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We live in a world that measures success by size. Bigger, we're told, is better. Willow Creek Community Church certainly fits the model. Every weekend 17,000-plus people attend six services (two exclusively designed for Gen-Xers) programmed with cutting-edge music, drama, and teaching to reach the unchurched. The services' "wow" factor is aided by 50 vocalists, a 75-piece choir, seven rhythm bands, a 65-piece orchestra, 41 actors, a video production department, and an arts center with 200 students that serves as a farm club for future talent.

But what if size is not the goal? What if you wanted to create the kind of intimate spiritual community in Acts 2, which describes early Christians caring for each other as if they were family? Can you create that kind of environment with thousands of people? Willow has spent 25 years figuring out how.

"The original concept of Willow was a kind of grand experiment," says Senior Pastor Bill Hybels. "It was based on the belief that it might be possible, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to build an Acts 2, biblically functioning community on the northwest suburbs of Chicago in the 1970s."

Hybels caught the vision from Gilbert Bilezikian, one of his instructors at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and still his mentor and close friend.

Bilezikian repeatedly shared his dream with Hybels for a contemporary Acts 2 church.

Hybels had been leading a youth ministry called Son City that in three years had mushroomed from 25 to 1,200 attenders. The loud, cutting-edge Christian music, the gritty realism of dramatic skits, and the use of multimedia were wrapped around Bible studies delivered without Christian jargon on topics that young people could relate to. The church's more traditional leaders ...

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In the Magazine

November 13, 2000

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