Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg to headline Willow Creek Leadership Summit

An annual conference organized in South Barrington 22 years ago to build leadership skills among church pastors and their staffs is expected to reach about 400,000 people in numerous professions around the world in 2017.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Google senior adviser Laszlo Bock and Marcus Lemonis of CNBC's "The Profit" are among the headlining faculty of the 23rd Global Leadership Summit to be broadcast from Willow Creek Community Church Thursday and Friday, Aug. 10 and 11.

Though a Christian core is still at the heart of the summit, only about a third of its audience now views it from a strictly religious perspective. The rest are seeking leadership skills in business and other fields, said Willow Association Executive Vice President Steve Bell.

"Leadership is a common set of language and principles," Bell said. "We believe everyone has influence, and leadership is about growing your influence. Just imagine if you could grow your influence 5 percent every year."

Such skills help strengthen families and neighborhoods just as well as they do churches, businesses and governments, he said.

"Everything gets better when leaders get better," Bell added.

It all started in 1995 after Willow Creek Senior Pastor Bill Hybels recognized that other pastors he met around the country were finding little opportunity to build their leadership skills as opposed to their religious knowledge.

The first summit attracted 2,200 visitors to Willow Creek Community Church. After years of growing its own influence, the 2017 event will reach its live audience, and 719 satellite sites in the U.S. and 750 more in about 120 other countries.

For those locations that will benefit from language translations, the satellite broadcasts will be several weeks off, Bell said.

Seats at Willow Creek Community Church have been sold out for nearly a year, but satellite locations can be found at

Due to a scheduling conflict, Sandberg has already recorded her appearance at the summit. Others who've done so in past years are often surprised by how many people around the world tell them they've seen their interviews.

"They can't believe the reach of this thing," Bell said.

This year's 14-member faculty was designed, as always, to showcase a variety of leaders and leadership types.

"It's more art than science," Bell said. "We have chosen not to build it around a particular theme."

Laszlo Bock
Marcus Lemonis
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