Bill Hybels is the Founding and Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church.
Bill Hybels, born December 12, 1951, is the founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, one of the largest churches in North America with an average attendance of more than 25,000. He is also the founder of Willow Creek Association and creator of The Global Leadership Summit. Bill has authored more than 20 books, including Leadership Axioms, The Power of a Whisper, Just Walk Across the Room, Simplify, Too Busy Not to Pray, Descending into Greatness, and Leading from Here to There: Five Essential Skills.
In the early 1970s, Bill was studying at Trinity International University (then called Trinity College) when Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, a New Testament professor, challenged the class about what it would look like to build an Acts 2-based church today. Hybels was captivated with the vision; he abandoned aspirations to lead a lucrative family business and decided to pursue ministry.
In 1971, while serving as youth pastor at Park Ridge’s South Park Church, Bill and his friend Dave Holmbo started a youth group called Son City. Modern music, drama sketches, and multimedia presentations were combined with relevant Bible messages that helped the group grow from 25 students to more than 1,200 in just three years.
One night in May 1974, more than 300 students waited in line to be led to Christ following one of Bill’s messages. After the service, Bill and the other leaders began dreaming of forming a new church—not just for students, but for adults, too.
They began by surveying the surrounding community to find out why people didn’t attend church. Common answers included, “Church is boring,” “They’re always asking for money,” and “I don’t like being preached down to.” These answers shaped the group’s approach to the new church. To raise money for a rented space and other expenses, Bill and 100+ teens and leaders sold 1,200 flats of tomatoes door-to-door.
On October 12, 1975, the group held its first service in Palatine’s Willow Creek Theatre, with 125 people in attendance. Bill spoke on “New Beginnings”—and within two years, the church had outgrown its facility, with weekend attendance topping 2,000 attendees. They needed more space.
Once again the congregation pitched in to raise funds, this time for a new, permanent home: the 155 acres of land Willow still calls home today. Construction crews broke ground in 1980—and in 1981 the church moved to its current location in South Barrington.
The church once again grew rapidly. By 2000, more than 15,000 people were attending weekly services. In 2004, the new Main Auditorium was opened. With a seating capacity of more than 7,000, the state-of-the-art auditorium is one of the largest theaters in the United States. Today, the church averages more than 25,000 attendees per week across eight locations in the Chicago area, making it one of the largest churches in America.
In 2013, Willow Creek opened the 75,000-square-foot Care Center at its South Barrington location, providing immediate needs and long-term solutions for families in the community. Funded in full before construction began (in the midst an economic recession), the $10M Care Center offers food, clothing, car repairs, dental and eye exams, job training, ESL classes, legal aid, and more to 17,000 under-resourced families per year.
Bill established a staff culture at Willow Creek in which humility and a drive for excellence are part of the “Willow DNA” across all locations, dozens of ministries, and church partnerships that welcome people of all backgrounds in Chicagoland and around the globe.
Bill and his wife, Lynne (Berry), who is co-founder of Willow, have been married for 43 years. Their family includes grown children Todd Hybels and Shauna (Hybels) & Aaron Niequist—as well as two grandsons, Henry and Mac.