A megachurch in Chicago is laying off about one-third of its staff after dwindling attendance and donations due to the COVID pandemic.
Willow Creek Community Church, which was one of America's largest and most highly regarded Christian congregations, announced that it will layoff up to 30% of its staff as it continues to suffer the effects of the COVID pandemic. Lockdowns and other restrictions have impacted church attendance and giving, the Chicago megachurch reported.
"Willow is about half of the size we were before COVID, which is right in line with churches across the country,"Willow Creek Community Church senior pastor Dave Dummitt said in a recorded video announcing the layoffs, Religion News Service reported. "But as you can see, and as you can imagine, that has fiscal impactions."
Chicago Megachurch Struggled After Facing Controversy and the COVID Pandemic
Willow Creek Community Church traces its roots back to October 1975, when founders Dave Holmbo and Bill Hybels established the Chicago megachurch. By 2015, it recorded an attendance high of up to 25,000. But all this changed when longtime pastor Hybels was swept up in controversy.
According to ChurchLeaders, Hybels announced his resignation as senior pastor in 2018 after he was accused of sexual misconduct by past and current leaders of the Chicago megachurch. The scandal surrounding Hybel also led to the church's enture senior leadership and elder board leaving their roles. Hybel denied all accusations despite an investigation by an external group of Christian leaders finding that the allegations against the pastor were credible. Since then, Willow Creek Community Church saw a decline to under 18,000 in attendance.
Churches Continue Amidst the Aftermath of the COVID Pandemic
According to an update released by Willow Creek Community Church earlier this month, the staff costs made up about 72% of the church budget before the layoffs. The planned layoffs are set to save the Chicago megachurch up to $6.5 million, bringing the budget closer to half the current budget. In the update, the church admitted that the changes are "difficult on staff members" who will "no longer have a staff role," some of whom had been serving for many years. But they pledged to provide "generous financial care" for those who will be laid off from about three to 12 months worth of salary depending on their tenure.
This is not the first time Willow Creek laid off its employees, as it did the same in 2019 and 2020. As per Ministry Watch, Willow Creek Community Church received between $5 to $10 million in federal COVID relief funds under the Paycheck Protection Program.
As per a recent study from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford International University for Religion and Peace, 35% of churches reported a decline in attendance by up to 25% or more. The November 2021 report also showed a 12% median worship attendance decline in the last 18 months.
But Dummitt, who began serving in June 2021, was hopeful that the church was beginning to turn the corner. He asked for prayers and said that the church continues "trusting God to lead and guide each of us as we take next steps with him."
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