Influential pastor Bill Hybels announced over the weekend that his megachurch will be expanding outreach and ministry efforts throughout the Chicago metropolitan area.
The announcement was made as Willow Creek Community Church celebrated its 35th anniversary.
The new vision will be played out independently at each of the megachurch's five "Chicagoland" campuses. Three of the campuses plan to build or acquire new, permanent facilities to house the growing number of attendees. Another has committed itself to giving birth to another regional campus by Easter, and the Spanish ministry is determined to reach out to more in the Hispanic community.
Meanwhile, Willow Creek's main campus in South Barrington will be focusing its efforts on unleashing a wave of compassion in their neighborhood.
"Increasingly ... God has been stirring in our hearts concerning the growing needs of people right next door to our campus," Hybels told his 23,000-strong congregation. "The effects of the recent recession just keep grinding on and causing terrible hardships to people within a golf shot of our church.
"This has been stirring in our spirits."
Just a few years ago, Willow Creekers dedicated themselves to unleashing unprecedented levels of compassion for the broken world. The well-known megachurch has been active in training church leaders around the world, alleviating global poverty, and helping those affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa.
"We've stepped up on the global side," Hybels recognized. But the needs of their neighbors on their home turf are great.
While keeping its commitment to aiding people overseas, Willow Creek will be relocating and strengthening its car ministry and expanding its care center to include legal aid services, counseling for women with unplanned pregnancies and a medical clinic.
"The facility that we're leasing off campus will not allow us to meet the growing and pressing needs of our community," he reported, noting that care center visits increased 89 percent in the last year. "Our leased facilities are maxed out and we don't feel that the work that God wants to do through us is maxed out at all."
Willow Creek's aim is to be the hands and feet of Christ and share the love of Christ. And with the relocation of the ministries to the main church campus, non-denominational congregation thus anticipates more people coming to Christ as recipients of the services will be able to connect the generosity and care they receive to Christ's followers.
Sharing his conviction on the need to care for others, Hybels told the congregation that when the "day of reckoning" comes, Christians will not be measured by when they raised their hand to accept Christ or how much they know about Christianity, but rather on compassion.
He added, "Jesus isn't talking about salvation by doing good works. Salvation is a gift. But what Jesus is saying [is]: if that's really happened in you, if you've been redeemed from the inside out, the word of the Holy Spirit will be such that you will become my hands, my feet ... in the world."
To get the new compassion projects off the ground, Willow Creek launched the "2:45" compassion campaign with a goal of raising $10 million by the end of the year. "2:45" is a reference to Acts 2:45, the verse in the Bible that reveals how first-century believers sold their possessions and goods to give to those in need.
As part of the effort, the megachurch will remodel and expand the South Barrington facility to include the cars ministry and care center. The church hopes to start the work in spring.
Acknowledging the tough economic times and the large request he is making, Hybels reminded the congregation that visions have price tags.
"The coolest vision that ever happened on earth was when God announced that he wanted redemption to occur but that it was going to cost someone something. Sin was going to have to be paid for," he said. "The coolest vision that ever happened was when Jesus died to atone for human sin. ... What a price tag. It cost Jesus everything.
"But it changed the world."
The new Willow Creek vision, he noted, is also cool.
"It's going to touch tens of thousands of lives for decades to come," he stated.
Founded in a movie theater in Palatine, Ill., Willow Creek Community Church started off as a "sanitized, tiny little group" of people who were all white, around the same age, and college educated, as Hybels recalls. Today, it is one of the largest and most influential churches in the country that celebrates diversity and includes a worship service conducted in Spanish.
Willow Creek is also well known for its annual leadership conference, which is hosted at nearly 200 sites throughout North America and broadcast to people in more than 70 countries.