Megachurch Spends Christmas Season Urging Congregants to Donate

Chicago's Willow Creek Church is spending "Christmas On Location" in three needy places – Zambia, Gulf Coast, and Mexico – to see where the congregation back home can help with cash and kind donations.

The megachurch, known as a model for seeker-sensitive services, has been in the lead as an evangelical church committed to social concerns, such as AIDS (Zambia), natural disasters (Gulf Coast), and outreach to the Latino community (Mexico).

Willow Creek came under the scrutiny of the media recently for deciding to close its doors on Christmas – a move that the church said would give its volunteers and pastoral staff some downtime with their families.

However, the church will be holding eight pre-Christmas day services for their 30,000-or-so congregants in four locations. And as part of their annual Christmas services, the church is asking for contributions for their "Year End Fund."

In preparation, three of the church's top leaders have journeyed to far-off lands to make the world's needs known to their churchgoers in hopes that they will give to the fund specially set aside for the Global Connections ministry - a ministry which partners with local churches in Africa and Latin America to help people.

Senior Pastor Bill Hybels landed in Zambia on Saturday to help churches battle AIDS. For two days, he will tour local churches, and a ministry team will shoot a video for the benefit of their congregations back home.

"Many world leaders have called the global HIV/AIDS pandemic the greatest humanitarian crisis in history,” according to a statement published online by Willow Creek. "It is, without question, the greatest widow and orphan-maker in history."

Nearly 40 million people are infected with AIDS worldwide, 25 million of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Hybels hopes that the church will help, and plans to make his church a model for others.

“The church is the hope of the world," he said previously.

The Willow Creek statement explains, "there is no other organization on earth with the scope, the mandate, and the power to deal with an issue as big as AIDS."

Previously, on Dec. 10-11, Lead Pastor Gene Appel of the South Barrington campus traveled to Mexico City to talk to partnered churches about helping out their ministries with contributions.

Willow Creek is also interested in transferring the creative outreaches from Latin America to their own Latino ministry in Greater Chicago, now home to 1.6 million Latinos, the largest minority in greater Chicago.

On Dec. 3-4, Teaching Pastor Mike Breaux visited the Gulf Coast and found Willow Creek congregants who had moved down there to help Waveland, Miss., and his video urged congregants back home to donate.

"People here in Waveland, Miss., have lost everything," said Breaux on the video for the Willow Creek congregants. “I can't describe to you the sadness in my soul standing in the middle of what used to be somebody's house, somebody's life."

Last year, Global Connection's work in Africa and Latin America received $710,000 from Willow Creek's congregants.