Willow Creek Community Church

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

Willow Creek Community Church is an Evangelical non-denominational, multi-site megachurch. Its largest campus is located in the northwestern Chicago suburb of South Barrington, Illinois. It was founded on October 12, 1975 by Dave Holmbo and Bill Hybels, who was its longtime senior pastor. As of February 2020, the church averaged 18,000 attendees each weekend at seven locations, down from a high of 25,000 in 2015.[1][2][3] Willow Creek has seven locations in the Chicago area, and their Spanish-speaking congregations, Willow Español, at the South Barrington and South Lake in Lincolnshire, 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. In January 2020, it was announced that Gillen would step down in March and that the two candidates who were being considered for the role of senior pastor had been "released" from the search process. Dave Dummitt became senior pastor in June 2020.



Willow Creek Community Church started when Bill Hybels and Dave Holmbo[4] 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.[5] Gilbert Bilezikian was Hybels' theological mentor.[6] Bilezikian has been "credited with Willow Creek’s inclusion of women in its highest levels of leadership".[7] 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.[citation needed]

In September 1978, Bill Hybels learned that Willow Creek's co-founder Dave Holmbo "had been involved in a pattern of behaviour that threatened the stability of the staff member's personal life and the integrity of the rest of the staff".[8][9] He shared this with the elders, who decided to keep it secret from the entire church, and allowed Dave to stay in ministry provided he sought professional counselling and submitted to accountability and monitoring from the elders. In September 1979, the elders confronted Dave with his "ongoing pattern of behaviour and his apparently unrepentant spirit". Co-founder Dave Holmbo then resigned from his position. This resignation was presented to the church as due to "differing philosophies of ministry". This cover-up led to an uproar, and over the next 6 months, multiple board members and nearly half the staff left. Insiders came to call this time "The Train Wreck".[8][9]

On April 10, 2018, following allegations of sexual abuse, Bill Hybels announced his immediate early retirement as senior pastor of the church; he had previously planned to retire in October of that year.[10] Hybels, who denied the allegations,[11] received a standing ovation from the church upon making this announcement.[12]

In August 2018, Steve Gillen—the longtime pastor of the church's North Shore campus—was chosen as interim senior pastor.[13] In January 2020, it was announced that Gillen would step down in March and that the two candidates who were being considered for the role of senior pastor had been "released" from the search process.[14][15] In April 2020, the Elder Board of Willow Creek named Dave Dummitt as the new Senior Pastor.[16]

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.[17]

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 moving forward his retirement date effective immediately and stated that he did not 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.[18]

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.[19]

On August 5, 2018, The New York Times reported extensively documented allegations of sexual misconduct against a tenth reported victim[20] that were not included in any previous investigations or reports. Co-lead pastor Steve Carter resigned the same day.[21] The entire elder board and co-lead pastor Heather Larson resigned on August 8, 2018 following a joint apology for mishandling the investigation.[22][23]

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.[24]

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.[25][26] 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.[3]

A six-month independent review of the allegations against Hybels, conducted by four evangelical leaders engaged for that purpose and completed in February 2019, found Hybels' accusers credible.[27]

In January 2020, the church announced that co-founder Gilbert Bilezikian had "engaged in inappropriate behavior" after a long time church member alleged he had sexually assaulted her a number of times between 1984 and 1988.[28][29][30] Bilezikian denied the accusations and said the church had "violated the Bible's teaching on dealing with accusations against fellow Christians."[28][29] The Elder Board of Willow Creek stated that it had restricted Bilezikian from serving within the church when allegations were brought against him in 2010; in 2015, however, he was honored as a "living legend" of the church.[31] In January 2020, the Elder Response Team asserted that Bilezikian had been restricted from serving in the church, but added that he had continued to teach and serve in various capacities because "the restriction was not adequately communicated".[15] In May 2020, Bilezikian filed a defamation lawsuit against the church.[32]

Willow Creek Association[edit]

In 1992, the Willow Creek Association was founded.[33] 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.[citation needed]

Since 1995, Willow Creek Association has held an annual leadership summit. Speakers at the summit have included President Bill Clinton.[34]

The scandal involving Bill Hybels led to a 36% reduction in revenue for the Willow Creek Association between 2017 and 2018.[35][36][better source needed]

Worship Center[edit]

Willow Creek's Worship Center (completed in 2004 at an estimated cost of $73 million)[37][better source needed] 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.[38]

Notable members[edit]

Books about Willow Creek Community Church[edit]

  • Hybels, Bill; Hybels, Lynne (1997). Rediscovering Church: The Story and Vision of Willow Creek Community Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. ISBN 0-310-21927-2.
  • Hybels, Bill (2002). Courageous Leadership. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. ISBN 0-310-24823-X.
  • Schacke, Rainer (2009). Learning from Willow Creek?. Göttingen: Cuvillier. ISBN 978-3-86955-104-3.
  • Pritchard, GA (1996). Willow Creek Seeker Services: Evaluating a New Way of Doing Church. Grand Rapids: Baker Books. ISBN 978-0-8010-5274-3. 330 pp.
42°05′29″N 88°08′03″W / 42.0915°N 88.1343°W / 42.0915; -88.1343


  1. ^ Perry, Abby (14 February 2020). "Willow Creek and Harvest Struggle to Move On". Christianity Today. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  2. ^ "Willow Creek Community Church - Senior Pastor". 2019-08-04. Archived from the original on 2019-08-04. Retrieved 2020-02-04.
  3. ^ a b "As Christmas nears, Willow Creek hopes for a fresh start". Religion News Service. 2018-12-19. Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  4. ^ Tribute, CMM link, archived from the original on October 8, 2007
  5. ^ Randall Herbert Balmer, Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism: Revised and expanded edition, Baylor University Press, USA, 2004, p. 540
  6. ^ 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...
  7. ^ McFarlan, Emily (January 28, 2020). "Willow Creek Confirms Abuse Allegations Against Gilbert Bilezikian". Christianity Today. Retrieved July 26, 2021.
  8. ^ a b Hybels, Lynne; Hybels, Bill (1995). Rediscovering Church: The Story and Vision of Willow Creek Community Church. Zondervan Publishing House. ISBN 978-0-310-59320-1.
  9. ^ a b Wilkins, Rob (1997-01-01). "An Inside Look at the Early Years". In Braoudakis, Paul (ed.). Church Leaders Handbook (4th ed.). Willow Creek Association. pp. 25–47. ASIN B000O1RN28.
  10. ^ "Willow Creek Announcement". www.willowcreek.org. Archived from the original on April 11, 2018. Retrieved April 11, 2018.
  11. ^ Gajanan, Mahita (April 11, 2018). "Pastor Bill Hybels Resigns From Megachurch Following Misconduct Allegations". Time. Retrieved September 8, 2021.
  12. ^ Smietana, Bob. "Bill Hybels Resigns from Willow Creek". News & Reporting. Retrieved 2019-10-07.
  13. ^ J. LEE GRADY, Did new Willow Creek interim pastor want the job? 'Not really', dailyherald.com, USA, August 12, 2018
  14. ^ McFarlan Miller, Emily (January 30, 2020). "Senior pastor candidates, interim pastor out at Willow Creek". Religion News Service. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  15. ^ a b "More Abuse Allegations Turn Up At Willow Creek Church". CBS Chicago. January 30, 2020. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  16. ^ Smietana, Bob (April 15, 2020). "Willow Creek Announces New Senior Pastor". Christianity Today.
  17. ^ Pashman, Manya Brachear; Coen, Jeff (March 23, 2018). "After years of inquiries, Willow Creek pastor denies misconduct allegations". Chicago Tribune.
  18. ^ Bailey, Sarah Pulliam. "Megachurch pastor Bill Hybels resigns from Willow Creek after women allege misconduct". Retrieved Feb 5, 2021 – via www.washingtonpost.com.
  19. ^ "Willow Creek Will Investigate New Allegations Against Bill Hybels". News & Reporting. Retrieved Feb 5, 2021.
  20. ^ Goodstein, Laurie (2018-08-05). "He's a Superstar Pastor. She Worked for Him and Says He Groped Her Repeatedly". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  21. ^ Smietana, Bob. "Hybels Heir Quits Willow as New Accusations Arise Before Global Leadership Summit". News & Reporting. Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ Goodstein, Laurie (August 8, 2018). "Willow Creek Church's Lead Pastor and Board of Elders Resign". New York Times. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  24. ^ McCoppin, Robert. "Willow Creek paid $3.25M to settle lawsuits over child sex abuse by church volunteer". chicagotribune.com. Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  25. ^ "Willow Creek names NAE head, 3 others to oversee Hybels investigation". Religion News Service. 2018-09-18. Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  26. ^ Weber, Jeremy. "Here's Who Willow Creek Chose to Investigate Bill Hybels". News & Reporting. Retrieved 2019-01-07.
  27. ^ Shellnutt, Kate. "Willow Creek Investigation: Allegations Against Bill Hybels Are Credible". News & Reporting. Retrieved 2019-10-07.
  28. ^ a b Warren, Steve (January 29, 2020). "Willow Creek Announces Abuse Allegations Against Church Co-Founder". CBN News. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  29. ^ a b "Willow Creek co-founder now accused of sexual misconduct". MetroVoice News. January 30, 2020. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  30. ^ Banks, Adelle M. (January 31, 2020). "US church Willow Creek announces senior pastor candidates, interim pastor out". Sight Magazine. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  31. ^ West, Marsha (January 31, 2020). "Willow Creek Honored As 'Living Legend' the Cofounder it Believed Abused Congregant". Christian Research Network. Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  32. ^ Vitello, Barbara (2020-05-30). "Co-founder files defamation suit against Willow Creek". Daily Herald. Retrieved 2020-06-22.
  33. ^ Timothy J. Demy Ph.D., Paul R. Shockley Ph.D., Evangelical America: An Encyclopedia of Contemporary American Religious Culture, ABC-CLIO, USA, 2017, p. 418
  34. ^ Cutrer, Corrie (2000-08-25). "Clinton Visit Provokes Church Members". Christianity Today.
  35. ^ "Global Leadership Network Annual Report" (PDF). June 2019.
  36. ^ "Willow Creek Association 2017 Annual Report" (PDF). 2017.
  37. ^ 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.
  38. ^ Rybczynski, Witold. "An Anatomy of Megachurches: The new look for places of worship," Slate October 10, 2005.
  39. ^ "Jimmy Garoppolo on Twitter". Retrieved 2016-09-13.

External links[edit]

Willow Creek websites[edit]

Perspectives and analysis[edit]

See also[edit]