Thriving through the Holidays


Despite the summery weather this month, the holidays are just around the corner. At Willow, this time of year provides a great opportunity to connect and engage with God, family, and friends.

“November and December are two of my favorite months around Willow,” says Executive Pastor Heather Larson. “The weekend services help me engage in what matters most—our Thrive series has challenged me personally every single week. It’s easy to invite our friends and neighbors to church this time of year, and we are able to give back to God and our community through some incredible serving opportunities. Our calendars fill up quickly this time of year, but when I put my church priorities in ink first, it helps me stay focused on what’s important, rather than filling my days with holiday busy-ness.”

Top five reasons not to miss church between now and Christmas

  1. Christmas service times will be announced during weekend services soon!
  2. Hundreds of transformed lives will be celebrated through Baptism.
  3. You’ll have a chance to help fill more than 20,000 Prison Packs and hear stories of hope from behind the walls of Illinois prisons.
  4. Dozens of section gatherings make inviting friends and neighbors easy.
  5. A new Advent series and daily devotionals will help you prepare your heart for Christmas.

Let’s all thrive this holiday season!

Declaring a New Identity

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Fall 2015 Baptism: Go Public with your Faith

Hundreds of Christ followers will go public with their faith during Willow Creek’s Baptism services on November 21/22—a time of great celebration.

Baptism is a significant milestone for followers of Christ. In Scripture, getting baptized signifies a person’s public declaration of faith in Christ, and an acknowledgment of accepting His work on the cross as forgiveness for his or her sins. If you have not been baptized since becoming a Christian, learn more about Baptism here and attend an informational Baptism meeting immediately following services in the Main Auditorium this weekend, November 14/15.

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New Identities found at Breakaway

More than 1,000 middle school students gathered at Breakaway last weekend to connect in small groups, play outrageous games, and learn more about God. “Each year, we pray that God would reveal Himself to students in profound ways,” says Delwin Eiland, Elevate’s worship leader. “This year, we sought  to engage students in the truth that there is a God in heaven who is madly in love with them and longs for them to know that their identity is secure in Him. On Saturday night, many students responded to that truth for the first time as hundreds of their peers and adult leaders rejoiced with them. I believe the future of our church got a lot brighter over the weekend!”

You can see more highlights from Breakaway here.

A Place to Explore Faith

A Place to Explore Faith

Willow Creek places a high value on inviting people from all walks of life to explore the Christian faith. From the early days of our church, the phrase, “Invite everyone!” rang in attenders’ ears, and Willow quickly became a place where all questions were welcomed without judgment.

This value still holds true today—and the Alpha class Willow offers throughout the year is a great example. Through Alpha’s ten sessions, people from any faith background (or no faith background at all) experience a fun, friendly environment where they can learn more about God, the Christian faith, and the big-picture questions of life. Alpha provides an opportunity for guests to enjoy a free dinner, hear a short talk about a specific faith topic, and then discuss the night’s topic and ask questions in the safety of their table groups. Hundreds of people at Willow have experienced Alpha thus far—and 27 million have grown in their faith through Alpha internationally.

Grace and Healing at Alpha’s Fall 2015 Retreat

This past weekend Alpha hosted a fall retreat, dozens of people set aside two days to learn about the role the Holy Spirit plays in their lives and what it means to follow Christ.

“I am always humbled by peoples’ willingness to ask questions and explore their faith when they are simply given the space to do so,” says Mike Shintani, director of Alpha at Willow. “The highlight of the retreat for me involved one of our guests, an engineer who was an Atheist. He had been wrestling for 20 years to understand how you can actually feel God’s love being poured into your heart. On Saturday night he took a step of faith, invited Jesus into his life, and experienced the Holy Spirit for the first time. It became real to him in that moment.”

Alpha is a great environment for anyone with faith questions—whether they have been attending Willow for years or have never stepped foot in a church. New Alpha courses kick off in January. Click here to be notified when registration opens. If you have a heart for helping people explore Christianity and are interested in serving with Alpha, learn more here.

What we were made for


Thrive, a new weekend message series, began this weekend at the South Barrington campus, asking the questions, “Who are we and what are we made for?” Teaching Pastor Steve Carter opens up the New Testament book of Ephesians and asks us to slow down and examine our lives:

I wonder how many of us have made purchases—clothes, food, or stuff—to try to get a quick emotional boost, but hours later we realize we still are not satisfied? Material possessions were not designed to bring lasting satisfaction. Your ability to truly thrive is profoundly connected to the strength of your roots—what are you rooted in? Every day you have an opportunity to declare what your life is centered on. What are you chasing after?

In Ephesians, the apostle Paul addressed a church with a culture much like ours, which placed value and identity in physical appearances. Paul declared truth to people sifting through the conflicting messages of their culture as compared to God’s truth about them: they are chosen, adopted as sons and daughters of God, given a new name. Paul knew that if Christ followers were rooted in this truth, they would thrive and transform the world they lived in. The same is true for Christ followers today.

The Thrive series is an opportunity to ask difficult questions, dive into Scripture, and learn what life is really about. Tackling questions like these is done best in two ways: through time with God and time with others. The weekend messages are paired with a daily devotional and weekly small-group curriculum to help you grow in your relationship with God and in community. You can sign up to receive these resources here.

If you missed the first installment of Thrive, you can watch it here. Be here this weekend and bring a friend! Steve, along with Senior Pastor Bill Hybels, will unpack identity as it relates to your unique calling!

What a Night!

An ‘Only God’ Celebration!

Sunday, October 18 is a day that will long be remembered: More than 20,000 people filled the United Center to celebrate Willow’s 40th anniversary. As people entered the venue, each attender was given a wristband bearing the 40th logo, “Only God”—with little explanation as to its purpose. But during the program when speakers began describing major areas of ministry at Willow—including Elevate, Student Impact, the arts, Compassion & Justice, Camp Paradise, Willow Creek Association, regional congregations, reconciliation efforts, and Special Friends—the purpose of the wristbands became clear.

“If you’ve been impacted in some way by this ministry,” a speaker would say, “let your light shine!” Time and time again, thousands of wristbands lit up and the United Center filled with myriad points of light—each representing a life transformed or impacted by God in some way.

“Watching thousands of lights shine across the arena was a breathtaking experience,” says Executive Pastor Heather Larson. “God has whispered dreams into this church, and these lives that have been changed are a clear testimony to His faithfulness.”

The service creatively combined music, lights, stories, dance, video, and even a little confetti to celebrate what God has done over the past four decades in and through Willow Creek. Senior Pastor Bill Hybels concluded the celebrations by announcing where God is leading Willow next:

“Our leadership team has been asking ourselves, ‘What could we do in honor of the 40th anniversary that would bring God the greatest delight?’” Bill said. “It hit us, we are deeply blessed to have a permanent church home in South Barrington—and each of our regional congregations are well on their way to having permanent homes. But one of the greatest discouragements and barriers to ministry for pastors in developing countries is the lack of permanent space. Tents, leaky roofs, unsafe structures, and high rents are all too common. What if we could provide 40 of our partner churches all across the globe with a one-time infusion of resources so they could construct 40 safe, permanent homes for their congregations? This type of gift will stretch our faith—and it will be an ‘Only God!’ story we think will bring Him great joy. Throughout each year of Willow’s history, it has only ever been about Jesus, and we want to continue honoring Him.”

Willow’s Compassion & Justice team selected the 40 church partners most in need of such a gift, and each is represented by a banner hanging in the Main Lobby of South Barrington. Take time in the coming weeks to read about each partner—or view the banners here. Funding for these churches will be part of the year-end fund offering.

What people are saying

After the event, presenter Shauna Niequist said, “I have an epic gratitude hangover! Such an honor to thank our church’s founders and express our deep gratitude to God.”

Here are some comments from others shared using #willow40!

  • The future of Willow feels so exciting! 
  • It was a beautiful, awesome, tearful, joyful night—Willow rocks!
  • There are almost no words to describe the service, it was amazing! 
  • Praise God from whom all blessings flow! 
  • Indeed only God can write these stories. It was a great and awesome celebration.
  • What an incredible reminder that God touches and transforms individual hearts in deeply personal ways. What grace!

To view the 40th Anniversary service online, click here.

Thriving after the 40th

Following the 40th Anniversary, Willow launches a brand-new series called Thrive, which is centered on the book of Ephesians. The weekend teachings explore the question, “Is there really more?” Messages correspond with weekly small-group curriculum and daily devotionals that can help you thrive in your relationship with God and with others. Sign up to receive small group curriculum here.