The Willow Creek Association is the organization which conducts the annual Group Life Conference for people in churches who are leaders in small group ministry. This year’s edition was the tenth anniversary of the conference held on the campus of Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago suburb of South Barrington. Many of those who participate are involved in Willow Creek’s own small groups ministry, but there are others who come from all over the country, and even outside of it, to participate.
This was my second conference, both times I came away inspired and full of information. In two years, I didn’t really catch anything that was repetetive. There was enough variety in the choices of breakout sessions to avoid going over the same territory, and the general sessions, with perhaps one exception, were also different from last year’s. My ministry-related expense budget permits few such trips each year, so I choose wisely. Fortunately, many conferences are available in the Houston area. Willow Creek, however, has risen to the top of my priority list.
One of the things that makes this conference stand out in comparison to other ministry-related conferences I have attended is the expertise of the presenters. Every conference leader at group life has a resume of service in small groups ministry of one kind or another. They are willing to share their successes and failures, which shows that some real learning has taken place. They show a willingness to try new things, and to be creative while remaining committed to the truths of scripture. Of course, most such conferences I have attended previously have been those sponsored by various Southern Baptist groups, either the state convention or one of the SBC entities. At a WCA conference, I doubt there are any presenters there because someone they know did them a favor to get them an honorarium.
The Willow Creek Association is a leading provider of resources for small group ministry, and their conference definitely showcases that. I appreciate how affordable their materials are, how practical, and the wide variety of them that are available, regardless of whether there would be a large market for them or not.
Then, too, there is the conference itself. The campus of Willow Creek Community Church is a great place to host a conference, the facilities are great, the rooms comfortable, easy to find, and the volunteer staff makes you feel welcome. This year, still recovering from my leg surgery, I needed to find elevators and escalators to get around. That was certainly no problem, and I even had one volunteer offer to transport me around in a wheelchair. A month ago, I’d have taken them up on it.
I am looking forward to bringing some new information into our home group ministry, and to next year’s conference.