William Hybels founded Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois in 1975. Over the last several decades, the church has grown at a rapid pace and quickly became one of the most attended churches in the United States.
Now, Willow Creek averages 26,000 weekly attendees. The non-denominational church has seven locations and dozens of various ministries. After many years, senior pastor and founder William Hybels announced that he was ready to retire.
Many people joked that not one person could take the role as lead pastor following Hybels. Now, Hybels has fittingly announced that not one person, but two, will take over as co-lead pastors.
Pastor Steve Carter, who currently serves as the teaching pastor, will step up into a lead teaching pastoral role. Joining him is Heather Larson, who currently serves as the executive pastor. Larson will become the lead pastor over all of the church’s locations.
While it is already unique having co-pastors take the lead, it is even more unique to see a female in the role of lead pastor. Willow Creek will now be the largest church to have a lead female pastor. It will also be the only major evangelical church to have female-male lead pastors who are not married to each other.
According to the Christian Post, Larson has been on staff at Willow for about 20 years. She has worked in a plethora of leadership roles, including compassion efforts both locally and internationally. Five years ago, she moved to the position of executive pastor.
Hybels said, “Heather has flourished in every leadership role I’ve given her. Her impeccable character and significant leadership abilities make her one of the best church leaders I’ve ever known. In this new role as Lead Pastor over all Willow Creek locations, I have no doubt she will continue to lead our church into a fantastic future, following where God wants us to go.”
When making the decision about who would take over Hybels' role, the pastor said that he had to take into serious consideration how his congregation would handle having a female lead pastor.
He said, “When we saw this shaping up, we had to ask ourselves, ‘Can our congregation have a lead pastor that’s a woman? And because [women in leadership] is a deeply held value in our church, we said, ‘No problem.’”
As the lead teaching pastor, Steve Carter will take on the preaching role most of the weeks, while Larson will deal with the 400-person staff, budget, and operations. Carter has been a part of the teaching team for five years and previously served at Rock Harbor Fullerton in California and two other churches in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Senior Pastor Hybels will continue to coach and develop both Carter and Larson as they make this transition. He will officially step down from his role in October of 2018, which will mark the 43rd anniversary of Willow Creek. After, his title will change to Founding Pastor.
Hybels said, “We’re welcoming two tested, respected leaders who embrace our values to assume roles that fit their unique gifts and talents. The staff and congregation have been enthusiastic about their leadership, and I have every confidence that this new model - with these specific people at the helm - will help Willow continue to thrive as we move forward.”
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