Willow Creek celebrates 40th anniversary with packed house at United Center
In a building more accustomed to hearing the cheers of raucous Chicago Blackhawks and Bulls fans, more than 20,000 worshippers gathered Sunday night to pray, sing and celebrate the 40th anniversary of a suburban church that's become a religious phenomenon.
South Barrington-based Willow Creek Community Church marked its fourth decade with a sold-out service at the United Center in Chicago.
It's a far cry from the church's humble beginnings, when the Rev. Bill Hybels launched the first Willow Creek service at Willow Creek Theatre in Palatine on Oct. 12, 1975.
The church he conceived has grown bigger and more influential than anyone could have imagined in the 40 years since, from its sprawling campus in South Barrington to satellite locations in West Chicago, Crystal Lake, Huntley, Lincolnshire, Northfield and Chicago to its work with more than 18,000 connected churches in 90 countries.
The church two years ago unveiled its new, $10 million Care Center, a 60,000-square-foot facility that serves as the centerpiece of its efforts to meet the needs of families and individuals struggling through hardship. Willow Creek also has become prominent on the world stage for its Global Leadership Summit, an annual event which brings accomplished individuals from the world of politics, business, entertainment, science, education and other fields to the South Barrington campus to discuss leadership and faith.