Willow Creek Association, Now Global Leadership Network

Overview of the Willow Creek Association and Willow Creek Community Church

Willow Creek Association
Willow Creek Association Founder Bill Hybels at Global Leadership Summit 2010. Image Courtesy of Bill Hybels

The Willow Creek Association (WCA), which began in 1992 as an offshoot of Willow Creek Community Church, is now called Global Leadership Network (GLN). Since its founding, it has had two unexpected developments: Secular business leaders have come on board as speakers and advisers, and the group has become global in scope.

Willow Creek Association, Now Global Leadership Network

  • Also Known As: Global Leadership Network
  • Known For: A nonprofit worldwide network devoted to equipping and developing Christians to reach their full leadership potential through training and leadership conferences.
  • Founder: Bill Hybels
  • Founding: 1992, in South Barrington, Illinois.
  • Headquarters: South Barrington, Illinois.
  • Membership: More than 13,000 churches in 45 countries.
  • Leadership: Tom De Vries, President and CEO; Gary Schwammlein, President Emeritus; Steve Bell, Executive Vice President.
  • Mission Statement: “To inspire and equip world-class leadership that ignites transformation.”

At the organization's annual Global Leadership Summit, held at Willow Creek Church in South Barrington, Illinois, speakers have included such secular leaders as Colin Powell, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Tony Dungy, Jack Welch, and Carly Fiorina. Religious leaders like Andy Stanley, Dallas Willard, T.D. Jakes, and Willow Creek founder Bill Hybels take the stage.

Mission to Pastors

The high-powered, multi-media summit is just one part of this nonprofit consulting group's mission to "inspire and equip Christian leaders to lead transformation-minded churches."

Much of Global Leadership Network's emphasis is on pastor growth—dealing with burnout, rekindling enthusiasm, exploring creativity, and developing the skills needed to make their churches relevant in a constantly changing culture.

Toward that end, Global Leadership Network offers a wide spectrum of professionally produced seminars, courses, videos and books on everything from managing stress to church finances.

While some conservative pastors have complained that a church cannot be run like a secular business, others welcome the resources, saying their seminary training prepared them well in theology but left large gaps in the practical side of pastoring.

Current Global Leadership Network membership exceeds 13,000 churches in 45 countries and represents 90 denominations. Training events are held in 250 cities in 50 countries each year. The membership fee is $299 annually.

Research-driven Materials

Global Leadership Network, like Willow Creek Community Church, is highly research-driven. Willow Creek pioneered the use of giant-screen TVs in its auditorium and makes heavy use of the internet and satellite TV to spread its message.

The Summit and conferences are broadcast to thousands around the world and translated into more than 30 languages.

One of GLN's programs, REVEAL, is based on thousands of survey responses from a wide variety of churches. That research says there are four stages in the spiritual journey:

Church leaders can administer the surveys in their own church to track members' growth and determine what needs to be done to keep people on course.

Willow Creek Community Church

Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) was not the first nondenominational evangelical megachurch in the United States, but its reliance on market research and its seeker-friendly atmosphere were unique innovations. More than 21,000 people attend services each week.

Willow Creek Community Church
Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Illinois, USA. Willow Creek Community Church is a non-denominational Evangelical Christian megachurch located in the northwestern Chicago suburb of South Barrington. It was founded in 1975 and is one of the largest churches in the United States with about 25,000 attendees each weekend. Bruce Leighty / Getty Images

The church started as a youth group in Park Ridge, Illinois in 1975, led by Bill Hybels. It got its name when it began holding Sunday services at the Willow Creek movie theater. The youth group raised money by selling tomatoes and built a church in South Barrington, Illinois, the site of WCCC's main campus.

Willow Creek Community Church has services at seven locations in the Chicagoland area: the main campus in South Barrington including Casa de Luz; Willow Chicago; Willow Crystal Lake, Willow Huntley; Willow North Shore; Willow South Lake; and Willow Wheaton.

The governing body is a board of 12 volunteer elders, nominated by the church congregation. The board handles the financial, planning, and policy matters of the church, giving direction to the senior pastor, who manages his own staff.

In 2018, following allegations of sexual abuse, Bill Hybels stepped down as senior pastor. At present, Steve Gillen is the acting senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church.

Beliefs and Practices

Baptism - Baptism is an act of obedience to Jesus Christ, symbolizing spiritual cleansing and newness of life. Baptism is a prerequisite for joining the church. Willow Creek practices believer's baptism, by immersion, of people who are age 12 and above. Baptisms are held on the stage, indoors, throughout the year, and in June in the lake on campus.

Bible - "We hold that the Scriptures, in their original manuscripts, are infallible and inerrant; they are the unique, full, and final authority on all matters of faith and practice. There are no other writings similarly inspired by God," Willow Creek Church teaches.

Communion - "Willow Creek observes communion (the Lord's Supper) monthly in obedience to Jesus' direct command and the example of the early church. Willow Creek believes the communion elements (bread and juice) represent the broken body and poured out blood of Christ on the cross," according to a statement from the church website. Communion is open to anyone who has personally made a decision to trust and follow Christ.

Eternal Security - Willow Creek holds that the Bible assures that God will continue his saving work in each believing human forever.

Heaven, Hell - Willow Creek's Statement of Faith says, "Death seals the eternal destiny of each person. All humanity will experience a bodily resurrection and a judgment that will determine the fate of each individual. Having rejected God, unbelievers will suffer eternal condemnation apart from Him. Believers will be received into eternal communion with God and will be rewarded for works done in this life."

Holy Spirit - The third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, enlightens sinners on their need to be saved, and guides them in understanding and applying the Bible to live a Christ-like life.

Jesus Christ - Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, was born of a virgin and died on the cross as a substitute for all people, bringing salvation to all who trust in him alone. Today the Lord Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of God the Father as the only intercessor between humans and God.

Salvation - Salvation is solely a work of God's grace toward humans and cannot be achieved by works or goodness. Each person can be saved by repentance and faith.

Trinity - God is one, true and holy and consists of three equal persons (the Trinity): Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God created the world and everything in it and sustains it through his providential power.

Worship Service - Willow Creek's worship services have been guided by surveys, market research, and the "felt needs" of members of the congregation. Music tends to be contemporary, and dance and other art forms are incorporated into the experience. Willow Creek does not have a customary preaching pulpit or traditional church architecture, and there are no crosses or other religious symbols.