Hope Behind Bars

Willow Creek's Prison & Jail Ministry helps thousands of incarcerated people and their families find hope behind—and beyond—bars. Each December, all eight Willow Creek locations join together in one goal: To bring hope by assembling Christmas gifts and delivering them to every incarcerated person in the state of Illinois. 

Save the Date

Prison Pack Weekend is December 2 & 3, featuring a message from lawyer, social justice activist, and author Bryan Stevenson. Bring family and friends to help assemble more than 70,000 gifts that will be sent to inmates across Illinois and to Angola prison.

Want to help behind the scenes? A fantastic team of volunteers helps prepare for Prison Pack weekend by building boxes and staging supplies. Consider joining this team—leading up to the weekend, or during the weekend—to help make prison packs a success. Learn more and sign up here.

An ongoing investment

For decades, Willow Creek has partnered with local prisons to provide care and support for incarcerated people—both during their time and upon release.

The Willow Creek Prison & Jail Ministry sends regular volunteers to meet with those in prison, fostering relationships with both the inmates and the staff at each site. The Willow Creek Care Center comes alongside families and those who are released to help find jobs with employers offering second chances and get reliable transportation through the C.A.R.S. ministry. The Care Center offers ongoing, wholistic support, to the incarcerated—and their families—both during their time in prison and upon release to lower the changes of re-offense. In 2017, the Prison & Jail Ministry:

  • Sent 3,800 letters to inmates
  • Held 10 in-prison Re-Entry Summits to teach people skills for finding resources and getting a job upon re-entry
  • Worked with 120 people coming out of incarceration to connect them with Care Center services
  • Held monthly meetings with more than 75 formerly incarcerated and affected family members to provide emotional support and resources
  • Served 25 people weekly for a RESTART Bible study
  • Fostered partnerships with 49 employers willing to offer second chances to individuals with records

The Care Center's efforts are paired with the services and community offered each week at Willow Creek Community Church to help people, like Brandon, find hope and healing from their past.

Watch Brandon's story here:


Christmas hope behind bars

For many, Christmas is a time to come together, remembering what matters most in life and slowing down to enjoy the gift of loved ones. This season is starkly different for those who find themselves in jail or prison—the "most wonderful time of the year" can often be the loneliest. For the past five years, Willow Creek Community Church has sought to bring hope to some of the most forgotten places in our state by assembling "prison packs", small gift bags with books, activities, cards, and some tasty treats that are sent to over 70,000 inmates each year.

“Hebrews 13:3 tells us, 'Remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison,'” says Josie Michalak, Willow’s Care Center director. “This time of year especially, let’s not merely read these words but act on them."

God has expanded the hearts and compounded the compassion of Willow Creek attenders, making the prison pack initiative one of most enthustiastically attended weekends each year. “Every single prisoner matters—to God and to us," says Senior Pastor Bill Hybels. "By packing gifts that are sent to prisoners, you can help transform the life of someone who might otherwise be forgotten.”


In 2016, Willow Creek's Prison Pack initiative was featured in Upworthy news!  

Pastor Bill Hybels was reading from the Gospel of Matthew 25, when he came across a verse that he couldn't shake: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."...Click here to read the full article.