“I’m a little embarrassed that it came 38 years into our story, but perhaps better late than never,” says Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois — the third largest church in America according to our Outreach 100 survey of largest and fastest-growing churches.
We’re sitting together in his office discussing the new $11 million dollar facility that opens on the Willow Creek campus this weekend. It’s not a new auditorium for weekend worship, nor is it a children’s ministry wing but a state-of-the-art holistic Care Center the church built in the heart of their worship center.
The new Care Center includes a full-service grocery store, an auto center, dental office, optometry provider, childcare, career services and much more. Oh, it’s also completely volunteer-led, with more than 2,000 church members participating.
This ministry wasn’t originally planned by the executive leadership as part of the vision for Willow. Instead, it started, surprisingly, from the bottom up. “It’s sometimes said in leadership that most things have to really start top-down. The truth of this story was the beginning of it started from the bottom, and eventually those of us at the top got convinced,” says Hybels.
Many of the ministries included in the Care Center previously existed through Willow Creek, but they were spread out all over the city. The Care Center will serve to bring all of these ministries into one central location — right outside the main auditorium.
The unique plans for the Care Center were also highly influenced by Willow’s global partnerships. In many ways, these global ministries are well ahead of the curve when it comes to holistic care and community development. And, although there’s a difference between global poverty and Chicago-suburban poverty, the two aren’t mutually exclusive when it comes to the biblical mandate to care for those in need.
“Even though there is a differentiation in the extremeness level, to place lesser value on lesser suffering is probably not the right way to look at it, either. God planted us in this community to live out Acts 2:42–47. We need to do that here, and we need to do it globally. We got into the global game dramatically and very resource-intensively before we put a lot of resources into the local side — probably a ratio of 10 to one. We don’t have to fly an ocean to justify helping the poor. They both work together now.”
The movement for developing a “holistic” focus for ministry is gaining ground in the church today. More leaders are considering the implications of location, development and long-term care when it comes to serving others — looking beyond handouts and check writing to something deeper. For Willow, this $11-million-dollar project that took three years to conceive, plan and build was a big step in the right direction — syncing up their mission to care for those in need as a core aspect of their identity as a church. (Continued below)
Hybels says where something is located — its geography — says a lot about its value. “I feel embarrassed about it, but you know, it’s easy in large-church world to unintentionally relegate the status of something by where it’s located, and when you say we’re going to build a $10- or $11-million-dollar building on the heart of our campus, you intentionally relegate it to a different status. This isn’t in a garage out in Elgin; this is in the center of our property — the heart of our campus — and it should be there. It should have been on our campus a long time ago,” says Hybels.
Willow Creek has always been on the cusp of new trends in both culture and the church, but will this $11-million-dollar movement by the third largest church in America start a holistic ministry trend with other churches?
“It’s quite possible that 15 years from now, when a church builds somewhere, they will automatically build a Care Center because, if you think about it, that’s probably where it ought to be,” says Hybels.