We are creating an opt-in email that will send updates about twice a month regarding the investigation, our Elders process, our governance review, frequently asked questions, and ways you can be praying. These bi-monthly updates will help keep anyone who is interested in the details of these processes informed throughout the rest of 2018. Sign up to receive the updates via email here.
We commit to updating you with any major changes using churchwide communication avenues as the need arises.
Updates will also be posted below.
The ESC concluded the first round of interviews on October 7 after 82 interviews (a number of people chose to exit the process for time commitment and other reasons). The ESC is meeting this week to determine next steps for nominees. The second round of interviews will begin next week. The ESC is pleased with the quality of nominees, their skill set, their hearts for our church, and the representation of diversity. They are experiencing God’s goodness and grace in this process and are on track to hit the target date of December 1 for completing the selection process.
On September 18, we announced the commissioning of the Independent Advisory Group (IAG) consisting of Leith Anderson, Jo Anne Lyon, Margaret Diddams, and Gary Walter. The IAG is moving ahead with its work, reviewing documents, and scheduling conversations and meetings. Because we are not involved with their activities, we may not always have substantive updates in the weeks to come, but we will pass along any updates we receive.
Frequently Asked Questions
We have received several questions regarding the hiring process at Willow and the organizational structure. We have also received follow-up questions about Care Center attendance.
“Have we lost staff beyond the more prominent senior staff and Elders that were announced? If so, is it going to be harder than usual to replace them? Understanding Willow has high standards and often takes a long time to hire people, will a smaller than usual pool of applicants make it that much harder?”
“Who is responsible for finding a new lead pastor and new lead teaching pastor? If it is the Elders, will the process be on hold until January when a new Elder board is in place?”
“Will the new organizational chart for leadership be sent through the email updates?"
Ways to pray: Pray for the current and future staff of Willow, that God will bring the right people to lead us into this new chapter of our church. Many staff members have expressed weariness as a result of the past six months, so please pray that they will find rest, healing, and a fresh sense of calling. Pray specifically for our leadership as they continue to lead us through this challenging season, that they will have a renewed vision for the future of Willow, deeper humility as they learn from mistakes, and courage to make changes that glorify God.
“Is the number of visits to the Care Center down as a result of the current circumstances? Are we losing the opportunity to help people because they are reluctant to come? If so, are we reaching out to people?”
Ways to pray: The Care Center serves more than 15,000 families each year, empowering them to a more stable future. Pray for more people in need to discover the resources offered through the Care Center—and to ultimately discover the hope and light of Jesus in the midst of their hardship.
Elder Selection Committee
The Elder Selection Committee (ESC) has been finalized. The 26 members include 18 Willow congregants, 6 staff members, and 2 Elders. The ESC members are:
Kim Rasmussen (Administrator)
South Barrington Congregants
The Elder nomination period is now closed. We received 99 nominations with a wide representation of diversity. Here is the breakdown by gender and campus:
Each nominee will learn more about the requirements of being an Elder prior to becoming a candidate. Candidates will then enter a series of three interviews with the ESC to determine which of the candidates are best equipped and called to serve in this role at this time. The interviews help discern relational health, character, competencies, chemistry, and courage to become a future Elder. As the interview process continues, the ESC keeps all candidates informed with next steps.
Ways to pray: Pray for the nominees as they explore serving our church as an Elder for the season ahead. Pray for discernment for both the ESC and the nominees, that God will guide this process and bring us into a season of healing under their leadership.
Below are questions we have received in our inbox regarding the Elder selection process and attendance, along with ways to pray for each circumstance.
“Can you please shed more light on the selection process of the ESC? How do we know that we won’t end up with the same problems we had before? How do we know that they are not friends of Bill, that could be guided by him offline?”
“How is attendance doing, both in-person at each campus as well as online, year over year (to account for seasonal ebbs and flows)?
“Is volunteerism down in any ministries as a result of current circumstances? If so, how will we go about the process of finding new volunteers?”
The Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC) and the Willow Creek Association (WCA) joined to commission an external independent review and advisory group. The request is for this group to 1.) Consider allegations related to Bill Hybels as founder and pastor of the church and founder and spokesperson of the association; 2.) Review organizational culture of the church and association; and 3.) Make recommendations to the church and association for future actions.
Evangelical Christian leaders outside of Willow Creek Community Church and the Willow Creek Association nominated members for the advisory group. Once organized with co-chairs additional members were added. The group chose to be called the Willow Creek Independent Advisory Group (IAG).
The group is co-chaired by Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent Emerita of The Wesleyan Church, Indianapolis, IN, and Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, Washington D.C. Other members are Margaret Diddams, Provost of Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL, and Gary Walter, past president of the Evangelical Covenant Church, Chicago, IL. The group may also engage additional resources and consultants as needed to fulfill its mandate.
The IAG will work autonomously. WCCC and WCA have pledged their full cooperation, but neither will be represented on the IAG nor party to the group’s work except for providing information as requested. The group hopes to complete its work in early 2019.
The Independent Advisory Group has decided to decline press inquiries and interviews while they complete their review and develop their recommendations. Individuals who desire to convey information to the advisory group may do so through a separate independent organization unrelated to the Willow Creek Community Church, the Willow Creek Association or the IAG: 630-682-9797 x1292 or [email protected]
Below are questions we have received in our inbox regarding the Elder selection process, financial and legal concerns, the investigation, and leadership changes.
“Explain who picked the committee to be on the Elder Selection team? Who is running the Elder selection process?”
The Elder Selection Committee (ESC) is running the Elder selection process in this season. Lead Pastors, staff members, and Elders were asked for recommendations from each campus for the ESC. After interviews with each person, and allowing space for all to talk with God and their families, a final ESC was chosen and is composed of 20 Willow congregants, four members of staff, and two Elders. Approximately 60% of the ESC members are from the South Barrington campus and 40% from Regionals. The diversity on the ESC represents the diversity of our congregation. The names of ESC members will be shared in the coming weeks. In order to remain compliant with our legal and fiduciary requirements, an Elder chairs the ESC.
“What makes someone qualified to be on the Elder selection team?”
Qualifications for ESC members include: being part of the 2:42 Community, attending and serving at Willow for at least 5 years, a high level of spiritual maturity, and a strong sense of discernment.
“What is the candidate vetting process, who does the vetting, and who makes final decisions? What criteria will be used to find new Elders?”
Elder nominees begin the process by reading the qualifications of an Elder, which are clearly stated on our website. Next, they complete a thorough questionnaire as part of the screening process, and staff members have the opportunity to complete questionnaires for any Elder nominees serving in their ministries. Getting to know nominees through both formats will set the ESC up for their future interviews. All nominees are invited to attend a gathering to learn more about the Elder role, Policy Governance, and Elder Statements in this initial phase.
As nominees continue in the process, they become candidates. Candidates enter a series of three interviews with the ESC to determine which of the candidates are best equipped and called to serve in this role at this time. The interviews help discern relational health, character, competencies, chemistry, and courage to become a future Elder. As the interview process continues, the ESC keeps all candidates informed with next steps.
The ESC will determine which candidates are best to serve as Elders. Upon deciding, selected future Elders undergo a 30-day affirmation period during which the congregation will be able to affirm, or raise concerns on, all recommended Elder Board members. The affirmation process begins the weekend of December 1 & 2.
“Will we have more diversity in the Elders? Race, family status, etc.”
It is the intent of the ESC to select the most qualified candidates to be Elders, and to select Elders that reflect the diversity of our church congregation. The nominations received comprise a wide range of diversity in background, ethnicity, race, family status, and life experience, which will hopefully create a more balanced Elder board in the future.
“Are we paying Bill’s legal fees?”
No, Bill is responsible for his own legal fees for any causes against him personally. If in the event a claim is brought against Bill in his capacity as an employee of the church, the church’s insurance carrier would likely cover his legal fees.
“Are there any current lawsuits against Willow?”
“If tithes and offerings are down for a period of time, how will the church continue to operate within its means? What will be the process for determining where cuts are made? Will this process be communicated to the congregation?”
South Barrington has made no cuts to date and is kicking off the 2019 budget planning process this month. For the next several weeks, we have asked ministries to only spend funds on mission critical expenses as we determine our financial position. We are committed to providing quarterly updates regarding the church’s financial standing.
Each regional campus operates with its own budget and planning. Lead pastors will update their congregations accordingly.
“Why are we having an investigation into the women’s stories?”
We want to pursue truth however we can, and we specifically want to make things right with the women and the others who have been hurt. Ultimately, we want to lay the foundation for a new and better Willow that honors God in all dimensions, whatever that looks like.
“Will Bill be a part of the investigation?”
Our desire as a church is that Bill would participate in the investigation. Whether or not he chooses to do so or not is outside our control.
“Who is the independent research company doing the investigation on all the alleged accusations?”
An advisory group is being formed to oversee the investigation. This group of individuals is finalizing a few details before confirming their commitment to serve in this capacity. They will determine the appropriate scope and breadth of the investigation. We hope to share their names shortly. We will keep you informed as it progresses.
“Who is paying for this investigation? Does it come out of our tithes?”
The investigation is being funded by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous and is not connected to Bill, Willow Creek, or those who made allegations in order to avoid bias. The donor will have no influence or involvement in the investigation, and the funds will be deposited by the donor into an account maintained by a third-party organization.
The Elder Response Team
“What is all this ERT business? Is this lawyer really sending letters to people banning them from campus?”
The Elders hold the responsibility for discipline and safety within our church. They delegated the responsibility to a group of staff and volunteers called the Elder Response Team (ERT). With the resignation of the current Elder board, and the decision that no staff, including the Senior Pastor, can be an Elder, it was decided to disband the current ERT in order to rebuild with a fresh foundation. The new Elder board will revisit how to best carry out church discipline.
The ERT got involved in many situations. While many cases resulted in a reconciliation or healing process, some resulted in restrictions or boundaries around serving or attending specific service times or workshops. In rare situations where reconciliation and restoration was not achieved, or there was still concern about divisiveness or danger, cases have resulted in complete attendance restriction, and a letter from the church’s attorney was sent to the individuals.
“How does the Elder Response Team define ‘case work’?”
Anytime there is a concern that someone is dangerous or divisive, these difficult situations are termed case work.
Willow Staff and Leadership
“How will leadership begin to build trust and transparency in this season? It’s not honoring to hear things from the bottom up instead of top down.”
We acknowledge that rebuilding trust takes time, and our heart is to take many steps to demonstrate an openness and desire for transparency. Here are just a few:
We are seeking to rebuild trust with our staff teams by providing spaces to worship, grieve, process, and grow together. We are creating new ways to bridge gaps between levels of management and have formed cross-departmental, cross-regional teams to better collaborate and move forward. Our prayer is that as the staff continues to heal and work together, we will be able to better pastor our congregation.
A team has been formed to help pastor the congregation through this season. They are devoted to identifying multiple avenues for people to process. They have plans to lead us on a collective journey of forgiveness, confession, extending grace, and rebuilding trust.
We know we have been reactive in our communication with the congregation, we are sorry, and we want to change that. We created a new opt-in email avenue for those who wish to receive more regular updates. This email will be sent at least twice a month through the end of 2018, and the content will include updates on the Elder process, Policy Governance review, the investigation, major staff changes, answers to frequently asked questions, and ways to get involved and pray. You can sign up for this email here.
We are committed to updating you with any major changes using churchwide communication avenues such as announcements during weekend services, additional emails, and 2:42 meetings, as the need arises.
“How can we keep up with the staff changes?”
With more than 350 people on staff, it is difficult to inform you on all the changes that take place in our organization (retirement, moving, new job opportunities, etc). With that being said, each ministry is responsible for updating their leaders, volunteers, and participants on any staff changes within that ministry. Our goal is to provide the congregation with director-level staff updates through our opt-in email in this season. Sign up here.
“Who is the leadership team? Can we have their names? Do you have an organizational chart?”
In the past, the leadership team team was comprised of ministry directors. We are in the process of developing a new organizational chart and identifying a new structure of leadership.
“Does Willow use NDA’s (non-disclosure agreements) when firing staff to keep them from talking about their experience?”
We believe the questions raised regarding NDAs are likely referring to the church's financial care package offered to staff who are transitioning from their roles. There are various situations in which the church provides financial care to a transitioning staff member. There are times when a ministry restructures and a staff member’s position is eliminated or is fundamentally different from the one for which she or he was hired. There are situations when the scope of a position changes over time such that it no longer matches the skill set of a staff member and no alternative position within the organization is found. There are also times when the church ends a staff member’s employment due to performance reasons. In all these cases, the primary goal is to care for and assist the staff member and his or her family in the time of transition. We recognize the importance of every staff member’s contribution to building the church and are also mindful of the impact of a transition. The spirit of the financial care the church provides is one of coming alongside to help bridge the gap during the transition to new employment. For all staff members, we understand this time at the church is one part of their journey; when this time comes to a close, for whatever reason, we care that they and their family are well.
Willow provides a legal document that outlines the details of the financial care, including specifics of the compensation and benefits. The document includes a brief paragraph that asks the staff member to refrain from making disparaging or untrue statements about the church for the duration of the financial care agreement. A staff member is given time to consider the agreement. It does not prohibit a person from reporting any type of abuse or ethical violation. It does not prohibit the person from sharing her or his experience on staff. Transitions can be hard and our desire is for both the church and the transitioning staff member to be respectful of each other. As a church, we generally don’t share specifics of staff transitions, recognizing that in some cases this is necessary to protect and honor the transitioning staff member. As part of this desire for mutual respect, the document includes an agreement to engage in biblically-based mediation if there is unresolved relational conflict between the transitioning staff member and the church. As we move ahead, we’re considering how to best care for transitioning staff members and their families.
The Elder Response Team has never used NDAs.
“What is the process to find new pastors and senior staff? How much visibility will the congregation have to the candidates and the process?”
The appointment of a senior leader is the responsibility of the future Elders. One of the tasks of the new Elder board will be to decide on this process and the congregation’s role in it.
“How are Heather, Steve, and their families doing with regards to their emotional well-being, spiritual well-being, and future job prospects?”
Heather, Steve, and their families are finding space to rest and heal. Heather’s family is still connected to their communities at Willow. Steve also gave an update on his personal blog that you can read here.