Female church leader named as new top pastor at Willow Creek

Bill Hybels, right, and his two successors, lead pastor Heather Larson, center, and lead teaching pastor Steve Carter, left, of Willow Creek Community Church.Willow Creek Community Church

A woman will take over as lead pastor of the evangelical megachurch Willow Creek Community Church, which is based in the Chicago suburb of South Barrington, Illinois.

Heather Larson, who is currently executive pastor, will step into the role of lead pastor over all Willow Creek locations, and Steve Carter, currently teaching pastor, will become lead teaching pastor at the church, which has three weekend services averaging 26,000, making it one of the largest churches in the US.

They will replace Bill Hybels, the founder and current senior pastor of the church, who announced the two roles to replace that of senior pastor as he transitions out of the church leadership next year.

Hybels, who founded the church in 1975, will continue coaching his two sucessors until he steps down from his role as senior pastor in October 2018, when Willow Creek celebrates its 43rd anniversary and he will assume the title founding pastor, according to The Christian Post.

'We're welcoming two tested, respected leaders who embrace our values to assume roles that fit their unique gifts and talents,' Hybels said. 'The staff and congregation have been enthusiastic about their leadership, and I have every confidence that this new model – with these specific people at the helm – will help Willow continue to thrive as we move forward.'

Worshippers fill the 7,000-seat Willow Creek Community church during a Sunday service in South Barrington, Illinois.Reuters

Larson has worked for Willow for two decades, promoting the church's compassion efforts, locally and internationally before being asked by Hybels to step into the executive pastor role five years ago.

'Heather has flourished in every leadership role I've given her, Hybels said. 'Her impeccable character and significant leadership abilities make her one of the best church leaders I've ever known. In this new role as Lead Pastor over all Willow Creek locations, I have no doubt she will continue to lead our church into a fantastic future, following where God wants us to go.'

Hybels added: 'My wife, Lynne, and I plan to remain part of the Willow Creek congregation," he said. "I plan to use my gifts to serve the God I love, just as I've challenged each person in our church to use their gifts. I look forward to spending even more time with Lynne, our kids, and our grandkids — and I see a few sailing adventures on the horizon as well. It's my deepest desire to live every day of my one and only life for the glory of God.'