This Christmas, See the Light

This Friday marks a highlight of our winter season as Christmas services begin at Willow! Like huddling around a bright and blazing fireplace for warmth, in just a few days many will gather at Willow Creek’s South Barrington campus to remember and celebrate the True Light of the World. For all the details, as well as tools to help you invite your friends and family, click here − and if you’d like a compelling sneak-peek of what’s in store, click through for a video and a fun conversation with Willow Creek’s Creative Director, Blaine Hogan!

Blaine shares that there are some powerful special effects coming our way, and he is eager for them to bring life to the Christmas story. But he’s quick to point out they aren’t for oohhs and aahhs. They only serve to unfold the glorious story behind Christmas.

“We always seek to create spectacular moments based on scripture,” Blaine explains. “In the Christmas story, we’ve got two visits from an angel, and a dream that Joseph experiences—that’s some fun fodder to work with!”

As the creative process unfolded, Blaine found himself worshipping God as the creative Author of Salvation, someone whose creativity is vast enough to make regular people and places spectacular.

“I’m reminded just how moving this story is: two young, super non-famous kids, chosen by God, to carry out one of the most important missions in history is a tall order,” Blaine says. “The fact that God chose a group of so very normal and ordinary people is a true testament to how much God wants us to see the unseen.”

Blaine can barely contain his excitement about the original music written for this year’s celebration. He says, “To know people from all over the world will be taking in the Christmas story while listening to music created by our own artists is really an amazing thing!”

Two Family Updates

A Family Gathering

We are so grateful for the thousands of people who helped this past weekend to pack 32,000 gifts for inmates. The gifts are being delivered this week!  While we are very excited about this past weekend, there are many heavy hearts around our church because of the racial tensions that are running so high in our country right now. We think this issue is so important that we have decided to change plans for our Midweek service. There will be a beautiful time of worship, and then we are going to have a family gathering that Bill will lead.  Together, we’ll learn more about racial reconciliation, and there will be a time for Q&A to address the issues we are wrestling through. You can send in questions in advance to questions@willowcreek.org or bring them on Wednesday night.  Please join us as we talk about how to move forward with racial reconciliation in our country and around our world.

YEF (Year-End Fund)

As we approach the end of a strong ministry year, we are reminded of the impact God is making throughout Chicagoland—and humbled by his desire to use all of us to further his kingdom.

Willow Creek’s Year-End Fund offers a chance to expand God’s work in our community and across the world. One hundred percent of this fund, which comes from gifts over and above our regular giving, will support the following three initiatives.

Taking Promiseland and Special Friends to New Heights

Willow’s children’s ministry (infants through Grade 5) is thriving in many ways! Our ministry for kids with special needs is also a wonderful part of the heartbeat of our church. We realize we can attract and serve families even more by updating our children’s ministry spaces. Your gift will infuse Promiseland and Special Friends with the resources to invest in our children and develop the leaders and world changers of the next generation.

Launching New Regional Congregations in Chicagoland

Each weekend, more than 8,000 people attend Willow Creek at locations other than South Barrington. They experience the life-changing hope of Christ at congregations in downtown Chicago, Crystal Lake, DuPage, Huntley, and the North Shore. We are thrilled Willow South Lake (in Lake County), will launch in early 2015 and our prayer is that God will enable us to launch more congregations in the years ahead. Your gift will provide the resources to get those churches up and running.

Equipping Church Leaders Through the Global Leadership Summit

One of the most exciting events of 2014 was the expansion of the Global Leadership Summit into two dynamic, challenging locations: Israel and the Palestinian territories. The ongoing regional conflict there has been a barrier to the GLS, but the Lord has answered prayers and blessed years of building relationships. We were blown away by the doors God opened, and we can’t wait to see what he does in 2015. Your gift will help leaders and pastors in the Holy Land, as well as other areas of conflict and challenge around the world.

How Do I Help?

Designate “YEF” in the memo section of your check or write “YEF” on an envelope if giving cash. You can also use Willow’s secure online giving system for an electronic donation from your bank account. If you’re interested in supporting the specific year-end fund for your regional campus, click here to learn more.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20–21

The Real Christmas Story

Last year, Willow packed 20,000 gift packs that were sent to prisons and jails in Illinois. It was so successful we are doing it again! The following are a few excerpts from the many thank you notes received from the prisoners:

“I want to thank you all- each and every individual who put forth the time, their work and their care in preparing this myriad of packages for the prisoners.”

“I have been incarcerated for over ten years now and this is the first time an organization has reached out in Christian love to bestow a gift and shine the light of Christ into our lives.”

“It is not many who concern themselves with the plight of the prisoner, but through grace you have come forward to show love to the condemned.”

“[The gifts] allowed for many individuals to acknowledge that not only do strangers pray and care about us but, also that we aren’t totally forgotten and that God is good.”

“The countenance of the entire facility was noticeably brighter tonight.”

Obviously, last year’s initiative made a real difference for people much of society forgets at Christmas. Let’s rally around this event shining Christ’s light to those behind bars this Christmas. Don’t miss this weekend! Come with friends and family ready to assemble 32,000 gift packs.

This is a powerful example of the real story of Christmas – Christ, the light of the world, coming to those who needed freedom from darkness. Two thousand years ago, Jesus, Son of God and Man, tore through the bars of this world, was born in a manger to a young girl and her husband, and gave us the greatest gift of all: the light of his love, compassion, and grace.

That’s why John 1:9-14 is our inspiration this year’s Christmas service:

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world … to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

Since early summer we’ve been dreaming of amazing ways to tell the traditional Christmas story from the gospel of Luke, using every creative tool at our disposal. This Christmas, invite everyone you know to experience Jesus Christ as the light, the hope, the Savior—not only of the world—but their world! Our prayer is Christ will give you confidence to simply ask the people you care about, trusting if you do your part, he’ll do his.

Here are the details.

Details on Christmas 2014 at Willow Creek

Beginning December 19th, we’ll host 12 services over five days with three Spanish-speaking services and language interpretation (including Sign Language, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Polish, and Spanish) available during certain English-speaking services. To see those dates and times, click here.

Finding Seats for Christmas 2014

We encourage everyone to reserve seats online because services will fill up quickly and seats, especially for large groups, will be hard to find.

As always, seats are free. Reserve seating isn’t necessary but is available if you wish to reserve a block of seats for your family, friends, or section community (talk with your section leader about plans he/she has for sitting together). To reserve tickets, click here. You will receive a reservation confirmation via email. Show this confirmation at the door, using either a smartphone or tablet, or print it out and bring it with you. You can also print your confirmation from one of Willow Creek’s computer kiosks once you arrive.

General admission seating will be open on the Main Floor, Mezzanine, and Balcony at each of our services. If you choose this option, plan on arriving at least 30 minutes before the service to get in line for the floor of your choice.

Need help inviting others?

We know that can be scary. Check out the Invitation Toolkit on our Christmas website. You’ll find customizable electronic invitations and social media links—and a printable invitation to help you make the ask.

We look forward to seeing you as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, light of the world!

Bursting with Thanksgiving

“Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.” – Psalm 105:1-3

Many families start Thanksgiving dinner sharing what they’re thankful for. We thought it would be fun to ask members of our Willow Creek team to do the same thing. Here’s what they had to say!

Guest Experience (Welcome Team)

Betsy Carr, Willow’s Guest Experience Coordinator, says, “We want everyone who comes here to know they are our guest and are of first importance. That starts in the parking lot with our traffic and shuttle teams and extends to every experience they have in the building. We couldn’t do that without committed volunteers who serve month-in and month-out and we are so thankful for every one of them!”

To learn more about joining a team who wants to welcome you to an experience with the God who loves you, click here.

Section Communities (Making our church small through relationships)

Keri Ladouceur, Director of Section Strategy, is incredibly grateful that “we remember the value Jesus placed on a single life and relentlessly love people just like He did.”

She remembers Jim, who plugged in with a friend’s section a year ago. He went to two sessions of Alpha, multiple small groups, and a handful of one-on-ones with their section leader. Two weeks ago at Willow’s baptism service, he chose to be baptized on the spot! Keri is still so excited, saying, “If it hadn’t been for people in his section walking with him and loving him as he explored the claims of Christ, Jim might not have crossed the line of faith!”

Want to know more or get connected to a section? Click here.

Student Impact (High School)

Bryan Jones, Director of Student Impact, serves with a sense of gratitude reaching back to Willow’s roots. “I’m thankful Bill started a church from a youth group, demonstrating the kind of fruit possible in kids’ lives and ministries—and that would not be possible without the hundreds of volunteers in Impact who roll up their sleeves and invest their skills and talents in our students.”

But that’s not all, he says. “Dozens of parents provide lunch and open their homes for 70 kids at House Group communities every Sunday; and God did incredible things this year at our two retreats.”

Plans are already under way for ‘Blast,’ this year’s winter retreat (January 23-25). To learn more, click here. And if you’re interested in joining our Parents Team of small group leaders, e-mail enorman@willowcreek.org.

Alpha (Exploring the basics of the Christian faith)

Director Mike Shintani is still rejoicing over the 800+ people who went through the Alpha course this year– and half of them placed their trust in Christ! He says, “Many began nervous, frustrated, or confused. I am so thankful for the way God used our musicians, speakers, and volunteers to care for them as they wrestled with big questions about faith and life.”

At the baptism two weeks ago, he had the privilege of baptizing some of those new believers –and sitting on the front row to watch others “go under water and come up with joy, peace, and excitement all over their faces!”

To learn more about Alpha’s Winter session this January, or to join the Alpha team, click here.

Promiseland (Infants to fifth grade)

Barb DeWaard, Promiseland’s Volunteer Coordinator, is thankful to watch God work with children and families. “Our staff has a front row seat to transformation every weekend. Children go from being nervous about leaving their parents to running toward their friends without looking back.”

She knows Promiseland’s success is due to God answering hundreds of prayers every year. She’s grateful for volunteers who love children and enjoys watching God “match the right volunteers with the right kids. It’s just beautiful,” she says. “I’m so thankful for the volunteers who say yes to serving.”

To discover whether serving with Promiseland might be your calling, click here.

Recover (Support for people [and their friends and family] hurting with habits and addictions)

Chris Hurta oversees Recover and says, “I’m so thankful our church has a culture that allows people to come as they are. It’s not a place of shame or guilt but one that offers hope, healing and a brighter future.” To learn more about experiencing God’s grace at Recover, click here.

God NEVER grows tired of showing people His compassion and grace. He’s written thousands of new stories of it in our hearts and lives this year. Enjoy Him this Thanksgiving—and look forward to more of the same in the year ahead!

Every Journey Begins with a First Step

Parents love to celebrate when their toddler takes their first step! And in the same way, every Christian you meet has had a “first step” in their spiritual journey. You don’t have to be around Willow Creek for very long before you realize how committed we are to the spiritual development of our kids. One way that Willow partners with parents in their children’s spiritual growth is through Promiseland (Infants to Grade 5th), Elevate (Junior High), Student Impact (High School), and the Young Adults ministry.

Scott Rubin, Director of Elevate, says, “Here at Willow, we want to partner with parents every step of the way. If your son or daughter is in Promiseland, Elevate, or Impact, we want to work with you to help your child understand God’s transforming love!” One easy next step is to get your children to church every weekend. “It makes a remarkable difference if a kid is developing friendships in their small groups, which happens so much faster when they can come consistently,” says Rubin. “It helps kids and students to see a bigger picture of faith and to understand how it affects their life day in and day out.”

Another great first step for parents of young children is our Child Dedication Ceremony. This is an event that happens several times a year, and the next Child Dedication is coming up November 22nd and 23rd in Willow Creek’s Chapel.

Willow’s Child Dedication Ceremony is an interactive experience, where supporting family members and many first-time visitors to Willow gather around the child as parents pray a personalized prayer aloud for their child. Pat Cimo, Director of Willow Creek’s Family Life, enthusiastically says, “The God I wish you knew is more crazy in love with your kids than you are.” At these ceremonies, the parents have an opportunity to express their faith to their family members, friends, co-workers, etc. who might not otherwise step foot in a church. Pat says the child-dedication ceremony has now become “an opportunity for parents to witness in a very unique way because they are talking about their heart and their children.” She exclaims, “It’s the day for the parents to declare, ‘I trust the fact that God has a plan and a purpose for my child, and I will do all I can to follow Him, to reflect a Christ-like example.’”

However, this declaration is not a promise of parenting-perfection. Pat says, “When they choose to have their child dedicated, they are making the statement, ‘I’m not a perfect parent, but I want to do the best that I possibly can to create the best foundation for my kids so that they can understand and have a relationship with Jesus Christ, as their forever friend.’”

That partnership between the parents and the church is the beginning of a lifestyle. Whether your children are 6 days old or 16 years old, we want to help kids develop a faith that lasts!

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children.”
—Psalm 103:13-14,17

To register for the upcoming child-dedications, click here.