The slogan for Willow Creek and their regional congregations is "One Church. Multiple Locations." The regional congregations each have their own worship team, student ministries, children’s program, and campus pastoral team. The main message is videocast from the South Barrington campus for the weekly services.

Aside from the suburban congregations, beginning October 1, 2006, the church has held one Sunday service before matinee performances at the Auditorium Theatre just south of the Chicago Loop. The church will also use its downtown presence to develop its ministries for the homeless and prostitutes.[6]

Willow Creek Association[edit]

In 1992, the Willow Creek Association was created as a way to link together churches for the purpose of “Reaching increasing numbers of lost people." The WCA develops training and leadership conferences and resources for its member churches. The Willow Creek Association is often confused with Willow Creek Community Church, or mistaken for a denomination. However, it is a distinctly separate organization which has close affiliations with Willow Creek Community Church. There are more than 13,000 member churches, which come from 90 denominations, and 45 different countries. There is an annual membership fee of $249 which gives the member church access to discounts on Willow Creek Resources and conferences, as well as a magazine, an audio journal, several web-based ministry tools, and a variety of Select Service Providers. Select Service Providers are ministries and organizations that provide products and services to member churches for a discounted price.[7]

To be a member of WCA it is a requirement that the member church, ministry, or leader hold to an “historic, orthodox understanding of biblical Christianity.”

Since 1995, Willow Creek Association has held an annual Leadership Summit. Speakers at the Leadership Summit have included President Bill Clinton,[8] Karen Hughes, who served as Special Advisor to former President George W. Bush, Lady Vols' women's college Basketball coach Pat Summitt, Dallas, Texas pastor Bishop T.D. Jakes, business consultant and author Jim Collins, University of Southern California president Steven Sample, Yahoo!'s Tim Sanders, business author and leadership consultant Marcus Buckingham, and Rick Warren, pastor and author of The Purpose Driven Life. The 2005 Leadership Summit had over 53,000 attendees in over 100 locations across North America.[9] The 2006 Leadership Summit featured Bill Hybels interviewing U2 frontman Bono.

The 2007 Leadership Summit served 80,000 leaders in over 130 cities. Speakers included Colin Powell, Jimmy Carter, John Ortberg, Richard Curtis, Reo Anderson, Carly Fiorina, Michael E. Porter, Marcus Buckingham and Willow Creek Community Church's Senior Pastor, Bill Hybels.[10]

Worship Center[edit]

Willow Creek's state-of-the-art Worship Center (completed in 2004 at an estimated cost of $73 million)[11] seats 7,095 people, making it over twice as large as the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and one of the largest auditoriums in the United States.[12]

It was the first church in the world to make use of two Mitsubishi Diamond Vision high-definition LED screens 14'x 24' in size, usually seen in new sports stadiums. Each screen is movable on its own track system and can be combined into one giant screen. The Worship Center also has innovative dual, stacked-deck balconies.

The auditorium also contains a 94 ft by 57 ft stage, a catwalk 47 ft above the floor, 481 light fixtures, an adjustable height lighting rack, and took so long to complete, the hours were incalculable.

Wheelchair seating has a "1 person to 1 LCD ratio" for disabled attendees. Back rows have 62-inch (1.6 m) LCD screens at an approximate "10 seats to 1 LCD ratio." Every TV broadcasts the service across the room utilizing 8–12 standard definition cameras. Although the room is HD ready, only one HD camera is currently used for weekly services.

Notable members[edit]

  • Lee Strobel, New-York-Times-bestselling Christian author, was a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church from 1987 to 2000.
  • Shawn Christopher, a popular dance-music vocalist, leads worship at Willow Creek's weekend services.
  • The Christian rock/Contemporary Christian music group BarlowGirl is associated with Willow Creek. The Barlow sisters' father, Vince Barlow, created youth CDs at Willow Creek. His work gained exposure throughout the United States, and he was hired to perform at events.[13] He brought his daughters as his backup band in the late 1990s.[14]
  • David Anderson was an intern at Willow in the early 1990s.[15] Anderson is the founding and senior pastor of Bridgeway Community Church, and world-renowned expert and author on diversity and race relations. Bridgeway hosted Bill Hybels at its 10th and 20th Anniversary banquets in 2002 and 2012.[16]


  1. ^ "Willow creek", Church, Believe .
  2. ^ Vaughan, John N., "America's 50 Most Influential Churches", The Church Report, archived from the original on 2009-01-30 .
  3. ^ Tribute, CMM link .
  4. ^ McClymond, Michael J (2004), Embodying the Spirit: New Perspectives on North American Revivalism, p. 317, Also unclear historically is the role played by theology professor Gilbert Bilezikian, Hybels's theological mentor, during the... 
  5. ^ "History". Willow Creek Community Church. 
  6. ^ Brachear, Manya A. (2006-07-31). "Suburban megachurch readies expansion to Chicago". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2006-07-31. [dead link]
  7. ^ WCA Membership, WCA website
  8. ^ Cutrer, Corrie (2000-08-25). "Clinton Visit Provokes Church Members". Christianity Today. 
  9. ^ "Leadership conference overview". 
  10. ^ "GLS07 Speaker Lineup". Willow Creek Australia. Archived from the original on 2007-08-31. Retrieved 2007-10-14. 
  11. ^ Stokes, Jim (2005-04-18). "Willow Creek Redefines Worship". Sound & Communications. 
  12. ^ Rybczynski, Witold. "An Anatomy of Megachurches: The new look for places of worship," Slate October 10, 2005.
  13. ^ "BarlowGirl", Music (biography), Yahoo, retrieved March 24, 2008 .
  14. ^ "BarlowGirl", Artist (biography), Your Music Zone, retrieved July 16, 2007 Archived September 26, 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Bridgeway: Our History, retrieved May 19, 2014 
  16. ^ Multicultural Ministry Handbook 

External links[edit]

Willow Creek websites[edit]

Perspectives and analysis[edit]

Books about Willow Creek Community Church[edit]

Coordinates: 42°05′29″N 88°08′03″W / 42.0915°N 88.1343°W / 42.0915; -88.1343