Thursday, November 19
1.Is there a way for us to get to learn more about the new staff members?
Our team is growing, which is exciting, but can also make it challenging to introduce everyone to the congregation! Our Executive Leadership team is shared on our website. Over the coming months via email and on social media, you’ll hear from our pastors as they share updates on their areas of ministry.
2. I heard our church model is changing. What’s changing? How will that impact us?
We truly believe we are better together—as ministries, as church campuses, as staff, and as a church body. We are shifting our church structure to have more unity, not uniformity, in how we operate so that we can more effectively and efficiently serve our congregations and multiply our reach.
In regards to the week-to-week experience, each campus will still have pastors who are dedicated to their campus to love, care, and shepherd the congregation. They will hear from their pastors every week. Their campus pastor will still preach in-person on occasion. They will have local worship leaders who will lead them. The campus will have compassion and justice happening locally with partner ministries that make a difference in their community. Prayer, Bible study, and discipleship opportunities will happen in groups at every campus.
The big change is in how we are structured. Instead of people writing different content at every campus for kids, students, and small groups, we will have Core Teams who will collaborate with campuses to write this curriculum. Our staff at each campus will be freed up to pastor at a deep level, and anything that is administrative or redundant will be done at the core.
The role of the core is to serve the campuses as we deliver exceptional care and ministry to the people who connect through Willow. The core, working directly with the campus department leaders on the same team, will create the ministry structures, philosophies, and strategies. The core’s emphasis is on systems and strategies, while the campus emphasis is on the people impact and how the ministry strategies are implemented. We’ve had “central services” for years in areas of accounting and human resources, now we are adding central services for our ministry areas.
The ultimate goal is to provide the best support to our campus staff and service to those we are ministering to. If it makes sense to adjust the execution, the campus will have the freedom to do that within the overall framework of that particular ministry strategy and philosophy.
3.What is the reason behind all the change?
There are three converging realities driving the changes:
The need to right-size.
As we studied healthy growing churches across the country, it was common for these churches to have a staff to congregation ratio of 1:100 overall and 1:160 at the campus level. Willow was at 1:57 at the beginning of 2020. That is nearly twice as many staff as other similar churches. With a two-year slide in finances across nearly all campuses, this puts a strain on our ability to do ministry. As attendance dropped at almost every campus, these ratios were getting worse, not better.
A pull toward a greater vision.
This is the driving reason for roles that were moved from the campus to the core.
The Elders selected a senior pastor based on their desire for the church to grow once again and rediscover her DNA of reaching people far from God. They wanted someone who could pull the church together and use the strength of the whole to have a greater impact in Chicago and beyond. Our model of multi-site is so heavy financially, that we haven’t been able to multiply disciples into new places in our city for the past five years. This is about next steps—taking our own next step with God as we grow deeper in our faith, and also helping others take their first step with God. In order to do that, we need to restructure our staff to support campuses by lifting administrative and redundant tasks (moving it to the core) so staff are freed to pastor people to take next steps.
A global pandemic.
This is driving the pace of change.
Every business, every organization, every mission agency, and every church is having to grapple with the fact that the world post-COVID will not be the same. We don’t know what it will look like, but we know it won’t be the same. Airlines aren’t planning for a return to 2019 numbers until 2025 or beyond due to people’s fear. Commercial office space experts anticipate a downturn for years as many in the workforce will continue to work remotely. And for more than six months, church attenders have grown accustomed to worshiping online—many of them discovering they can still grow spiritually without driving to a building. The large churches we network with are expecting it to be years after COVID before they get close to previous in-person attendance numbers. And some are realizing they never will.
This is not a thing to fear. The Church throughout history has always been at her best when challenged. We will figure this out, but it’s going to require a leaner model that allows us to innovate and pivot quickly in an ever-changing world.
4.What steps are being taken to increase diversity among the staff and executive leadership at Willow?
Diversity in leadership is incredibly important as we step into the future as a church and we know it takes intentionality to create multi-cultural and multi-ethnic spaces.
Our Human Resource team has worked with consultants to review and change hiring practices, including the writing of job descriptions, to make sure they are as inclusive to different genders and ethnic backgrounds as possible. These changes have led to a wider net of candidates for open roles.
We also know the culture we embody as a church impacts who we attract and who sticks. Our entire staff is participating in World Vision’s May We Be One program to help us learn about structural racism, particularly how churches throughout history have played a part in perpetuating it. Two justice leaders, Dr. Soong-Chan Rah and Rev. Sandra Maria Van Opstal, have led our staff in sessions to deepen our learning and help us become better prepared to lead and pastor. They’re done additional sessions with various groups of leadership and people of color on our staff to help us identify if and how we are inadvertently contributing to inequities. Their learnings are helping us create actionable next steps that will shift our staff culture in a way that not only values diversity, but has the tools to uphold it in every area.
5.What is the status of reopening the church? How will changes in state-wide COVID regulations affect Willow gatherings?
We miss meeting each weekend for services and have been tremendously blessed by our time in the tent this fall and on Thursday nights. We are committed to doing our part in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and believe we can love our communities well by doing so. We are grateful for the ways we’ve been able to gather and will continue to work with local officials and health experts on how to do so safely in the future. We will continue to keep you updated as plans to gather evolve.
6.What is the new weekend services model going to be moving forward?
In the future, our weekends will continue to offer space to worship, learn from God’s Word, and connect. Each weekend you’ll be led in worship by our South Barrington teams and hear from our South Barrington staff. COVID-19 has greatly impacted how we physically gather, and we will continue to work with local authorities and health officials to provide safe opportunities to do so. We can’t wait for the day when our kids, students, and adults can all gather on a weekend together at South Barrington!
7. Budget Update
At all our campuses, giving is down. But expenses are lower because our buildings are closed. Also, with the PPP forgivable loan from the government this year, we do not have a cash flow problem. All our campuses will end the year in the black. We do, however, need to keep trajectories in mind and make changes now that will lead to a stable and sustainable ministry future.