Willow Creek Community Church founder and senior pastor Bill Hybels announced his resignation in 2018 after being accused of sexual misconduct by current and former leaders at the well-known church. Since then, the Chicago megachurch has seen its once 25,000 weekly attendance drop to under 18,000.
Willow Creek Community Church’s attendance drop can be attributed to the scandal that hit their senior pastor and which led to the church’s entire senior leadership and elder board resigning, as well as Hybels’ named successors.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also played a role in the church’s dwindling numbers. In a church update released this week, Willow Creek Community Church shared that although they have witnessed an increase in attendance since the end of last year, average attendance is below 50% of their pre-pandemic numbers. Further, tithing is still down.
According to Ministry Watch, Willow Creek Community Church received between $5-10 million in COVID-19 government relief funds (Paycheck Protection Program).
“We teach our congregation to be good stewards of all that God has given them: their time, talents, and treasure,” the church’s statement reads. “We, as a church, want to do the same. We want to operate with a balanced budget, in confidence that God will provide all we need to do the work He has called us to. As we projected into 2023, we identified a significant gap between our expenses and our reality. We have healthy financial reserves for emergencies, but do not want to fund ministry with reserves.”
Leadership explained church staffing costs should be at or below 50% for a multi-site campus of their size. The church staffing costs are currently at 72% of their overall budget. This is “too high to be sustainable,” leadership said.
In a video posted on May 9, 2022, senior pastor Dave Dummitt shared that Willow Creek Community Church had to eliminate positions across their campuses and ministries. The update explained that cuts reduced the church’s 2023 staff expenses to 52% of the overall budget, saving an estimated $6.5 million.
The decision to cut staff was “extremely difficult,” leadership said.
Reporting the generosity of Willow Creek Community Church’s worshipers, leadership shared the encouraging news that “more than $1.5 million was given in the last few weeks through Celebration of Hope, designated for our global partnerships; more than 4,700 people gathered earlier this month to assemble one million seed packs that will grow up to 150 million pounds of vegetables in villages in South America and Zambia; last Sunday 650 people signed up to run the Chicago Marathon to raise money for clean water in India.”
The update also shared that for the past two months, the church has witnessed baptisms during their Sunday morning worship services.
Leadership ask the congregation to pray for the staff and their families as they navigate the days ahead.