Willow Creek Church

Willow Creek Community Church

Founder : Bill Hybels

Date of Birth : 1952

Birth Place: Kalamazoo, Michigan

Year Founded: 1975, South Barrington, Illinois

Brief History: Hybels established the Willow Creek Community Church in an attempt to provide a “comfortable place” for the unchurched to learn about Christianity. The weekend services at the church are not worship services, but hour-long presentations and artistic interpretations of the Gospel. Using professional sound and stage equipment, contemporary music, drama, and video is used to interest visitors in Christianity. The half-hour long sermon, often emphasizing how faith is useful in everyday life, is structured around current events and themes that dominate the typical suburbanites’ lifestyle. Rather than criticizing newcomers, Willow Creek attempts to woo them with such secular draws as relationship advice, recreational facilities, and a non-religious auditorium. Other aspects of the ministry include a midweek worship service, thousands of small group studies arranged according to demographics, and evangelical training courses.

Sacred or Revered Texts : The Bible. Currently they use the New International Version.

Size of Group : With just over 2,000 registered members, and 15,000 visitors every weekend, Willow Creek is the second largest church in America (just after Houston’s Second Baptist Church). The church has also developed the Willow Creek Association, a network of 1,400 churches, in America and abroad, with whom it shares its Seeker friendly methods.


The easy going style of Willow Creek, consciously structured to make the unchurched feel comfortable, might suggest that this is a liberal Protestant group. In fact, their biblical teaching that are substantially Evangelical. The church supports general Evangelical Christian beliefs, especially the Biblical teachings including the importance of acknowledging the sinful character of humankind. They believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God without error. Still, the style of presentation to “seekers” is not heavy on specific theological dogma. And, they diverge from more traditional established Christian churches because they do not belong to any denomination, and they use “seeker-services” instead of traditional worship to convey the Word.


The Church has been criticized by evangelical preachers and theologians because they are perceived to offer only “lite” Christianity, without strict demands for this-worldly behavioral codes, and for an absence of other-worldly guidance. Critics argue further that the modern marketing techniques of Willow Creek are not neutral purveyors of the Gospel. These techniques, it is argued, “water down” the true Gospel. Willow Creeks’ lack of strong moral accountability and in-depth Biblical exploration, thus, is a distorted representation of the rigors of the Christian life.

Willow Creek is also criticized for targeting only one population–upper middle class baby boomers. Hybels has been quoted as stating that evangelicals should attempt to evangelize “people who you would like to spend a weekend with.” Other critics state that their focus is too inward and does not address larger social problems. The church has active volunteer programs that engage in a wide array of activities including distribution of food and support of overseas missions. They also have a network to members who volunteer their time to repair automobiles. Still, the image of Willow Creek Community Church is one of a country club environment for persons who are generally well-educated and financially comfortable.


Hybels, Bill, and Lynne Hybels. 1995. Rediscovering Church: The Story and Vision of Willow Creek Community Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

“Commonly Asked Questions About Willow Creek Community Church.” Excerpt from book in: The Atlantic Monthly.

Pritchard, Gregory A. 1995. Willow Creek Seeker Services: A New Way of Doing Church. Chicago, Illinois: Baker Books.

Sargent, Kimon H. 2000. Seeker Churches: Promoting Traditional Religion in a Nontraditional Way. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Sargeant, Kimone H. 1996. Faith and Fulfillment. University of Virginia, Department of Sociology. PhD Dissertation.

Trueheart, Charles. 1996. “Welcome to the Next Church.” The Atlantic Monthly. (August). 37-58.

Created by Laura Kaczorowski
In conjunction with her Honors Thesis
Spring Term, 1997
University of Virginia
Last modified: 09/05/01