Willow Creek's plans call for doubling the building space on the main campus to give Willow the room it needs to minister to the half-million unchurched people within 30 minutes of the church. The plans further call for establishing "satellite regional ministry centers" to reach the 750,000 unchurched people within a 30-to-60 minute radius of the church. And, finally, the plans include a hoped-for alliance with Chicago area churches and even greater support to the Willow Creek Association (WCA), which serves churches all over the world.
On-campus expansion will include a three-story ad ministration building (already under construction) that will house 250 employees, including the entire staff of the WCA. Willow will also build a 7,000-seat, state-of-the-art auditorium along with a classroom building, which will add another 300,000 square feet of space.
The new buildings will relieve a space crunch that church leaders say has severely hampered ministry expansion. The church's 90 existing meeting rooms currently host 400 events a week and are often booked six months in advance. Some employees have been forced to work at home or in rented off-campus locations.
Plans for the regional ministry centers are still under development. "The centers are a whole new frontier for us that we've never considered in the past," says Senior Pastor Bill Hybels. "We feel like God is leading us to go into it and try to figure it out."
The centers may function simply as remote facilities that carry broadcasts of Willow services.
In a second scenario, the centers might show an edited video version of Willow's weekend teaching but have their own live bands, drama groups, and programming teams. Heartland Community Church in Rockford, Illinois, 90 miles from Chicago, sprang up 18 months ago using this model. Today 1,500 people attend its weekend services.
A third option is for the satellite centers to eventually develop into fully functioning churches with a full complement of on-site ministries. The more than 100 churches in the Chicago area that belong to the WCA are watching the development of these centers with great interest.
Willow leaders say they plan to work closely with the churches, to complement and not compete with them.
Jim Tomberlin, former pastor of Woodmen Valley Chapel in Colorado Springs, joined Willow's senior management team in August as a teaching pastor. Tomberlin—known for his networking skills—pulled together an alliance of 50 percent of the churches in Colorado Springs to work on areawide initiatives. Willow is banking on Tomberlin's catalyzing a similar alliance of churches in the Chicago area—an alliance that will very likely include more than just WCA churches.
Copyright © 2000 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.