Megachurch branch Willow Chicago will host two Easter celebrations on Easter Sunday at the Auditorium Theater.
There is a crowd of 1,100 people at any given service, such as the Easter service, said Tammy Campbell, executive assistant of Willow Chicago.
Willow Chicago is the urban subset of Willow Creek Community Church. This city campus was established in October of 2006, and has existed as a means of connecting its congregation in an urban setting ever since, according to Campbell.
But before Willow Chicago existed, Willow Creek Community Church was merely an idea of Bill Hybels, then a 20-year-old Biblical Studies major at Trinity College, now Trinity International University. In 1972, Hybels sat in class as his New Testament professor lectured on the dream of a church that focuses on community and helping one’s neighbors. Three years later, Hybels conducted his first Willow Creek Church service in Palatine, IL. From there it grew into a mega-church with around 20,000 members whose main campus is in South Barrington.
Willow is a non-denominational Christian church. It refers to itself as an “Acts 2 church”, referencing the Bible passage Acts 2: 42-47, which focuses on community building and sharing meals:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
“It’s a fellowship of believers,” Campbell said.
Willow Chicago applies the precepts of suburban Willow Creek to an urban setting, said Campbell. Campbell used to attend services at the Mt. Prospect location until she came to Chicago three years ago with her family.
“We partner with ministries that are already making a difference. We don’t send out missionaries,” Campbell said.
Chi Chi Okwu is the compassion and justice pastor of Willow Chicago. Okwu said that bringing in new parishioners is done mostly through word of mouth, or from friend to friend, though anyone who wants to become a member of Willow Chicago must first take a membership class.
“We try to encourage members to reach out to their family and friends,” Okwu said.
In terms of reaching out to the community, there are many programs offered that target various demographics.
“A lot of the congregation is 20 to 30-years old, living in the city; and part of the Church family is homeless,” Campbell said.
Keeping with the “breaking of bread with community” theme, free breakfast and lunch are given to the congregation before and after Bible study. Aside from Sunday morning worship, there is a children’s program for children 2- to 12-years old. There are also meetings for college students on Fridays, as well as pre-marriage classes for either dating or engaged couples.
Willow Chicago opens its space to the public, so people can enjoy free tea or coffee and Wi-Fi. Campbell said that if anyone stays for over an hour, the staff will ask if he or she would mind helping set out, for example.
“We ask, ‘How can we as a community help?’ We have 80 volunteers on any given week,” Campbell said.
“It’s a much more comfortable, multi-cultural congregation here. It’s an exciting family to be a part of,” she added.
The Christian sacrament of communion is given out once a month and baptisms are performed twice a year at Willow Chicago.
“We think Baptism is an adult decision,” Campbell said.
During an average Sunday service, Willow begins with a contemporary worship set of songs, followed by church announcements; then they either play a video message from the main campus in South Barrington or listen to a live message by the campus pastor. Services close with another song and a time for people to respond to what they just heard.
“There are people here that have become like family to me and have really helped me to discover my identity in Christ,” Okwu said.
She continued, “Our mission is to share the love of Christ, in words and actions, with those who are far from Christ and are seeking a relationship with him.”
For more information on Easter Services, check out the church’s website: http://www.willowcreek.org/chicago.