Gary joined the WCA in 1994, after a highly successful 30-year career at a large multi-national company. He felt God calling him to use his international experience and connections to help churches globally. His vision and tireless work built the infrastructure for the unparalleled global ministry network we enjoy today, working across denominational and cultural lines in 132 countries. As president emeritus, he will continue his work with the international ministry at WCA—albeit on a reduced schedule. We are thrilled that the GLS movement will continue to benefit from his passion and wisdom for years to come.
Much of my life has been in the international arena—either as part of my job or the part of the world where I lived. In 1995, I made a decision to leave the corporate world as a result of a message from Bill Hybels. He challenged people to consider what legacy we would leave behind and it caused me to approach the chairman of the company where I worked and negotiate a separation agreement. Eighteen months later, I started at Willow Creek Association. That was 20 years ago.
When the Association began looking for someone to build the international ministry, it became clear to everyone that this was the function God had prepared me for through my education and my career.
They said, “We desperately need this.”
2005 was the first time we tried the GLS concept outside the U.S. It came about after people from other countries attended a Summit in the U.S. and said, “We desperately need this. How can we bring this kind of teaching to our country?”
We present the Summit a little differently overseas. Because it’s not live, we can break it up into eight sessions. What really helps is that there is a 15-minute facilitation discussion after each segment so we can contextualize the training to the culture.
They might hear a talk from Patrick Lencioni, who is one of the most sought-after business speakers in America. But what does that mean for someone in the Congo? That’s where the facilitator would say, “How does what he just shared apply to the problems we’re facing right here?”
What? Two days of watching DVDs?
There was certainly some resistance to the idea. People thought, “What? Two days of watching DVDs? That’s a stupid idea.” Of course, we still hear that comment today. But the moment people attend the event, they tell us, “You know what? After five minutes I forgot it was a DVD.”
We are now in 128 countries and maybe 750 cities outside the U.S. And we’re in all those countries because someone invited us to come. We don’t hold the Summit anywhere by ourselves. We set up local organizing committees that are a good representation of the Christians in that city or country. Then we train them. We make the materials available, and we provide financial support, if necessary, for them to hold a Global Leadership Summit.
The idea works!
We have seen 25-28 percent growth percent internationally—growth that none of us anticipated.
I believe The Global Leadership Summit has grown this way because it meets a very distinct need. In the West, we have a training culture and mentality. There is a new management book or training seminar coming out every week. But so many areas of the world don’t have these resources.
Yet, we’ve clearly seen what happens when we make our leadership tools available to them. Whether it’s Myanmar or Rwanda, Nicaragua or Canada, Sweden or … you name it, we get probably five to ten stories of impact every week.
Pakistan, for example, is a very tough place for Christians and for Christian ministry. Yet, people write us year after year—Summit after Summit—about how discouraged they were and how, through the Summit, God spoke to them. They received new skills and new ideas for their ministry.
Translating the Summit to speak to the heart
Of course, there are language barriers. To speak to a leader’s heart, you must speak in their heart language. So, we spend more than one million dollars each year to translate the Summit. Each language costs on average about $20,000, and we’re in 60 languages. But in places such as India, we are only in four languages, where we should be in 10.
Providing technology to create a distraction-free, Wow! experience
There are also technical challenges. In order to create that “wow” effect, we need, at a minimum, 6,000 lumen projectors, and we need certain screens. When we started in Kenya, there was only one 6,000 lumen projector available in the entire country. It cost us $8,000 to rent it for two-and-a-half days. In those early days, our ability to expand internationally was limited by a lack of equipment. But every year, if we had some un-allocated funds, we would put it into equipment like projectors, screens and high-end audio equipment.
This is a pretty simple strategy when you look at it. We know the Summit works. We hear the stories of impact and transformation. The Summit is changing lives as leaders get better, and everyone wins.
To learn more about how to give to The Global Leadership Summit, go to give.willowcreek.com.