Willow Creek: Church leaders quit over sexual misconduct scandal

Bill Hybels seen as he announced his resignation to shocked churchgoers. /AGENCIES
Bill Hybels seen as he announced his resignation to shocked churchgoers. /AGENCIES

The leaders at one of the biggest megachurches in the US have quit over a sexual misconduct scandal that has already claimed its founder.

A statement from elders at the Willow Creek church said a "new start" was needed, and that they should have handled the allegations better.

Bill Hybels stepped down earlier this year after accusations of inappropriate conduct emerged.

He has denied the allegations but said he had become a distraction.

With more than 25,000 members and locations in Chicago, Willow Creek is thought to be the fifth largest megachurch in the US. Megachurches are defined as congregations with regular weekly attendance of at least 2,000 persons.

Several women have come forward with accusations against Hybels dating back to the 1990s.

Earlier this year, the Chicago Tribune and Christianity Today both detailed allegations that he had made unwanted advances and suggestive comments to church members.

Church leaders were reportedly told four years ago that Hybels was having an affair with one woman and was accused of harassment by others.

An internal investigation cleared him of wrongdoing.

But in April, after the allegations went public, Hybels said he would step down, months ahead of his planned retirement date in October this year. His announcement brought gasps from his congregation.

New allegations emerged over the weekend, with a former assistant alleging he groped her repeatedly.

The latest claims prompted the resignation of one of Hybels' successors Steve Carter, who quit over the church's handling of the misconduct allegations. It appears the rest of the church leaders also felt compelled to act.