Bill Hybels
Born (1951-12-12) December 12, 1951 (age 69)
Kalamazoo, Michigan, U.S.
OccupationAuthor, Minister
SpouseLynne Hybels (m. 1974)
ChildrenShauna Niequist
Todd Hybels

William Hybels (born December 12, 1951) is an American church figure and author. He is the founding and former 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 nearly 24,000 as of late 2018.[1] 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. Previously slated to step down in October 2018, Hybels retired early after allegations of sexual misconduct were made against him, though he has denied all allegations. A six-month long independent review found the allegations to be credible.

Early life and education

Hybels was born and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He is Dutch-American and was a regular participant in the Christian Reformed Church in North America which holds to Calvinist Theology. Hybels's father was an entrepreneur in wholesale produce whose work ethic was the model for his son. In a 2006 interview with the Chicago Tribune, he pointed to an experience at a Wisconsin summer camp as a teenager that crystallized his understanding and personal embrace of Christian belief. Hybels holds a bachelor's degree in Biblical Studies from Trinity International University, near Chicago, and an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from TIU's college. [2]

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.[citation needed]

In 1971, Hybels—then serving as youth pastor at South Park Church in Park Ridge, Illinois—started a youth group with friend Dave Holmbo called 'Son City'.[3][4] Modern music, dramatic skits and multimedia were combined with Bible studies in relevant language, and the group grew 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.[5]

On October 12, 1975, the group held its first service at Willow Creek Theater in Palatine, Illinois. One hundred and twenty-five 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."[6] 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 apologized 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."[7]

In 1981, the church moved to its current location in South Barrington. By 2000, six services were being held each weekend for 15,000 attendees in a 352,000-square-foot (32,700 m2) building.[8] In 2004, a new Worship Center was opened. With a capacity of more than 7,000, the state-of-the-art auditorium is one of the largest theaters in the United States. In 2017, the church averaged 25,000 attendees per week, making it the eighth largest church in America, according to Outreach 100.[9] In September 2018, Religion News Service reported attendance was down 9% across all campuses, following scandal involving founder Bill Hybels and resignation of the entire senior leadership team. [10]

On July 1, 2010, Hybels introduced President Barack Obama for a speech on immigration reform.[11]

Hybels was not heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the church between mid-2006 to 2008. Gene Appel served as lead pastor of the South Barrington Campus from mid-2006 until Easter 2008.[12] Appel's role allowed Hybels the ability to serve a more direct role in the Willow Creek Association.

The Global Leadership Summit

Hybels started the Global Leadership Summit (hosted by the Global Leadership Network (GLN) (rebranded from Willow Creek Association in 2018[13])) in 1995 as an annual training event for leaders to sharpen their skills. The summit telecasts live from the campus of Willow Creek Community Church, with 118,000 people watching via livestream at host sites across the U.S. in 2018,[14] and hundreds of thousands more later watching via video in countries around the world.[14][15] The Summit lost more than 100 host sites and tens of thousands of viewers in 2018 following the Hybels' scandal.[14]

Misconduct allegations and resignation

See also: Me Too movement

On March 23, 2018, the Chicago Tribune published an article detailing allegations of sexual misconduct by Hybels spanning decades. The article reported that Hybels had engaged in a prolonged affair with a married woman; however, this allegation was retracted by the woman herself. The Tribune wrote that the elders of Willow Creek had conducted an internal review of Hybels' behavior which led to no findings of misconduct; following this report, at least three leaders of the Willow Creek Association board reportedly resigned their posts because they believed the inquiry to have been insufficient. All accusations have been denied by Hybels.[16]

Hybels had planned to retire in October 2018 to focus his energy on the Willow Creek Association. On April 10, 2018, Hybels announced that he was resigning, effective immediately, stating he did not want to be a distraction to the church's ministry. He also announced that he would leave the board of the Willow Creek Association and would no longer lead Willow Creek's Global Leadership Summit.[17]

On April 21, 2018, the Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today reported further misconduct allegations which were not part of the initial investigation. In response, the Willow Creek elders stated their intent to examine reports regarding "allegations that have not been previously investigated by the Elder Board." The elders said they would seek wise counsel and work with experts, developing a collaborative process.[18]

Despite its initial denial and defense of Hybels, the Willow Creek Board of Elders released a statement on May 9, 2018, as part of their second investigation into allegations against him; the statement indicated that the Board "[does] not believe the stories were all lies or that all the [accusers] were colluding against him."[19]

On August 5, 2018, The New York Times published allegations from a former employee of Hybels, who alleges that he repeatedly sexually harassed and assaulted her in the 1980s, including fondling her breasts and obtaining oral sex. The complainant only came forward after hearing of the other allegations against Hybels, but crucially had contemporaneous evidence of her allegations from people that she confided in at the time. Hybels denied the allegations.[20]

On August 7, 2018, Steve Carter, one of the two lead pastors who would have taken over leadership at Willow Creek and who had publicly defended Hybels on two prior occasions, tendered his resignation, citing the untenable position he was in given the church's inadequate attention to the matter once Hybels' history of misconduct became known. The following day, on the eve of the Global Leadership Summit, Heather Larson, the other lead pastor, also resigned, and the members of the elder board all stated they would step down by the end of the year.[21] Steve Gillen, lead pastor of Willow Creek's North Shore campus, assumed interim leadership. The church undertook a process to replace the elder board, and announced on January 19, 2019 that a new elder board had been installed.[22]

In March 2019, The Washington Post reported that a six-month independent review by four evangelical leaders found the misconduct allegations against Hybels to be credible. The reviewers asserted that were Hybels still pastor at Willow Creek, disciplinary action would be required.[23][24] In January 2020, the church announced that Hybels' mentor, Gilbert Bilezikian had also engaged in "inappropriate behavior" after a church member alleged he had sexually assaulted her over a number of years.[25][26][27]


Books which Hybels has authored or made a contribution to include:


See also


  1. ^ "As Christmas nears, Willow Creek hopes for a fresh start". Religion News Service. December 19, 2018. Retrieved January 9, 2019.
  2. ^ Manya A., Brachear (August 6, 2006). "REV. BILL HYBELS: The father of Willow Creek". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  3. ^ Journal/ASCG Vol.11, Spg 2000 - Reid Archived April 7, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "News at Willow Creek Community Church". Archived from the original on September 26, 2007. Retrieved February 5, 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ "Interview with Bill Hybels: May 2007" (PDF). Servant. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 12, 2007. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  6. ^ "Community Is Their Middle Name - Christianity Today magazine -". Retrieved November 7, 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ Rediscovering Church, Bill and Lynne Hybels (Zondervan, 1997)
  8. ^ "Willow Creek Community Church". Archived from the original on February 27, 2007. Retrieved February 5, 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ "2017 Largest Churches in America". Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  10. ^ Miller, Emily (September 28, 2018). "What's Next For Willow Creek". Retrieved January 2, 2020.
  11. ^ "Bill and Barack's Immigration Adventure: Hybels introduces Obama". Archived from the original on July 3, 2015. Retrieved November 7, 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ "From the Elders of Willow Creek". January 26, 2008. Archived from the original on January 31, 2008. Retrieved February 2, 2008. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  13. ^ Service, Emily McFarlan Miller-Religion News. "Can Willow Creek Find Closure After Bill Hybels?". News & Reporting. Retrieved April 15, 2020.
  14. ^ a b c "Willow Creek leadership summit goes on despite mass resignations". Religion News Service. August 9, 2018. Retrieved April 15, 2020.
  15. ^ Chu, Jeff How Willow Creek Is Leading Evangelicals by Learning from the Business World Fast Company December 6, 2010
  16. ^ Pashman, Manya Brachear; Coen, Jeff (March 23, 2018). "After years of inquiries, Willow Creek pastor denies misconduct allegations". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  17. ^ Bailey, Sarah Pulliam (April 11, 2018). "Megachurch pastor Bill Hybels resigns from Willow Creek after women allege misconduct". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  18. ^ Smietana, Bob (April 21, 2018). "Willow Creek Promises Investigation Amid New Allegations Against Bill Hybels". Christianity Today. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  19. ^ "Elder Update". Archived from the original on May 11, 2018. Retrieved May 10, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  20. ^ "He's a Superstar Pastor. She Worked for Him and Says He Groped Her Repeatedly". Retrieved August 5, 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  21. ^ "Illinois: church leadership steps down after sexual harassment allegations". The Guardian. August 9, 2018. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  22. ^ "Process Update: January 19 - 2019 Elder Board". Willow Creek Community Church. Willow Creek Community Church. Retrieved March 30, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  23. ^ Service, Emily McFarlan Miller | Religion News. "Misconduct allegations against Willow Creek founder Bill Hybels are credible, independent report finds". Retrieved February 5, 2021 – via CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  24. ^ Independent Advisory Group (February 28, 2019). "Report of the Independent Advisory Group" (PDF). Willow Creek Community Church. Retrieved March 30, 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  25. ^ Warren, Steve (January 29, 2020). "Willow Creek Announces Abuse Allegations Against Church Co-Founder". CBN News. Retrieved February 2, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  26. ^ "Willow Creek co-founder now accused of sexual misconduct". MetroVoice News. January 30, 2020. Retrieved February 2, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  27. ^ Banks, Adelle M. (January 31, 2020). "US church Willow Creek announces senior pastor candidates, interim pastor out". Sight Magazine. Retrieved February 2, 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)