Willow Creek Community Church

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Willow Creek Community Church
Willow Creek Church worship 2012.jpg
Worship in 2012
Location67 Algonquin Road, South Barrington, Illinois
CountryUnited States
DenominationNon-denominational, evangelical
Founder(s)Bill Hybels
Pastor(s)Steve Gillen

Willow Creek Community Church is an American non-denominational and multi-generational Evangelical Christian megachurch located in the northwestern Chicago suburb of South Barrington, Illinois. It was founded on October 12, 1975, by Bill Hybels, who was its longtime senior pastor. As of December 2018, the church averages 24,000 attendees each weekend at seven locations[1], making it one of the largest churches in the United States (this ranking includes multi-site churches). Willow Creek has seven locations in the Chicago area, and their Spanish-speaking congregation, Casa de Luz, meets at the South Barrington campus. In 2018, the church's entire senior leadership and elder board resigned, admitting to having mishandled abuse allegations against Hybels. Steve Gillen, the longtime pastor of the church's North Shore campus, was named interim senior pastor in August 2018.



Willow Creek Community Church started when Bill Hybels and Dave Holmbo[2] were inspired by the success of the South Park Church's youth ministry, Son City, of which they were both leaders (Holmbo had invited Hybels 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. Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian was Hybels' theological mentor.[3] 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.[4]

On April 10, 2018, following allegations of sexual abuses, Bill Hybels announced his immediate retirement as senior pastor for the church, initially slated for October.[5] This marked Hybels' first absence from the church since its inception. Hybels received a standing ovation from the church upon making this announcement. [6]

In August 2018, Steve Gillen--the longtime pastor of the church's North Shore campus--was chosen as interim senior pastor.[7]

Misconduct allegations and resignations[edit]

On March 23, 2018, the Chicago Tribune published an article detailing allegations of sexual misconduct by former Senior Pastor Bill Hybels spanning decades, including a prolonged affair with a married woman, though this was retracted by the woman herself. The Tribune wrote that elders of Willow Creek had conducted an internal review of Hybels' behavior which led to no findings of misconduct, leading to the resignations of at least three leaders of the Willow Creek Association’s board over what they believed to be an insufficient inquiry. All accusations have been denied by Hybels.[8]

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 he would leave the board of the Willow Creek Association and would no longer lead Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit.[9]

On April 21, 2018, the Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today reported more misconduct allegations not included in the initial investigation. Church elders received reports of other unwanted sexual comments and advances by Hybels that not been previously investigated by the elder board. The elders indicated they would seek wise counsel and work with experts to investigate the allegations, developing a collaborative process.[10]

On August 5, 2018, The New York Times reported extensively documented allegations of sexual misconduct against a tenth reported victim[11] that were not included in any previous investigations or reports. Co-lead pastor Steve Carter resigned the same day.[12] The entire elder board and co-lead pastor Heather Larson resigned on August 8, 2018 following a joint apology for mishandling the investigation.[13][14]

On August 13, 2018, the Chicago Tribune reported the church had paid $3.25 million to settle two lawsuits over child sexual abuse by a church volunteer. Despite the settlements, the church denied any negligence in the two cases.[15]

In September 2018, Willow Creek Community Church and Willow Creek Association announced the formation of what they called an "Independent Advisory Group" to investigate the numerous allegations against their founder.[16][17] Religion News Service reported in December 2018 that the alleged misconduct and admitted mishandling of the allegations had led to a $3 million budget shortfall for 2018, the elimination of 50 full-time positions, a 9% reduction in attendance across all the church's campuses, and a reduction in attendance of at least 15% at its main South Barrington Campus.[18]

A six month long independent review of the allegations against Hybels, conducted by 4 evangelical leaders engaged for that purpose and completed in February 2019, found Hybels' accusers credible.[19]

Church organization[edit]

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

  • Board of Elders
  • Leadership team (Regional Lead Pastors, South Barrington Executive Team[20])

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

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

  • Promiseland (infants–grade 5)
  • Elevate (junior high)
  • Student Impact (high school)
  • Young Adults (18- to 20-somethings "young adults")
  • Main service (adults)

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.[21]

Willow Creek Association[edit]

[citation needed][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."[citation needed] 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 $299 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.[22]

Since 1995, Willow Creek Association has held an annual leadership summit. Speakers at the summit have included President Bill Clinton,[23] 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.[24] 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.[25]

The scandal involving Bill Hybels led to a 36% reduction in revenue for the Willow Creek Association between 2017 and 2018. [26][27]

Worship Center[edit]

Willow Creek's Worship Center (completed in 2004 at an estimated cost of $73 million)[28] 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.[29]

It was the first church in the world to make use of two Mitsubishi Diamond Vision high-definition LED screens 14 feet × 24 feet 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 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, and an adjustable height lighting rack.

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 High Definition cameras. Willow Creek completed an upgrade to HD in July 2015.

Notable members[edit]

  • Mike Singletary, Former Chicago Bears linebacker, named NFL Defensive Player of the Year by the Associated Press in 1985 and 1988, elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998, was head coach San Francisco 49ers, linebacker coach Minnesota Vikings. When he was a resident of Barrington, IL., Mike was an active member of Willow Creek Church since the 1980s,[30] & was a guest speaker as recently as 2010[31]
  • Lee Strobel, New-York-Times-bestselling Christian author, was a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church from 1987 to 2000.
  • John Ortberg, senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, served as teaching pastor at Willow Creek.
  • Shauna Niequist, New-York-Times-bestselling Christian author has attended since childhood and is an occasional guest teacher.
  • Shawn Christopher, a popular dance-music vocalist, led worship at Willow Creek's weekend services.
  • Shane Claiborne, did an internship at the church. He is the author of The Irresistible Revolution and Jesus for President: Politics For Ordinary Radicals (Zondervan, ISBN 978-0-310-27842-9) and founder of The Simple Way.
  • David Anderson was an intern at Willow in the early 1990s.[32] Anderson is the founding and senior pastor of Bridgeway Community Church and author on diversity and race relations. Bridgeway hosted Bill Hybels at its 10th and 20th Anniversary banquets in 2002 and 2012.[33]
  • Jimmy Garoppolo, quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers.[34]
  • Kirk Cousins, quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings.
  • Evan Jager, Silver Medalist at 2016 Summer Olympics in the 3000M Steeplechase.
  • Hector Hermosillo, Former singer (member of Torre Fuerte) and TV Host, pastor

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


  1. ^ "As Christmas nears, Willow Creek hopes for a fresh start". Religion News Service. December 19, 2018. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  2. ^ Tribute, CMM link, archived from the original on October 8, 2007
  3. ^ 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...
  4. ^ "History". Willow Creek Community Church. Archived from the original on August 11, 2004.
  5. ^ "Willow Creek Announcement". www.willowcreek.org. Archived from the original on April 11, 2018. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
  6. ^ Smietana, Bob. "Bill Hybels Resigns from Willow Creek". News & Reporting. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  7. ^ J. LEE GRADY, Did new Willow Creek interim pastor want the job? 'Not really', dailyherald.com, USA, August 12, 2018
  8. ^ "After years of inquiries, Willow Creek pastor denies misconduct allegations".
  9. ^ https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/04/10/bill-hybels-prominent-megachurch-pastor-resigns-from-willow-creek-following-allegations/
  10. ^ https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/april/bill-hybels-willow-creek-promises-investigation-allegations.html
  11. ^ Goodstein, Laurie (August 5, 2018). "He's a Superstar Pastor. She Worked for Him and Says He Groped Her Repeatedly". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  12. ^ Smietana, Bob. "Hybels Heir Quits Willow as New Accusations Arise Before Global Leadership Summit". News & Reporting. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  13. ^ Pashman, Manya Brachear (August 8, 2018). "Willow Creek pastor, elders step down, admit mishandling allegations against Bill Hybels". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 9, 2018. Includes video of the announcement.
  14. ^ Goodstein, Laurie (August 8, 2018). "Willow Creek Church's Lead Pastor and Board of Elders Resign". New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  15. ^ McCoppin, Robert. "Willow Creek paid $3.25M to settle lawsuits over child sex abuse by church volunteer". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  16. ^ "Willow Creek names NAE head, 3 others to oversee Hybels investigation". Religion News Service. September 18, 2018. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  17. ^ Weber, Jeremy. "Here's Who Willow Creek Chose to Investigate Bill Hybels". News & Reporting. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  18. ^ "As Christmas nears, Willow Creek hopes for a fresh start". Religion News Service. December 19, 2018. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  19. ^ Shellnutt, Kate. "Willow Creek Investigation: Allegations Against Bill Hybels Are Credible". News & Reporting. Retrieved October 7, 2019.
  20. ^ https://www.willowcreek.org/en/about/process-updates#Oct11
  21. ^ Brachear, Manya A. (July 31, 2006). "Suburban megachurch readies expansion to Chicago". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 31, 2006.[dead link]
  22. ^ WCA Membership, WCA website
  23. ^ Cutrer, Corrie (August 25, 2000). "Clinton Visit Provokes Church Members". Christianity Today.
  24. ^ "Leadership conference overview".
  25. ^ "GLS07 Speaker Lineup". Willow Creek Australia. Archived from the original on August 31, 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-14.
  26. ^ "Global Leadership Network Annual Report" (PDF). June 2019.
  27. ^ "Willow Creek Association 2017 Annual Report" (PDF). 2017.
  28. ^ Stokes, Jim (April 18, 2005). "Willow Creek Redefines Worship" (PDF). Sound & Communications. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 13, 2008. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  29. ^ Rybczynski, Witold. "An Anatomy of Megachurches: The new look for places of worship," Slate October 10, 2005.
  30. ^ http://edwardmcclelland.com/index.php?page=tackling-souls Missing or empty |title= (help)
  31. ^ Archived copy, archived from the original on July 21, 2015, retrieved March 27, 2015CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  32. ^ Bridgeway: Our History, retrieved May 19, 2014
  33. ^ Anderson, Dr. David A.; Cabellon, Margarita R. (August 2, 2010), Multicultural Ministry Handbook, ISBN 9780830867516
  34. ^ "Jimmy Garoppolo on Twitter". Retrieved September 13, 2016.

External links[edit]

Willow Creek websites[edit]

Perspectives and analysis[edit]

See also[edit]