SOUTH BARRINGTON, Ill. — Imagine hundreds of pastors wondering how it could be that their congregations seem to be shrinking and yet Pastor Bill Hybels' church, Willow Creek Community Church, a mega-church near Chicago, was growing gangbusters. The pastors wanted to know what Hybels was doing that they were not doing.
He told them.
About 250 church leaders came to Willow Creek in 1995 to learn about leadership in the first annual Global Leadership Summit. Since that first meeting, the summit has grown to reach 165,000 people yearly in live, satellite and delayed presentations. It also has become a unique mix of business advice and religious application — a combination of worldly savvy with eternal implications.
The summit's 2011 lineup shows this combo. There is Squidoo founder and blogging icon Seth Godin, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, education leader Michelle Rhee, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Mama Maggie Gobran, and Hybels of course. Howard Schultz, Chairman, CEO, and President of
Starbucks Corporation was to speak on Friday, but is no longer scheduled as a presenter.
Those first 250 or so pastors came for leadership advice — something that Pastor Bernie Anderson hopes to bring to Wasatch Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church in Salt Lake City. Wasatch Hills is one of 185 different satellite locations called "Premier Host Sites" that are broadcasting the summit live beginning at 8 a.m. tomorrow.
"What we are realizing is that we can learn leadership principles from the marketplace — from men and women who are people of character and moral values that have led Fortune 500 Companies well, that have led countries well (because presidents have spoken for this event)." Anderson said. "It is a real desire to see leaders lead well whatever their context may be."
Anderson said the primary audience is church staff and church leaders. "But leadership is broader," Anderson said. "A husband or father needs to lead well in his family. A wife and mother needs to lead her family well. A coach needs to lead his team well."
The idea that a church would turn to business to learn how to lead may strike some as strange, but Phill Martin, deputy CEO at the National Association of Church Business Administration thinks it is a natural.
"I don't think running a ministry responsibly is foreign to running a business responsibly," Martin said, "except that the bottom line of a for-profit business is to make revenue for their stockholders and to make a profit. But in the not-for-profit world and in particular the religious world, the motivation for doing good business practices is very different. It is about ministry and care and providing spiritual community and network — a place for people to find purpose and meaning, a place for people to connect to God."
Willow Creek spokeswoman Susan DeLay sees reaching out to leaders from other disciplines — such as from the marketplace or government — as necessary to build strong teams with solid core leadership values. "Leadership principles are leadership principles," DeLay said. "I think it is a matter of people having the opportunity to gain wisdom and strong leadership principles from anybody who is a strong leader."
The influence works the other way as well. Many people will attend the summit to learn leadership principles even though they are not involved in church governance. DeLay told of how a group of business leaders came in 2009 felt "a clear whisper from God" that they ought to be doing more for God. They ended up founding a group called Hungerpalooza that encourages people to hold backyard picnics where they also collect food for the Northern Illinois Food Bank.
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