"More than anything, people want the reality of the discussion at hand. If what is going on in that building is the real thing, if the transforming love and power of Jesus Christ is being experienced, you can sit on a metal folding chair or in a plush theater seat." -- Bill Hybels
William Hybels (born 1951, Kalamazoo, Michigan) is the founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, one of the most attended churches in North America, with an average attendance of 17,115 as of 2003. The church has been listed as the most influential church in America for the last several years in a national poll of pastors. He is the founder of the Willow Creek Association and creator of the Global Leadership Summit. Hybels is also an author of a number of Christian books, especially on the subject of Christian leadership.
"Dignity does not float down from heaven it cannot be purchased nor manufactured. It is a reward reserved for those who labor with diligence.""God wants to father all of us until we're dead sure of his approval, his guiding power and his promise of heaven.""He's dangerous because when God talks to him Bob will do whatever God asks him to do at great cost, even if no one agrees, if it's contrary to the way the stream is going, if Bob feels God is in it he will do it.""I hate thinking about it, teaching about it, and writing about it. But the plain truth is that hell is real and real people go there for eternity.""I look at tens of thousands of church leaders who still do need a bit of an awakening.""It takes a great deal of courage to follow another person's lead.""Ten years ago, 15 years ago, I think the church would have been asleep at the switch. This level of activism and engagement with the needs of society by local churches I never thought I'd see it in my lifetime.""The real deal is always going to win in the end.""Thirty years ago, we were in a movie theater and thought it was so cool because we were finally delivered from the horrors of stained glass and wooden pews.""Those churches have closed down or have been merged with a church that has a more positive vision.""Visionary people face the same problems everyone else faces; but rather than get paralyzed by their problems, visionaries immediately commit themselves to finding a solution."
Hybels has a bachelor's degree in Biblical Studies from Trinity International University, near Chicago, and an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from TIU's Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Teaching Pastors - Willow Creek Community Church.
In the early 1970s, Hybels was studying at Trinity International University (then called Trinity College) when Gilbert Bilezikian, a lecturer, challenged the class about an Acts 2-based church. Hybels was captivated with the vision and abandoned his business aspirations for ministry.
In 1971, Bill Hybels, youth pastor at Park Ridge's South Park Church, started a youth group with friend Dave Holmbo called Son City. Journal/ASCG Vol.11, Spg 2000 - Reid News at Willow Creek Community Church Modern music, dramatic skits and multimedia were combined with Bible studies in relevant language helped the group grow from 25 to 1,200 in just three years.
After 300 youth waited in line to be led to Christ in a service in May 1974, Hybels and other leaders began dreaming of forming a new church. They surveyed the community to find out why people weren't coming to church. Common answers included: "church is boring", "they're always asking for money", or "I don't like being preached down to." These answers shaped the group's approach to the new church.
In October 12, 1975 the group held their first service Palatine's Willow Creek Theater. 125 people attended the service. The rent and other costs were paid for with 1,200 baskets of tomatoes, sold door-to-door by 100 teenagers. Hybels spoke on "New beginnings" Community Is Their Middle Name - Christianity Today magazine - ChristianityTodayLibrary.com Within two years the church had grown to 2,000.
Challenges in 1979 led to a recommissioning of the church's vision to be broader and deeper than before. Hybels apologised for the example of his relentless schedule and overemphasis on grace. "We've set up all our leadership structures and goals to grow a full-functioning Acts 2 community, as opposed to just an evangelizing machine that doesn't drive the roots down deep and do all the other things it's supposed to do."
In 1981 the church moved to its current location in South Barrington. By 2000, 15,000 were attending weekly services over six weekend services in a building. Willow Creek Community Church In 2005, the new Worship Center was opened. With a capacity of 7,200, the state-of-the-art auditorium is the largest theater in the United States and the church currently averages 20,000 attendees per week, making it the second largest church in America.
In 1991, concerns about the large church maintaining community led to the adoption of a cell-based approach. The church now has over 2,600 groups focusing on a broad range of needs.
Willow Creek Community Church has become well-known as the prototypical megachurch, with modern worship, drama and messages focused toward the unchurched. Willow Creek's four weekend services are "seeker sensitive", with the mid-week "new community" services providing teaching for believers. The mid-week service was ended in the spring of 2008. In its place there are a wide range of classes to reach all church goers on their level of faith.
On July 1, 2010, Hybels introduced President Barack Obama for a speech on immigration reform .
In 1992 Hybels launched the Willow Creek Association (WCA) to link like-minded, action-oriented churches with each other and with strategic vision, training, and resources. WCA is driven by a calling to serve Christ-following leaders as they build biblically functioning churches...authentic, Acts 2 communities of faith that reach increasing numbers of lost people and grow them into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. This has since grown into a network of over 9,000 churches worldwide.
Hybels has largely avoided association with specific political parties or movements. He did receive some criticism when at a leadership conference hosted by the WCA in 2000, he interviewed Rich DeVos (Amway co-founder) and carried out a 90-minute interview with President Bill Clinton in which he questioned the president on many key issues. When Karen Hughes (former advisor to President George W. Bush) in the following year spoke at the Summit, Hybels said to the attendees jokingly afterwards, "There, we are even." - in a reference to bringing a counterbalance to Clinton's visit.
While Hybels serves as senior pastor at Willow, he is not heavily involved in day to day operations from mid-2006 to 2008. Gene Apple served as lead pastor of the South Barrington Campus from mid-2006 until Easter 2008. Appel's role had allowed Hybels the ability to serve a more direct role in the Willow Creek Association, but Hybels will assume the direct role of leading the church once again. Hybels frequently travels abroad, teaching church leaders how to manage and direct their congregations in more effective ways. He maintains a regular teaching schedule at Willow Creek, however had until now focused less on Willow Creek, and more on the global church movement. Hybels believes that "the local church is the hope of the world", and that is evident in his work around the globe.
Hybels started the Global Leadership Summit in 1995 as an annual training event for church, ministry and other leaders to sharpen their skills. Each year this two and a half day conference features experts in the arena of leadership in lecture and interview formats, plus worship singing and dramatic skits. Past speakers have included Bono (former Time Magazine Co-Man of the Year and U2 lead singer), Ken Blanchard ("One Minute Manager"), Marcus Buckingham ("StrengthFinders"), Jim Collins ("Good to Great" and "Built to Last"), and Mike Singletary (NFL Hall of Fame linebacker for the Chicago Bears). The event is broadcast live from the Willow Creek campus in suburban Chicago to 100+ video sites across America, plus later via delay for another 70 international sites. 80,000 attendees were part of the 2006 Leadership Summit. The 2007 event featured live and taped sessions with Colin Powell, Carly Fiorina, Floyd Flake, Marcus Buckingham, John Ortberg, Michael E. Porter (Harvard), Richard Curtis (film producer) and Former President Jimmy Carter.
Hybels married his wife Lynne in May 1974, and has two adult children (Shauna and Todd) and one grandchild. Lynne Hybels has been involved in Willow Creek's ministry partnerships in Latin America and currently serves as an advocate for those affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa. She is the author of Nice Girls Don't Change the World.
Bill and Lynne live in Barrington Hills, Illinois.