Jim Denison Says Willow Creek Was One of the Most Influential Churches in American History and a Model Around the World

I will always remember the first time I heard Bill Hybels speak in person. I had been invited to be one of the teachers at an evangelism conference hosted by Willow Creek Community Church. Hybels addressed the opening session, calling us to use our influence to reach the unreached with urgency and creativity.

His passion for the lost was palpable. His leadership charisma was unmistakable. It was not surprising that he was leading not just one of America’s largest churches but one of our generation’s most influential ministries.

In the last year, so much of his story has changed. And now the crisis at the church he founded has reached a new level.

Last night, Lead Pastor Heather Larson resigned her position. The entire elder board of the church resigned as well. Christianity Today is calling their resignations “a seismic shock for one of the nation’s most influential churches.”

Elder Missy Rasmussen spoke for the board, stating: “We are sorry that we allowed Bill to operate without the kind of accountability that he should have had.” She added: “We exhort Bill to acknowledge his sin and publicly apologize.” As a consequence of their handling of this crisis, she announced: “Willow needs and deserves a fresh start, and the entire board will step down to create room for a new board.”

Steve Gillen, lead pastor of Willow Creek’s North Shore campus, will serve as interim pastor. The church still intends to move forward with an independent investigation into the allegations against Hybels.

Why is the story of a single church’s struggles so significant? Because that church is one of the most significant congregations in American history.

A model for churches around the world

Bill Hybels was born and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the son of a wholesale produce operator. He came to personal faith in Christ as a teenager.

In 1971, Hybels was a youth pastor in Chicago when he started a worship service called “Son City.” The service targeted young people by using contemporary music and language, skits, and multimedia, virtually unprecedented innovations for a church at the time. Son City grew from twenty-five to 1,200 in three years.

In 1975, he and his leadership team opened a new church, naming it after the space they rented: Willow Creek Theater in Palatine, a residential suburb of Chicago. Costs were paid by one hundred teenagers who sold 1,200 baskets of tomatoes door-to-door. Attendance grew exponentially, leading the team to buy and build on property where the church is located today.

The congregation grew to more than 25,000 members. Its “seeker-sensitive” approach to reaching unchurched people became a model for churches all over the world.

In 1992, Hybels launched the Willow Creek Association (WCA) to link and resource thousands of like-minded churches. In 1995, he began the Global Leadership Summit, an annual training event for hundreds of thousands of ministry leaders. The 2018 Summit begins today.

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Source: Christian Post