Megachurch founder quits amid sexual misconduct allegations

 
 
Updated 4/11/2018 10:04 AM
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  • Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels stands before his congregation, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in South Barrington, Ill., where he announced his early retirement effective immediately, amid a cloud of misconduct allegations involving women in his congregation. The announcement was made during a special meeting at the church, one of the nation's largest evangelical churches, which he founded. (Mark Black/Daily Herald via AP)

    Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels stands before his congregation, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in South Barrington, Ill., where he announced his early retirement effective immediately, amid a cloud of misconduct allegations involving women in his congregation. The announcement was made during a special meeting at the church, one of the nation's largest evangelical churches, which he founded. (Mark Black/Daily Herald via AP) Associated Press

  • Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels stands before his congregation, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in South Barrington, Ill., where he announced his early retirement effective immediately, amid a cloud of misconduct allegations involving women in his congregation. The announcement was made during a special meeting at the church, one of the nation's largest evangelical churches, which he founded. (Mark Black/Daily Herald via AP)

    Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels stands before his congregation, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in South Barrington, Ill., where he announced his early retirement effective immediately, amid a cloud of misconduct allegations involving women in his congregation. The announcement was made during a special meeting at the church, one of the nation's largest evangelical churches, which he founded. (Mark Black/Daily Herald via AP) Associated Press

  • Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels, sixth from left, and other church leaders pray before the congregation, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in South Barrington, Ill., where Hybels announced his early retirement effective immediately, amid a cloud of misconduct allegations involving women in his congregation. The announcement was made during a special meeting at the church, one of the nation's largest evangelical churches, which Hybels founded. (Mark Black/Daily Herald via AP)

    Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels, sixth from left, and other church leaders pray before the congregation, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in South Barrington, Ill., where Hybels announced his early retirement effective immediately, amid a cloud of misconduct allegations involving women in his congregation. The announcement was made during a special meeting at the church, one of the nation's largest evangelical churches, which Hybels founded. (Mark Black/Daily Herald via AP) Associated Press

  • Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels stands before his congregation, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in South Barrington, Ill., where he announced his early retirement effective immediately, amid a cloud of misconduct allegations involving women in his congregation. The announcement was made during a special meeting at the church, one of the nation's largest evangelical churches, which he founded. (Mark Black/Daily Herald via AP)

    Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels stands before his congregation, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in South Barrington, Ill., where he announced his early retirement effective immediately, amid a cloud of misconduct allegations involving women in his congregation. The announcement was made during a special meeting at the church, one of the nation's largest evangelical churches, which he founded. (Mark Black/Daily Herald via AP) Associated Press

  • Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels stands before his congregation, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in South Barrington, Ill., where he announced his early retirement effective immediately, amid a cloud of misconduct allegations involving women in his congregation. The announcement was made during a special meeting at the church, one of the nation's largest evangelical churches, which he founded. (Mark Black/Daily Herald via AP)

    Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels stands before his congregation, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in South Barrington, Ill., where he announced his early retirement effective immediately, amid a cloud of misconduct allegations involving women in his congregation. The announcement was made during a special meeting at the church, one of the nation's largest evangelical churches, which he founded. (Mark Black/Daily Herald via AP) Associated Press

  • Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels leaves the stage after speaking to his congregation, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in South Barrington, Ill., where he announced his early retirement effective immediately, amid a cloud of misconduct allegations involving women in his congregation. The announcement was made during a special meeting at the church, one of the nation's largest evangelical churches, which he founded. (Mark Black/Daily Herald via AP)

    Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels leaves the stage after speaking to his congregation, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in South Barrington, Ill., where he announced his early retirement effective immediately, amid a cloud of misconduct allegations involving women in his congregation. The announcement was made during a special meeting at the church, one of the nation's largest evangelical churches, which he founded. (Mark Black/Daily Herald via AP) Associated Press

  • Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels stands before his congregation, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in South Barrington, Ill., where he announced his early retirement effective immediately, amid a cloud of misconduct allegations involving women in his congregation. The announcement was made during a special meeting at the church, one of the nation's largest evangelical churches, which he founded. (Mark Black/Daily Herald via AP)

    Willow Creek Community Church Senior Pastor Bill Hybels stands before his congregation, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in South Barrington, Ill., where he announced his early retirement effective immediately, amid a cloud of misconduct allegations involving women in his congregation. The announcement was made during a special meeting at the church, one of the nation's largest evangelical churches, which he founded. (Mark Black/Daily Herald via AP) Associated Press

SOUTH BARRINGTON, Ill. -- The founder of a Chicago-area evangelical church that grew to become one of the largest in the nation is stepping down, calling allegations that he touched and made lewd comments to female congregants a distraction.

The Rev. Bill Hybels, 66, announced his immediate retirement at a meeting Tuesday with members of the Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. He has said since 2012 that he planned to retire this October.


The Chicago Tribune last month reported details of the misconduct allegations against Hybels stretching back to the 1990s. A church inquiry cleared Hybels. He has said he has been accused of things he "simply did not do" and that the allegations are "flat-out lies."

Hybels told congregants Tuesday that the allegations have become a distraction from the church's mission and work. He apologized for making choices that put him in situations that could be misconstrued, and for reacting in anger when the accusations were made public.

"I realize now that in certain settings and circumstances in the past, I communicated things that were perceived in ways I did not intend, at times making people feel uncomfortable," he said.

One of his accusers told the Tribune she does not plan to sue. It was unclear if others were taking legal action.

He said the decision to step down now "was mine and mine alone after a lot of prayer."

Heather Larson, executive pastor, will take over as the church's chief executive.

"This is going to take time for all of us to process," Larson said. "This is not the end of the story. It's not the end of Bill's story. It's not the end of Willow's story, and it's certainly not the end of God's story."

The church that Hybels started in Palatine, Illinois, in 1975, now has eight Chicago-area locations. Leaders say it draws 25,000 people each week.

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