Willow Creek Cuts Staff Amid Steep Drop in Attendance

By Sarah Einselen
Willow Creek Community Church
The main campus of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. Photo courtesy of Willow Creek Community Church

Willow Creek Community Church is cutting staff—again—amid a steep drop in attendance and giving, the megachurch has announced.

In a May 9 video message to the congregation, Pastor Dave Dummitt said the church was “about half the size we were before COVID . . . and as you can imagine that has financial implications.” He said leadership would be working “to right-size our budget going into next year.”

Dummitt said almost three-quarters of Willow Creek’s operating budget was devoted to staffing. “The rule of thumb for healthy churches is to maintain staffing costs at or below 50%,” he said.

An update posted today on the church’s website states that staff were told May 4 that some positions would be eliminated. Leaders met with staffers Monday, Tuesday, and today to tell each one whether their position would remain, change, or be cut, according to the update.

The cuts will result in “$6.5 million in savings,” according to today’s statement, and staff costs will make up 52% of the church’s overall budget next year.

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Leaders at Willow Creek blamed the church’s shrinking attendance and revenue on COVID. However, the decline also comes after a major sex abuse scandal in 2018 involving Willow Creek founder, Bill Hybels. Willow also initiated a controversial centralization plan in 2020, which coincided with the resignation of several campus pastors.

Liz Schauer, a Willow Creek spokeswoman, said the latest cuts aren’t happening immediately.

“For people with roles that were eliminated, they have transition timelines that are in play—we want to close out work well and have time to thank and honor the staff who have served,” Schauer told The Roys Report by email.

Church representatives didn’t answer when TRR asked how many full-time-equivalent positions were being cut and how many would be left. Schauer said the church was still working on communicating which roles were affected.

Teaching Pastor Shawn Williams is expected to go over “some churchwide updates and . . . some things that are coming ahead in the future at Willow” at a meeting tonight, according to an announcement at a worship service this past Sunday.

Attendance was sparse less than a minute before the beginning of the 11:15 a.m. service on Mother's Day, May 8, at the 7,200-seat auditorium at Willow Creek's flagship campus in South Barrington, Illinois. (Courtesy photo)
Attendance was sparse about five minutes before the beginning of the 11:15 a.m. service on Mother’s Day, May 8, at the 7,200-seat auditorium at Willow Creek’s flagship campus in South Barrington, Illinois. Combined attendance from both morning services was 5,741, according to Executive Pastor Tim Stevens. (Courtesy photo)

Willow Creek’s latest staffing reduction comes less than two years after massive staff cuts in October 2020 caused an uproar at the Chicago-area megachurch.

That last round of cuts was announced about seven months after the pandemic disease first hit the Chicago area in spring 2020. Governmental and internal restrictions kept most churchgoers at home until at least midsummer that year.

Dummitt said in the video message that Willow Creek’s attendance was “right in line with churches across the country.”

By the end of last year, Willow Creek was seeing 43% of its 2019 weekly average attendance, its statement today indicated. It’s up about 500 more people now.

Leaders “know of only two churches” averaging more than 60% of their pre-COVID attendance, according to today’s statement. Many large churches were around half, they found. Executive Pastor Tim Stevens said Willow Creek determined those figures by comparing notes with an informal network of other megachurches, most of which had 8,000 or more attending.

Churches in general are reportedly faring a little better. This spring, Pew Research and LifeWay found that two-thirds to three-quarters of churchgoers are back in the pews.

Dummitt said though fewer are going to Willow Creek’s seven campuses than two years ago, those who do show up are “incredibly generous.” Per-capita giving, he said, meets or exceeds giving at other large churches.

But this year’s budget is already down to about half of the church’s actual revenue in 2019. That was just before COVID, but it’s also the year investigators found that sexual misconduct allegations against Willow Creek founder Bill Hybels were credible.

Five years ago, the budgeted weekly revenue at the flagship South Barrington campus alone was $685,000. That’s more than the budget for the entire megachurch today.

Willow Creek budgets $614,000 in weekly revenue across all campuses, including $414,500 at the South Barrington campus.

So far this year, giving is about 13% below budgeted, this week’s giving figures show. That’s up from 20% under budget as of February. Stevens has previously said a bigger portion of the church’s donations comes at the end of the year.

The church wrapped up a major giving push this spring that involved a money-back guarantee offered by Pastor Robert Morris of Gateway Church. Morris made the offer while he was a guest speaker in February, The Roys Report previously reported.

*Correction: The caption on the picture taken on Mother’s Day said the photo was taken less than a minute before the service. However, Willow Creek says the picture was taken five to six minutes before the beginning of the service. We apologize for the error.

Sarah Einselen is an award-winning writer and editor based in Texas.



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1 thought on “Willow Creek Cuts Staff Amid Steep Drop in Attendance”

  1. I’m not surprised by dwindling attendance or reduced giving at Willow. After the Hybels debacle, the elders that were installed were not quality people nor did they lead with love. They didn’t listen well and they tended to blame others when they were caught not listening. Their choice for senior pastor continues to be suspect and the hiring of speaking superstars didn’t show a want for real Christianity, but the overwhelming need to rescue Willow from a decline that had begun BEFORE the end of Hybels time. Many people are still hurting from actions the church took against former employees and members. Humbly seeking God, living a repentant life and seeking reconciliation with those the church either hurt deeply or destroyed should be job one!

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