As a relatively well-known and well-resourced megachurch in South Barrington, Illinois, Willow Creek Community Church often has the opportunity to do things that other churches and organizations could only dream of.
Take their Care Center, for example:
Three years ago, the church opened a brand new, 60,000 square foot facility on campus to provide hope and dignity to those in need with food, car repair, clothing, dental and even legal services, becoming "one of the nation's largest all-encompassing church outreach operations under one roof." This relatively new facility now serves tens of thousands of unique families every year.
If the Care Center is any indication, Willow Creek has a pattern of raising the value of those that society most often devalues, and their special needs ministry, Special Friends, is no exception.
Just recently, Teaching Pastor Steve Carter shared an exciting development at weekend services in early June, saying that the church had “called in the foremost leaders in creating spaces for kids with disabilities, and they began to dream.” What these experts in the fields of behavioral and cognitive therapy came up with, Carter said, was “a space that is unlike any other special needs space on the planet.”
Carter's announcement was the public unveiling of the brand new, recently-completed Special Friends space at the church; a long-awaited and much-needed project for their growing ministry to families with special needs.
For the past several years, leaders of Willow Creek have been doing everything in their power to raise up the value of those affected by special needs in the church, whether through the regular events of a weekly ministry or yearly Special Friends fishing derbies and theatrical productions.
According to Senior Pastor Bill Hybels, even as all of those great things have been going on, leaders at Willow have become increasingly aware of the difficulty that families of children with special needs face in simply being able to attend church, let alone being welcomed with open arms when they do.
As part of their long-term response to such obvious need, the church raised a large sum of money to create a space designed specifically for those with disabilities and special needs. The new space includes sensory nooks to help calm and sooth special friends who are having trouble controlling their emotions, areas designed to foster connection between special friends and even a space for teaching and worship.
At Willow Creek, the people who are most often overlooked or written off by other churches have now been given the best space in the church—a space specially designed to fit their unique needs and something entirely unheard of until now.
Kudos to you, Willow Creek, and may other churches follow your example in valuing and caring for the least of these.
To read more about this new space for people with special needs, you can view the church's official announcement here.