A Conversation with Bill Hybels and Gary Schwammlein About The Global Leadership Summit

I had been traveling quite a bit and was trying to figure out what it was that made some churches and organizations prevail. It finally occurred to me that the common denominator to these flourishing organizations was leadership. The function of leadership was taking place at a higher level. The more I thought about it, I recognized that there was a lot of training available for other disciplines, but almost nothing that dealt with the function and potential of leadership. We launched The Global Leadership Summit (TGLS) 20 years ago to develop leaders that would in turn create thriving local churches and redeem their communities for Christ. Based on the response, we quickly learned that we were on to something and were addressing a need that people were really hungry for.

-Bill Hybels

FPpicThe Summit’s faculty draws not only upon the Christian community, but the expertise of leaders from a variety of disciplines. How do you reconcile this with the kingdom of Christ?

Bill: That’s something that makes TGLS completely unique. Each year we state that our highest value is humility. Humility allows us to learn from anyone. So every group represented has to humble themselves and realize that those from other sectors have something to offer us. We believe that if we do that, we are all going to get better.

Gary: When leaders get better, everyone wins. People all over the world are seeing that the Summit is more than just a conference to develop individual leadership skills but is actually a catalyst for changing a community. They use what they learn all year. We want to build prevailing churches that impact the world. Without great leaders, that will not happen. We want to reach people in all walks of life to advance the kingdom of God.

Why is the Summit so personal to you?

Bill: My father was a Christian and a successful businessman. He had a very hard time bringing those two worlds together. He would soar in his business but struggle in understanding how to make those principles available to his church and other faith-based organizations. People in those organizations also didn’t know how to tap into his abilities and acumen. I remember growing up thinking that it would be something if all of this knowledge could be traded equally among all of the organizations that so desperately needed the same thing. Churches, governments, and businesses all have to be well led. There is a lot being learned in each of these sectors, but very little sharing across sectors.

What are the plans for this year’s summit?

Gary: We have seen significant growth in attendance, particularly in the past few years, and we obviously would like for that to continue. There seems to be an added momentum surrounding the Summit not only in the U.S., but globally. We say it every year, but we think we have assembled the best faculty to date.

You are expecting the Summit to be held in over 125 countries around the world this year. How do you accomplish that?

Gary: We begin of course with hosting the Summit at the Willow Creek campus and broadcasting it via satellite to over 400 host sites in the U.S. and Canada. Everything is recorded and made available via DVD to those around the world wishing to host the Summit in their locations. These events begin in October and run through February or early March.

You did something pretty unique and bold last year by commissioning an independent survey to determine the effectiveness of the Summit. Can you tell us why you decided to do that?

Gary: Over the years, we have collected thousands of stories from attendees all around the world describing the impact that the Summit had on their lives – powerful, powerful stories over a wide range of topics. I always wondered if there any way to quantify that impact. Qualitative data is one thing, but what if we could determine the impact quantitatively? We knew that the conference was making a difference, but we wanted to try and quantify the impact over time and see how leaders lived and led once they returned home and how that was transferred to their churches, organizations, businesses and communities. So after many years, we found an agency, Excellence in Giving based in Colorado Springs, that had the ability to conduct a very specialized study and the results were amazing.

What surprised you the most?

Gary: For me personally, we found that 25% of repeat participants said that TGLS inspired them to share the gospel. On average, those who did not work in the church reported 38 first time commitments to Christ over the past two years and among those who were church leaders, an average of 54 first time commitments were reported. That is amazing! This is a leadership conference, yet people come and because of the variety offered and God’s Holy Spirit working, people get energized, they go home, and they are incredible witnesses for Christ.

Bill: We are fond of saying “facts are your friends”. Some leaders are only led by intuition, which can be effective, but if you have some data to support that intuition it is all the more better. We now have the data which proves that if people attend the summit year after year, there are very important shifts that take place in their leadership capabilities, in the decisions they make, the quality of teams they build, and the quality of vision they cast. If this has done anything, it has given us more confidence and more passion to expand the influence of the Summit. It changes people. It improves their leadership. And we have the facts to support it.

Who comes to the Summit?

Bill: It was fundamentally pastors to begin with, and they began to bring staff members. Then maybe 5 years into it, we began to see pastors invite business leaders from their church, board members, donors, that type of thing. When the business leaders began to see the value of the Summit, they invited colleagues and people from their senior executive teams. From there, we kind of found our way into the NGO world and then the education environment – colleges and universities. It’s just been an ever increasing concentric circle – government, military bases. We are now finding our way into prisons. The beautiful thing about the subject of leadership is that it is relevant in every setting of society.

The Summit sounds very unique in terms of its constituencies. Doesn’t it takes a holistic approach to reach them all?

Bill: Without question. It is excruciatingly difficult to pull off well. This year, we have a business person from a large company who is bringing 250 people from his top leadership team. Most of them have no religious affiliation whatsoever. Those people are not anticipating that they will hear 30 minute talks from pastors and that prayers will be prayed and songs to God will be sung. We are at the point where it’s a challenge to touch all of those various sectors the way they need and expect to be touched. But, it’s a challenge that we welcome.

What kind of feedback do you get from those who were not expecting what they experienced?

Bill: I think the growth of the Summit probably speaks to that. It has grown from 2,000 to 250,000, so most of the people who come have found great value in it. At the end of the day, I think it’s such a well-rounded experience that people say there’s nothing else like it, and I want more.

Gary: We want to make the Summit the best leadership conference people can attend. We don’t apologize for the fact that it’s held in a Christian environment. Many people who come find Christ while they are there. Last year, a contingency of 50 Chinese business leaders came. Five of them found Christ, and 3 were baptized while at the conference.

Do you have any favorite stories?

Bill: The stories that register most profoundly with me are those about pastors receiving new vision for something they never thought could be carried out in their environment. But, they come to the Summit, get their confidence bolstered, their faith deepened and the power of vision grabs hold of them. By the same token, it is equally as gratifying for me when a business person gets the grander vision. When they say, I’m not just making widgets Monday-Friday and then going to church on Sunday, but I’m going to make widgets and build a team that is valued and functioning at a high level. I’m going to do all of this for the glory of the One whose name I bear.

Gary: I have the privilege to travel around the world, and I hear stories from every country. One of the most encouraging things for me is when a pastor says I was ready to quit but didn’t do so because of the Summit. Results from the survey indicated that a remarkable 96% of return participants said that they gained courage to lead in spite of opposition while attending the Summit. Two months later, at the time the survey was conducted, 10% said that they would have quit had it not been for inspiration they received from the Summit – that is huge to me.

To listen to an interview with Bill and Gary click here: http://www.firstpersoninterview.com/bill-hybels-gary-schwammlein/

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