Special Friends at Willow Creek
Moving from Presence to Belonging
In recent years, the world has made significant strides in accepting people with intellectual disabilities. We see this in schools with inclusion strategies, in buildings with equal-access accommodations, and in churches with an increase in disability ministries.
But at Willow South Barrington, we hope to go one step further. We seek to step beyond merely accepting that our friends with intellectual disabilities are present. We want each one to belong. And to fully belong at Willow means you’re connected with a Christ-centered community; you’re learning and growing spiritually; and you’re using your gifts to serve others.
As you browse this website and engage with our ministry, we pray you’ll feel a connection with one or more of our ministries—and join us in helping our Special Friends move from merely being present to fully belonging. Thank you for being part of our journey!
Our Special Friends Space
In Special Friends, we have created an intentional environment for our friends with intellectual disabilities—a welcoming space in our church designed specifically for their unique needs, making it more conducive to learning about God and making friends.View pictures of the space below!Learn more here.
Special Friends Kids: Ages 4–12
5:30 p.m. Saturdays • 9 & 11:15 a.m., Sundays | Room D150
In Special Friends, we have created an intentional environment for our young friends with intellectual disabilities—a welcoming space in our church designed specifically for their unique needs, making it more conducive to learning about God and making friends. Among other things, this space includes calming sensory nooks, an equal-access treehouse, and trampolines to help children regulate their bodies. Our uniquely designed environment provides the opportunity for every child to experience belonging as they learn through interactive, repetitive, and experiential teaching. This group is designed for a 1:2 ratio of volunteer to participant. Support workers are welcome.
Special Friends Teens & Adults: Age 13 & Up9 & 11:15 a.m., Sundays | Room D154
On any given weekend, you can find a group of Special Friends teens and adults of all abilities worshipping together, learning about Jesus through experiential teaching, and deepening their friendships with each other and with God. This group is designed for a 1:2 ratio of volunteer to participant. Support workers are welcome.
Special Friends Teens & Young Adults: Ages 13–22
5:30 p.m., Saturdays
On Saturday nights, the Special Friends teens and young adults join the main service for worship followed by small group, teaching and discipleship class. This group is geared towards those who do well with a 1:5 ratio of volunteer to participant. Support workers are welcome.
Special Friends Adult Community: Age 23 and older
6–9 p.m., Wednesdays
Adults with intellectual disabilities take their faith one step further on Wednesday nights, where they build community, worship together and learn how to use their God-given abilities to serve in our church and communities. Modified Bible classes, choir and social skills learning are just a few of the opportunities offered for our adults with intellectual disabilities. This group is designed for a 1:5 ratio of volunteer to participant. Support workers are welcome.
Special Friends Teen & Young Adult Community: Ages 13–22
6–9 p.m., 1st & 3rd Wednesdays
Our teens and young adults long for meaningful relationships, and they are able to find these kinds of connections through a variety of opportunities available on Wednesday nights—including worship, social events, service projects, and modified discipleship classes. This group is geared towards those who do well with 1:5 volunteer to participant ratio. Support workers are welcome.
Special Friends Boomers Game
6:30 p.m., Friday, June 22
Enjoy a sensory-friendly family night with Special Friends and our Sunday Section 106B at the Schaumburg Boomers Stadium. Quiet rooms are available at the ballpark. Optional fireworks following the game. Registration required.
July 21/22: Mary Poppins Jr.
At 5:30 p.m. on July 21 and at 9 & 11:15 a.m. on July 22, Willow Creek's Special Friends ministry will perform Mary Poppins Jr. as part of the weekend services. Special Friends helps kids, teens, and adults with physical and mental disabilities unleash their God-given abilities. In partnership with the Penguin Project, more than 50 actors with special needs perform a musical production in front of thousands at Willow Creek. Each actor is paired with a mentor, who spends months practicing lines, songs, and dances with them. At the show, you'll experience the remarkable gifts of our actors.
Register for Special Friends
Please complete our Special Friends Registration Form. This registration helps prepare our staff and volunteers to welcome you and be equipped to provide a safe environment that meets the unique needs of your loved one.
Volunteer with Special Friends
The heart of the Special Friends ministry is rooted in the servant hearts of our volunteers. Special Friends volunteers come from all walks of life: some have experience with special needs and want to use their knowledge to help support our kids. Others have no experience whatsoever, but they want to volunteer in a ministry that makes a huge difference in the lives of others. Each of our volunteers sees the impact they have on individuals with disabilities and their families. They sense how valued they are. Serving in Special Friends often taps into a compassionate part of our volunteers that they didn’t even know they had—until they began making a lasting difference in the lives of these kids.
Interested in volunteering with Special Friends? Please complete our Special Friends Volunteer Form.
Watch Joni Eareckson Tada share her journey and how she found joy in the path God designed for her:
Caregiver Support Group
Caregiver Support is a time for parents and caregivers of those with special needs to be encouraged, equipped and supported as they share life's journey with each other. Through large-group teaching, a prayer and connection time, and small-group discussion, participants can experience joy, hope, and healing in this caring, Christ-centered community.
Bi-Weekly Meetings: Caregiver Support meets from 7–9:30 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of the month at Willow Creek's South Barrington campus. Participants are encouraged to gather from 7-7:30 p.m. in the Lakeside Auditorium for a church-wide worship gathering.
Winter 2018 Dates:January 17, February 7 & 21, March 7 & 21
Register for Caregiver Support here.
Questions? Email Sunday Section 106B Leader Michelle Pilafas at [email protected] to learn more.
Section 106B: South Barrington weekend service for families
Sunday @ 9 & 11:15 a.m. section leader: Michele Pilafas (847) 404-7452
Section 106B is a diverse community with a heart for individuals with special needs and the family, friends, and fans who support them. Section leader Michelle Pilafas is the chairman for the Commission for Disabled Citizens in Hoffman Estates. She and her husband, Gary, have four remarkable sons, two of whom have special needs.
Special Friends Staff Contacts