Since “no one person can replace” Willow Creek Community Church founder Bill Hybels, the influential megachurch has named two people: its current executive pastor Heather Larson and teaching pastor Steve Carter.
Hybels announced on Saturday that the pair will succeed him as lead pastors when he steps down in October 2018.
The historic transition will make Willow Creek one of the largest churches in America with a woman in the lead pastor position, as well as the only major evangelical megachurch with male-female lead pastors who aren’t married.
“When we saw this shaping up, we had to ask ourselves, ‘Can our congregation have a lead pastor that’s a woman?,’” said Hybels, speaking from Willow Creek’s central campus in South Barrington, Illinois, one of seven locations in the Chicago region that draw a collective total of 25,000 worshippers each weekend. “And because this is a deeply held value in our church, we said, ‘No problem.’”
Larson will be lead pastor, overseeing Willow Creek’s 400-person staff and $77 million budget, and Carter will be lead teaching pastor, continuing to preach most weeks.
The news comes amid Willow Creek’s six-year succession plan for the megachurch, which was founded in 1975 and has grown to rank among the 10 biggest in America. The 65-year-old pastor joins a wave of greying leaders who have opted to go public with their leadership transition, as Hybels first disclosed at the church’s 2012 Global Leadership Summit.
“We know that no one person can replace Bill,” Larson said in an interview on the Unseminary podcast last year. “That has led Willow to talk about moving to more of a team approach in leading the church in the future and what that might look like.”
Larson, 42, has worked at Willow Creek for 20 years and has served as Hybels’s No. 2 since she became executive pastor in 2013.
SOURCE: KATE SHELLNUTT