Willow Creek celebrates 40th anniversary with packed house at United Center

 
Daily Herald report
Updated 10/18/2015 9:24 PM
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  • Senior Pastor Bill Hybels speaks Sunday night at the 40th anniversary service of South Barrington-based Willow Creek Community Church at the United Center in Chicago.

      Senior Pastor Bill Hybels speaks Sunday night at the 40th anniversary service of South Barrington-based Willow Creek Community Church at the United Center in Chicago. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • The 40th anniversary service for Willow Creek Community Church was sold out Sunday night at the United Center in Chicago.

      The 40th anniversary service for Willow Creek Community Church was sold out Sunday night at the United Center in Chicago. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • The 23,000 people Sunday night at the 40th anniversary service of Willow Creek Community Church at the United Center in Chicago had electronic bracelets that lit up throughout the program.

      The 23,000 people Sunday night at the 40th anniversary service of Willow Creek Community Church at the United Center in Chicago had electronic bracelets that lit up throughout the program. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Music, lights and a long list of speakers highlighted Sunday night's 40th anniversary service for Willow Creek Community Church at the United Center in Chicago.

      Music, lights and a long list of speakers highlighted Sunday night's 40th anniversary service for Willow Creek Community Church at the United Center in Chicago. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • A spectacular light show kept the crowd engaged Sunday night at the 40th anniversary service for Willow Creek Community  Church at the United Center in Chicago.

      A spectacular light show kept the crowd engaged Sunday night at the 40th anniversary service for Willow Creek Community Church at the United Center in Chicago. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Kids sing and dance on stage Sunday night at the 40th anniversary of Willow Creek Community Church at the United Center in Chicago.

      Kids sing and dance on stage Sunday night at the 40th anniversary of Willow Creek Community Church at the United Center in Chicago. John Starks | Staff Photographer

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.

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