Bill Hybels

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Bill Hybels
Bill hybels photo.jpg
Born (1951-12-12) December 12, 1951 (age 67)
Kalamazoo, Michigan, U.S.
OccupationAuthor, Minister
SpouseLynne Hybels (m. 1974)
ChildrenShauna Niequist
Todd Hybels

William Hybels (born December 12, 1951) is an American church figure and author. He is the founding and former senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, one of the most attended churches in North America, with an average attendance of nearly 24,000 as of late 2018.[1] He is the founder of the Willow Creek Association and creator of the Global Leadership Summit. Hybels is also an author of a number of Christian books, especially on the subject of Christian leadership. Previously slated to step down in October 2018, Hybels resigned early after allegations of sexual misconduct were made against him, though he has denied all allegations. A six-month long independent review found the allegations to be credible.

Early life and education[edit]

Hybels was born and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He is Dutch-American and was a regular participant in the Christian Reformed Church in North America which holds to Calvinist Theology. Hybel's father was an entrepreneur in wholesale produce whose work ethic is the model for his son. In a 2006 interview with the Chicago Tribune, he pointed to an experience at a Wisconsin summer camp as a teenager that crystallized his understanding and personal embrace of Christian belief. Hybels holds a bachelor's degree in Biblical Studies from Trinity International University, near Chicago, and an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from TIU's Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. [2]

Hybels and Willow Creek Community Church[edit]

In the early 1970s, Hybels was studying at Trinity International University (then called Trinity College) when Gilbert Bilezikian, a lecturer, challenged the class about an Acts 2-based church. Hybels was captivated with the vision and abandoned his business aspirations for ministry.

In 1971, Hybels—then serving as youth pastor at Park Ridge's South Park Church—started a youth group with friend Dave Holmbo called 'Son City'.[3][4] Modern music, dramatic skits and multimedia were combined with Bible studies in relevant language, and the group grew from 25 to 1,200 in just three years.

After 300 youth waited in line to be led to Christ in a service in May 1974, Hybels and other leaders began dreaming of forming a new church. They surveyed the community to find out why people weren't coming to church. Common answers included: "church is boring", "they're always asking for money", or "I don't like being preached down to." These answers shaped the group's approach to the new church.[5]

On October 12, 1975, the group held its first service in Palatine's Willow Creek Theater. One hundred and twenty-five people attended the service. The rent and other costs were paid for with 1,200 baskets of tomatoes, sold door-to-door by 100 teenagers. Hybels spoke on "New Beginnings."[6] Within two years, the church had grown to 2,000.

Challenges in 1979 led to a recommissioning of the church's vision to be broader and deeper than before. Hybels apologized for the example of his relentless schedule and overemphasis on grace. "We've set up all our leadership structures and goals to grow a full functioning Acts 2 community, as opposed to just an evangelizing machine that doesn't drive the roots down deep and do all the other things it's supposed to do."[7]

In 1981, the church moved to its current location in South Barrington. By 2000, six services were being held each weekend for 15,000 attendees in a 352,000-square-foot (32,700 m2) building.[8] In 2004, a new Worship Center was opened. With a capacity of more than 7,000, the state-of-the-art auditorium is one of the largest theaters in the United States. The church currently[when?] averages 24,000 attendees per week, making it the third-largest church in America.

Willow Creek Community Church has become well known as the prototypical megachurch, with contemporary worship, drama and messages focused toward both Christians and those exploring the Christian faith. Willow Creek's three weekend services were more "seeker sensitive", but have now become less so, since the "Reveal Study" which showed members desiring a deeper dive focused on scripture and spiritual growth. In September 2011, Willow brought an even deeper dive into scripture by promoting Shane Farmer as Discipleship Director, and having him lead the mid-week experience, meeting on Wednesday evenings. After Shane moved to another location, Dr. Gary Burge of Wheaton College taught at the Midweek services until 2017.

On July 1, 2010, Hybels introduced President Barack Obama for a speech on immigration reform.[9]

Hybels and the Willow Creek Association[edit]

In 1992 Hybels launched the Willow Creek Association (WCA) to link like-minded, action-oriented churches with each other and with strategic vision, training, and resources. Hybels is currently chairman of the board for the WCA. Hybels said, "When God transforms the life of just one leader, that leader can transform a church. When one church is transformed, you can transform a community. And when enough churches are thriving, you can affect a region, a country, and eventually the entire world with the positive, life-changing power of Jesus Christ and the redeeming and restoring work of his people."[10]

The WCA, led by Tom De Vries since August 2017 (formerly led by Gary Schwammlein, Jim Mellado), believes the effectiveness of a local church is largely dependent upon the sold-out, Christ-centered devotion of its leadership core. Whether staff or volunteers, the whole church benefits when leaders develop themselves spiritually and personally. The WCA exists to help churches thrive.

Willow Creek leadership and Hybels' role[edit]

Hybels was not heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the church between mid-2006 to 2008. Gene Appel served as lead pastor of the South Barrington Campus from mid-2006 until Easter 2008.[11] Appel's role allowed Hybels the ability to serve a more direct role in the Willow Creek Association. Hybels frequently traveled abroad, teaching church leaders how to manage and direct their congregations in more effective ways. He maintained a regular teaching schedule at Willow Creek. Hybels believes that "the local church is the hope of the world," and that is evident in his work around the globe.

While the Global Leadership Summit is Willow Creek Association's anchor event each year, it is just one of the many developmental tools and resources available to church leaders through the WCA.

The Global Leadership Summit[edit]

Hybels started the Global Leadership Summit (hosted by the WCA) in 1995 as an annual training event for church, ministry and other leaders to sharpen their skills. The Global Leadership Summit exists to transform Christian leaders around the world with an injection of vision, skill development, and inspiration for the sake of the local church. The summit telecasts live from the campus of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, reaching more than 185 premier host sites across the United States. In the months following, the Summit moves into more than 200 cities in 70-plus countries across the globe, via videocast. Summit 2010 attracted 122,000 leaders. That year Fast Company featured an article on Willow Creek and the Global Leadership Summit.[12]

Misconduct allegations and resignation[edit]

On March 23, 2018, the Chicago Tribune published an article detailing allegations of sexual misconduct by Hybels spanning decades. The article reported that Hybels had engaged in a prolonged affair with a married woman; however, this allegation was retracted by the woman herself. The Tribune wrote that the elders of Willow Creek had conducted an internal review of Hybels' behavior which led to no findings of misconduct; following this report, at least three leaders of the Willow Creek Association board reportedly resigned their posts because they believed the inquiry to have been insufficient. All accusations have been denied by Hybels.[13]

Hybels had planned to retire in October 2018 to focus his energy on the Willow Creek Association. On April 10, 2018, Hybels announced that he was resigning effective immediately, stating he didn't want to be a distraction to the church's ministry. He also announced that he would leave the board of the Willow Creek Association and would no longer lead Willow Creek's Global Leadership Summit.[14]

On April 21, 2018, the Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today reported more misconduct allegations not included in the initial investigation. In response, the Willow Creek elders stated their intent to examine reports regarding "allegations that have not been previously investigated by the Elder Board." The elders said they would seek wise counsel and work with experts, developing a collaborative process.[15]

Despite its initial denial and defense of Hybels, the Willow Creek Board of Elders released a statement on May 9, 2018, as part of their second investigation into allegations against him; the statement indicated that the Board "[does] not believe the stories were all lies or that all the [accusers] were colluding against him."[16]

On August 5, 2018, The New York Times published allegations from a former employee of Hybels, who alleges that he repeatedly sexually harassed her in the 1980s, including fondling her breasts and obtaining oral sex. The complainant only came forward after hearing of the other allegations against Hybels, but crucially has contemporaneous evidence of her allegations from people that she confided in at the time. Hybels has denied the allegations.[17]

On August 7, 2018, Steve Carter, one of the two lead pastors who would have taken over leadership at Willow Creek and who had publicly defended Hybels on two prior occasions, tendered his resignation, citing the untenable position he was in given the church's inadequate attention to the matter once Hybels' history of misconduct became known. The following day, on the eve of the Global Leadership Summit, Heather Larson, the other lead pastor, also resigned, and the members of the elder board all stated they would step down by the end of the year.[18] Steve Gillen, lead pastor of Willow Creek's North Shore campus, assumed interim leadership as the church rebuilt. The church undertook a process to replace the elder board, and announced on January 19, 2019 that a new elder board had been installed after an extensive search and vetting process.[19]

In March 2019, The Washington Post reported that a six-month independent review by four evangelical leaders found the misconduct allegations against Hybels to be credible. The reviewers asserted that were Hybels still pastor at Willow Creek, disciplinary action would be required.[20][21]


Books which Hybels has authored or made a contribution to include:

  • Authenticity: Being Honest with God and Others (and Kevin Harney) (Zondervan, 1996) – ISBN 978-0-310-26588-7
  • Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs (Zondervan, 2008) – ISBN 978-0-310-27236-6
  • Becoming a Contagious Christian (and Mark Mittelberg) (Zondervan, 1996) – ISBN 978-0-310-21008-5
  • Character: Reclaiming Six Endangered Qualities (and Kevin Harney) (Zondervan, 1997) – ISBN 978-0-310-26602-0
  • Christians in a Sex-Crazed Culture (Scripture Press Publications, 1989) ISBN 978-0896934955
  • Commitment: Developing Deeper Devotion to Christ (and Kevin Harney) (Zondervan, 1996) – ISBN 0-310-26595-9
  • Community: Building Relationships Within God's Family (and Kevin Harney) (Zondervan, 1996) – ISBN 0-310-26591-6
  • Courageous Faith Through the Year (and Keri Wyatt Kent) (InterVarsity Press, 2004) – ISBN 978-0-8308-3294-1
  • Courageous Leadership (Zondervan, 2002) – ISBN 978-0-310-24823-1
  • Descending Into Greatness (Zondervan, 1993) – ISBN 978-0-310-54471-5
  • Engraved on Your Heart: Living the Ten Commandments Day by Day (Cook Communications, 2000) – ISBN 0-7814-3396-7
  • Essential Christianity: Practical Steps for Spiritual Growth (and Kevin Harney) (Zondervan, 2005) – ISBN 978-0-310-26604-4
  • Finding God in the Storms of Life (Inter-varsity Press, 2002) – ISBN 978-0-8308-6546-8
  • Fit to be Tied: Making Marriage Last a Lifetime (and Lynne Hybels) (Zondervan, 1991) – ISBN 978-0-310-53371-9
  • Fruit of the Spirit: Living the Supernatural Life (and Kevin Harney) (Zondervan, 1998) – ISBN 978-0-310-26596-2
  • Getting a Grip: Finding Balance in Your Daily Life (and Kevin Harney) (Zondervan, 1998) – ISBN 978-0-310-26605-1
  • Holy Discontent: Fueling the Fire That Ignites Personal Vision (Zondervan, 2007) – ISBN 978-0-310-27228-1
  • Honest to God? Becoming an Authentic Christian (Zondervan, 1990) – ISBN 978-0-310-52181-5
  • How to Hear God (InterVarsity Press, 1999) – ISBN 0-8308-6559-4)
  • James: Live Wisely (Zondervan, 1999) – ISBN 978-0-310-22767-0
  • Jesus: Seeing Him More Clearly (and Kevin Harney) (Zondervan, 2005) – ISBN 978-0-310-26597-9
  • Just Walk Across the Room: Simple Steps Pointing People to Faith (Zondervan, 2006) – ISBN 978-0-310-26669-3
  • Lessons on Love: Building Deeper Relationships (and Kevin Harney) Zondervan, 2005) – ISBN 0-310-26593-2
  • Living in God's Power: Finding God's Strength for Life's Challenges (and Kevin Harney) (Zondervan, 2005) ISBN 0-310-26606-8
  • Love in Action: Experiencing the Joy of Serving (and Kevin Harney) (Zondervan, 2005) – ISBN 978-0-310-26607-5
  • Making Life Work: Putting God's Wisdom Into Action (Inter-varsity Press, 1998) – ISBN 978-0-8308-1788-7
  • Marriage: Building Real Intimacy (and Kevin Harney) (Zondervan, 2005) – ISBN 0-310-26589-4
  • Meeting God: Psalms for the Highs and Lows of Life (and Kevin Harney) (Zondervan, 2005) – ISBN 978-0-310-26599-3
  • New Identity: Discovering Who You Are in Christ (and Kevin Harney) (Zondervan, 2005) – ISBN 0-310-26594-0
  • Parenting: How to Raise Spiritually Healthy Kids (and Kevin Harney) (Zondervan, 2005) – ISBN 978-0-310-26590-0
  • 1 Peter: Stand Strong (Zondervan, 1999) – ISBN 978-0-310-22773-1
  • Philippians: Run the Race. (Zondervan, 1999) – ISBN 978-0-310-23314-5
  • Prayer: Opening Your Heart to God (and Kevin Harney) (Zondervan, 2005) – ISBN 978-0-310-26600-6
  • Reaching Out: Sharing God's Love Naturally (and Kevin Harney) (Zondervan, 2005) – ISBN 0-310-26592-4
  • Rediscovering Church: The Story and Vision of Willow Creek Community Church (and Lynne Hybels) (Zondervan, 1997) – ISBN 978-0-310-21927-9
  • Revelation: Experience God's Power (Zondervan, 2001) – ISBN 0-310-22882-4)
  • Romans: Find Freedom (Zondervan, 1999) – ISBN 978-0-310-22765-6
  • Sermon on the Mount 1: Connect with God (Zondervan, 2001) – ISBN 0-310-22883-2)
  • Sermon on the Mount 2: Connect with Others (Zondervan, 2001) – ISBN 0-310-22884-0
  • Significance: Understanding God's Purpose for Your Life (and Kevin Harney) (Zondervan, 2005) – ISBN 0-310-26603-3
  • Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul (Tyndale Momentum, 2014) – ISBN 978-1-414-39122-9
  • Tender Love: God's Gift of Sexual Intimacy (Moody Publications, 1993) – ISBN 978-0802463494
  • The Pastor's Guide to Personal Spiritual Formation (and Reginald Johnson, Neil B. Wiseman) (Beacon Hill Press, 2004) – ISBN 0-8341-2209-X)
  • The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God, Having the Guts to Respond (Zondervan, 2010) – ISBN 978-0-310-32074-6
  • The Real Deal: Discover the Rewards of Authentic Relationships (and Kevin Harney) (Zondervan, 2005) – ISBN 0-310-26601-7
  • The Real You (Zondervan, 1996) – ISBN 978-0-310-20682-8
  • The Volunteer Revolution (Zondervan, 2004) – ISBN 978-0-310-25238-2
  • Too Busy Not to Pray (InterVarsity Press, 1994) – ISBN 978-0-8308-2004-7
  • Transformation: Letting God Change You from the Inside Out (and Kevin Harney) (Zondervan, 2005) – ISBN 978-0-310-26598-6
  • Transparency (Zondervan, 1997) – ISBN 978-0-310-21715-2
  • When Leadership and Discipleship Collide (Zondervan, 2007) ISBN 978-0-310-28306-5
  • Who You Are When No One's Looking (InterVarsity Press, 1995) – ISBN 978-0-8308-2003-0


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "As Christmas nears, Willow Creek hopes for a fresh start". Religion News Service. December 19, 2018. Retrieved January 9, 2019.
  2. ^ Manya A., Brachear (August 6, 2006). "REV. BILL HYBELS: The father of Willow Creek". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  3. ^ Journal/ASCG Vol.11, Spg 2000 - Reid Archived April 7, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ News at Willow Creek Community Church Archived September 26, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "Interview with Bill Hybels: May 2007" (PDF). Servant. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 12, 2007. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  6. ^ "Community Is Their Middle Name - Christianity Today magazine -". Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  7. ^ Rediscovering Church, Bill and Lynne Hybels (Zondervan, 1997)
  8. ^ Willow Creek Community Church Archived February 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Bill and Barack's Immigration Adventure: Hybels introduces Obama". Archived from the original on July 3, 2015. Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  10. ^ "About the Willow Creek Association". Retrieved November 7, 2015.
  11. ^ "From the Elders of Willow Creek". January 26, 2008. Archived from the original on January 31, 2008. Retrieved February 2, 2008.
  12. ^ Chu, Jeff How Willow Creek Is Leading Evangelicals by Learning from the Business World Fast Company December 6, 2010
  13. ^ Pashman, Manya Brachear; Coen, Jeff (March 23, 2018). "After years of inquiries, Willow Creek pastor denies misconduct allegations". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  14. ^ Bailey, Sarah Pulliam (April 11, 2018). "Megachurch pastor Bill Hybels resigns from Willow Creek after women allege misconduct". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  15. ^ Smietana, Bob (April 21, 2018). "Willow Creek Promises Investigation Amid New Allegations Against Bill Hybels". Christianity Today. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  16. ^ "Elder Update". Archived from the original on May 11, 2018. Retrieved May 10, 2018.
  17. ^ "He's a Superstar Pastor. She Worked for Him and Says He Groped Her Repeatedly". Retrieved August 5, 2018.
  18. ^ "Illinois: church leadership steps down after sexual harassment allegations". The Guardian. August 9, 2018. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  19. ^ "Process Update: January 19 - 2019 Elder Board". Willow Creek Community Church. Willow Creek Community Church. Retrieved March 30, 2019.
  20. ^
  21. ^ Independent Advisory Group (February 28, 2019). "Report of the Independent Advisory Group" (PDF). Willow Creek Community Church. Retrieved March 30, 2019.

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