Shutdown Season: Willow Creek Community Church Will Close its Doors for the SummerCategory: Church
SOUTH BARRINGTON, IL – In perhaps the most extreme example to date of churches halting ministries during the traditionally slower summer months, Willow Creek Community Church – one of America’s prototypical mega-churches – has decided to close its doors until after Labor Day.
“The church leadership took a look at where attendance and giving were last summer, and when you look at the numbers, the case for closing shop just makes a lot of sense,” said Willow Creek Senior Pastor Bill Hybels. “For years we’ve been trying to justify the expense of operating throughout the summer when schools are closed and people are on vacation. We just couldn’t do it any more. If people are going to put their spiritual growth on hold until September anyway, why should the church fight it?”
“It’s not like the church will be disappearing off the face of the earth,” said Church Administrator David Widener. “We’re still having the big Third Day concert, along with any other events that traditionally bring in a good amount of money. Plus we’ll still have a pastor on call at all times just in case anyone has a spiritual need that absolutely can’t wait until September.”
While many churches have been putting Bible studies, choirs and other portions of regular church life on the back burner during the summer for years, this may be the first example of a church scheduling a complete shutdown.
“I see this as part of a trend of church attendance as we know it taking a serious dip around the world, and not just during the summer months,” said Robert Holmes, president of the Center for the Study of World Religion – a London-based religion think tank. “With so many media options out there for people to get their spiritual enlightenment, the practice of church attendance is in real trouble. Mark my words. This is a harbinger.”
Not surprisingly, Hybels doesn’t see it that way.
Hybels is planning on 6 weeks in Tahiti
“Willow Creek has been setting trends for the rest of the evangelical community for decades,” he said. “When we started changing the way we do worship and outreach, you had people acting like it was the end of the world. Now they’re all doing the same things. This is going to strengthen our church. The money we save by shutting down over the summer will go toward reaching people for Christ during the rest of the year. When other churches see how this benefits us, shutting down for the summer will soon become as common as church names that have nothing to do with God or Christianity.”
Josh Allen – a 13-year-old who regularly attends Willow Creek with his parents – is on Hybels’ side.
“No more hymnals. No more pews. No more sermons to make me snooze,” Allen rhymed with glee. “I’ll see you at the pool!”
But not all Willow Creekers share Allen’s enthusiasm.
“We had skits rehearsed and ready to go for every Sunday in the summer,” said Willow Creek Drama Team Leader Leah Cress. “Now all that work is completely worthless. It’s not gonna make much sense to perform a theatrical representation of the importance of beach evangelism in the dead of winter, now is it?”
Despite the detractors, Widener is almost giddy about the concept of saying a fond farewell to summer services.
“No more bloated air conditioning bills for a room that’s only half full,” he said, eyes gleaming. “All that money being saved for God’s kingdom and not being wasted on a scant congregation that would rather be on vacation anyway. It’s a beautiful thing.”