Monday, Feb. 07, 2005

Bill Hybels

Pioneering Mass Appeal
Where do pastors go to learn how to make a stirring performance for their flock? There is an oracle of the presenters art, and his name is Bill Hybels. Founder of the Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago suburb of South Barrington, Ill., Hybels was a pioneer in attracting an upscale, youthful following with an informal yet rousing and contemporary service. Now 52, he leads a network of 10,500 churches and trains more than 100,000 pastors each year. But, he says, spawning a movement that helped fuel the rise of Evangelicalism wasn't his intent when he took an entrepreneurial approach to overhauling the average church service 30 years ago. His goal was simply to hook nonmember "seekers," who dropped by on Sunday hoping for spiritual connection. His formula of live bands' performing contemporary Christian tunes, easy-to-follow sermons, short services — and free child care — now attracts 17,500 worshippers each week, and membership has grown to more than 6,000. Some conservative Evangelicals denounce megacongregations as devotion lite, delivering plenty of entertainment but asking for little commitment. However, for the millions of worshippers who want relevant spirituality delivered with the same custom-fitted, on-demand convenience they get from secular merchants, Hybels' creation is the answer to their prayers.