Willow Creek Community Church, the Chicago-area megachurch that ranks among the nation’s most influential, announced massive layoffs following Covid lockdown protocols and church scandals. Attendance and giving fell off a cliff, and the church’s senior pastor David Dummit announced that 30 percent of the church’s staff would be laid off.
“Willow is about half of the size we were before COVID, which is right in line with churches across the country,” Dummitt told his congregation via video, according to Religion News Service. “But as you can see, and as you can imagine, that has fiscal impactions.”
At its peak, Willow Creek’s reach was vast, with their small group model and “seeker sensitive” vibe shaping church planting energy for a generation of pastors who sought to rebottle that magic in their own communities. In 2017, some 25,000 people called Willow Creek home. That growth was led by the church’s co-founder and senior pastor Bill Hybels, who resigned in 2020 after being accused of sexual harassment and multiple abuses of power. Shortly after his resignation, the entire elder board also left.
A subsequent investigation into the allegations found them credible, though Hybels has maintained his innocence.
In a statement, the church noted that long-serving staff members were among the layoffs, saying that “we are providing generous financial care for each of these individuals, ranging between three months and one year based on tenure.”
It’s perhaps a grim sign of how many churches are struggling to meet their pre-Covid numbers. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford International University for Religion and Peace found that a third of churches saw their congregation size drop by at least a quarter between 2019 and 2021.