Thinking Out Loud

October 15, 2017

Bill Hybels Announces Willow Creek Succession Plans

The team, both current and future (left to right) Steve Carter, Heather Larson, Bill Hybels.

At the first of three weekend services on October 14/15, which was also the celebration of the church’s 42nd anniversary, Willow Creek Community Church senior pastor Bill Hybels announced that one year from now, in October of 2018, the job he has held as Senior Pastor of the iconic church will be divided among two different people.

In a process that began 6½ years ago, Hybels and a team of leaders considered the possibility that his replacement might represent someone from an entirely different nation, given the church’s role in the annual Global Leadership Summit and the contacts it has produced, or possibly an international contact through the Willow Creek Association. He stated the search was essentially world-wide.

In the end however, the baton is being passed not to one, but two different people already serving the church in high profile capacities. An official announcement released on the church website confirms:

Executive Pastor Heather Larson, 42, will step into the role of Lead Pastor over all Willow Creek locations, and current Teaching Pastor Steve Carter, 38, will become Lead Teaching Pastor. Senior Pastor Bill Hybels, who founded the church in 1975, will continue coaching and developing these leaders until he transitions off the church staff in October 2018, at which point he’ll assume the title Founding Pastor.

Larson has been with the church for 19 years in various capacities, launching many new initiatives, and also worked for the American Red Cross. Carter arrived at Willow relatively recently and has held pastoral positions at Mars Hill (Grand Rapids, MI) and Rock Harbor (Fullerton, CA)  and is the author of This Invitation Life (David C. Cook, 2016).  However, before joining Willow five years ago, he had a 15-year mentoring relationship with Hybels.

Hybels detailed that after meeting with a consultant somewhat unfamiliar with the church, the question was asked, “What does Bill do?” After enumerating the work hours and the projects which currently fall under the Senior Pastor’s jurisdiction with the church Elders, the follow-up question was, “Why would we wish this on anyone?” So the decision was made to create two top-level positions.

The announcement continued:

The transition to new leadership will take place gradually over the next year, and Bill will transition off paid staff at Willow Creek Community Church in October 2018. During this transition, Heather and Steve will take steps of increased responsibility within their new job descriptions.

The complete 42nd Anniversary service is available on demand at where the announcement was made in lieu of a sermon.

For many years, Willow was the largest church in the United States and still ranks in the top five. Today, the church meets in six different locations and also has a Spanish congregation, Casa de Luz. The church’s early years, meeting in a theater in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, was a key element to the recent movie The Case for Christ. Past teaching pastors at the church include the movie’s main subject, Lee Strobel as well as John Ortberg and Gene Appel. The church hosts the Global Leadership Summit which is carried by satellite around the world. Bill Hybels’ wife Lynne is a strong social activist and daughter Shauna Niequist is a noted Christian author.

Newly announced leadership team at Willow Creek and their spouses: Heather Larson (2nd from Left) and Steve Carter (right)



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