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.