The Global Leadership Summit Appears to Be Shrinking

At the beginning of 2018, the Willow Creek Association proclaimed that they had 700 venues participating in the simulcast of the Global Leadership Summit.

Today, on the conference website, two claims are made. On the front page, organizers say over 600 venues are available.

However, if you click on the link which allows you to find a venue near you, a different number comes up.

The entire list comes up along with this message:

A significant erosion has happened. The GLS started the year with 700 locations and now the organizers claim “over 500 locations nationwide.”

However, there is a problem. If you click the “show list” link and count the number of venues, only 494 are currently listed. I suspect, Willow Creek Association knows this but hasn’t changed the website again because less than 500 doesn’t sound as spectacular as “600+” as the front page of their website currently boasts.

What would a leader do?


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28 thoughts on “The Global Leadership Summit Appears to Be Shrinking”

  1. Attending a Global Leadership Summit in Dubai seems a good way to squeeze in a bit of sightseeing using the tithe of the local congregation.

    Sending staff to exotic locales overseas for “women’s conferences” also seems an easy way to provide a handsome benefits package for employees.

    The megachurch experience asks members to make sacrifices so staff members can enjoy the fruit of labor of others. Not much a Believer in that particular paradigm. It seems fraudulent.

  2. Hi Warren, I work in a department of corrections, and 2 of our state facilities are simulcasting the Global Leadership Summit. Whether they would count, for this purpose, as “venues” for the purpose the statements up top, is debatable, but if so, it would make sense why they would not be listed as venues where the general public could register to attend a simulcast of the Summit. Without actual numbers, I do know that there are several correctional facilities around the nation that simulcast the Summit.

    I bring this up to suggest that one possibility is that they are counting several “venues” of simulcast that are not places where the general public cannot register to attend. However, whether or not that’s true, your main point about the Summit shrinking remains correct.

    1. I believe the main point is correct as you say because they are promoting publicly available sites.

  3. I’ve no idea about the history of this conference, but what stands out to me is just how secular the marketing materials are — and indeed, the whole enterprise. Even the fact that two pastors are speakers wouldn’t be entirely out of place in a truly secular leadership conference (they are leaders too, after all).

    Also, $209 to sit in a room watching a video broadcast for two days — not even live in half the country? (I hope the hosting sites get a bunch of free tickets.) And the only schedule is a list of speakers. Nothing about what they’re going to talk about in the sessions, at all.

    Good to see the UK getting a 50% discount, I guess.

    Oh, well, I’m not the target audience anyway.

    1. Well, it was a pretty nice room with comfy seating and the lunches were good … and if you invest two days and $200 you simply have to be a better leader, don’t you? πŸ˜‰

    2. A couple of years ago I accepted free tickets for the conference, and I must say, the content was very good. I’m not, generally speaking, a fan of these types of events, but the Willow Creek one gave me lots to think about. I’ve followed a few of the speakers on Twitter, and have been consistently encouraged and challenged by their perspectives.

      I found the secular nature of the programming and marketing appealing. I could have invited my non-church friends without feeling like I was playing some kind of bait-and-switch.

      All that having been said, I’m disappointed in Bill. His little book “Descending Into Greatness” was pretty transformative in my early career. But one of the things I’ve learned as a leader is to never be shocked when someone’s dirt comes to the surface. Grieved, angry, disappointed. But never shocked.

  4. So the Global Leadership Summits are limited to only one country? Maybe someone should inform these “Global Leaders” that the U.S. is only one among 195 countries on the planet. Do they really not comprehend their own megachurch culture of arrogance?

    1. There are sessions elsewhere. The American website apparently only promotes the US locations. There is a Canadian website and another for other locations I believe.

      1. Ah, thanks for this clarification. Their map of U.S.-only locations sends the message of National, not Global leadership. I also saw references to WhiteSpace on the website. I’m gonna guess the marketing team behind that initiative didn’t fully think it through…

      2. So there is one actual “Summit” and all the rest are simulcasts of that one, shown in gatherings at which one pays $200 to come in and watch? That sounds global in the same way that this blog is global, except without the cover charge. Wouldn’t it be more efficient for them to simply make the whole thing available online and dispense with the resources necessary for the individual meeting places?

        1. Your summary sounds accurate. I believe that at least part of their reasoning (with some validity) is that the personal interaction and networking that occurs at the various venues is a significant part of the “summit experience” as is the fact that going “off-site” will generally allow a leadership team to detach from the day-to-day whirlwind and be more open to thinking outside the box.

      1. Thanks for the link. Very helpful. I checked a non-U.S. country just out of curiosity, and the guest speakers for Mexico’s Global Leadership Summit are all U.S., non-Mexican leaders. Their Summit sure doesn’t seem very Global. Quite the opposite.

        1. I believe (based on having “attended” the 2016 Summit) that all of the sites outside of Willow Creek itself are simulcasts (or rebroadcasts at a later date). As such everybody is seeing the same speakers/sessions, so it is not that they are picking US leaders to speak to, for example, specifically the Mexican audience. Not arguing for or against your point about diversity, just clarifying how the GLS works. (If I am wrong on this point I would like someone to correct me).

          1. Thanks for this further clarification. Given my very rudimentary searches and the helpful additional context you offer here, I’d be curious if Willow Creek has hosted a Summit featuring a speaker list of entirely non-U.S. leaders.

            Put differently, would GLS host the reverse of what I see thus far: a Summit for all sites and audiences across the globe, including those in the U.S., that features keynote speakers entirely from Mexico, with no U.S. leaders holding speaking positions at all? Maybe they’ve already done this sort of thing.

            Anyway, hints of what may or may not be (White) Nationalism in GLS reminds me of that Zionist conference on Israel in Washington D.C. held every summer that doesn’t host any Israeli speakers (and a complete absence of Palestinian speakers, of course). So it replicates another exclusionary space for White Evangelicals to again talk amongst themselves about global others. This comparison to GLS may not be a fair one, though I am suspicious.

          2. No, I can’t see them being very likely to sponsor a summit that wasn’t predominantly US-centric. However, to be fair, I don’t think your “white” label is accurate either. At the session I attended there certainly were people of colour as prominent presenters, and I certainly wouldn’t consider Melinda Gates a white evangelical! πŸ™‚

          3. No, I can’t see them being very likely to sponsor a summit that wasn’t predominantly US-centric. However, to be fair, I don’t think your “white” label is really accurate either. At the session I attended there certainly were people of colour as prominent presenters, and I certainly wouldn’t consider Melinda Gates a white evangelical! πŸ™‚

            I was bothered more (and maybe a lot of that was just my perception/reaction) by the inherent smugness of the presenters regardless of colour or creed. Probably just shows that I am not cut out to be a great leader!

            Having said that, I still learned a lot … but I think someone going into the Summit with a skeptical attitude is better equipped to evaluate what they are hearing and not accept everything at face value.

          4. If someday the Global Leadership Summit finds the courage to feature keynote speakers entirely from Mexico, with no U.S. leaders holding speaking positions at all, then perhaps they will start earning their title. Until then, GLS has no authority to speak on Global Leadership. May as well rename it the Summit on U.S. Evangelical Arrogance.

          5. Hmmmm – an attachment to Mexico?? Pray tell the source of this attachment to the “dark complected” ones in Mexico??

          6. Hmmm… not quite sure that a line up of speakers solely from Mexico would be any more “global” than the existing format …. πŸ˜‰

          7. Correct, a speaker panel with only Mexican leaders would not be “global” on a planetary scale. I believe I was trying to make the point that if year after year of GLS keynotes limted to only U.S. speakers is somehow an acceptable practice (as opposed to blatantly arrogant), is GLS equally comfortable with scheduling keynotes only from some other country, preferably a non-Western one? I think we both know the answer to this question. But I’d love to see GLS do it, as such a panel would expose U.S. White Evangelicals to voices, perspectives, and experiences they are entirely unfamiliar with. Or more to your point, how about a keynote line up of speakers entirely from a range of countries across Central America, Africa, and Asia? The Evangelicals behind the Global Leadership Summit have a lot of listening to do.

  5. Even taking this at their word, this is merely “600+ locations nationwide”. How is this a “Global” summit?

    Is this the religious equivalent of the US holding an annual baseball “World Series”?

      1. Yes, but the first few countries I pulled up just had glossy blurbs, not locations — it wasn’t until I looked further that I found locations outside the US. Their coverage in their claimed “45 different countries” appears to be rather spotty.

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