"Leadership doesn't only come from our little world," said Jim Mellado, president of the Willow Creek Association. "We have to look outside ourselves from wherever we can to learn, grow and develop."
In that spirit of growth, the group's annual leadership summit will stream live to 123 churches across the country and 14 in Canada, said Beth Dahlenburg, a marketing director for the association, which organizes the yearly convention at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington.
Organizers estimate 7,000 attended the opening Thursday of the two-day event. The group expects the same turnout Friday, when videos will be broadcast of U2 lead singer Bono and of Blair, who was British prime minister for a decade.
Bono fashioned a reputation as an activist in recent years with work to reduce AIDS-related deaths and improve the quality of life in Africa. Blair has continued to stay on the worldwide stage with diplomatic efforts in the Middle East.
Three years ago, Bono appeared in a videocast at the same Willow Creek summit and challenged members of the association to get involved in the problems of Africa.
On Friday, the rock star will give a "progress report" on how the association is doing, said spokeswoman Amy Hauser.
The taped interview with Blair will focus on making tough, unpopular decisions.
Inviting such high-profile people such as Bono and Blair is part of the summit's attempt to seek out the best leadership advice, organizers said.
"We have been failed by the lack of credible leadership in our financial institutions, in our companies at times, even in church and the government," Mellado said. "We have got to have these transformation-minded leaders equipped, inspired, so they can change and influence all the spheres that they touch."
The association will rebroadcast later to 45 U.S. churches and eventually will send DVDs to 150 countries, Dahlenburg said. The association is composed of 12,000 churches worldwide.
Some speakers Thursday included Gary Hamel, a business management expert who urged church leaders to accept changes to rigid hierarchies and practices.
Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, took part in a video discussion on hiring and firing.
Willow Creek Association estimates 100,000 people will eventually take part in the summit in some way. Many will be reached via a multilayered communication strategy that includes the Internet and social media.
Joe Dascenzo, a volunteer who was helping update Twitter feeds, said he discovered that the leadership summit occupied the top four themes on Twitter at one point in the day.
Dascenzo said one blogger unaffiliated with the organization was transmitting notes from the sessions as they happened.
"It's like stream of consciousness right from the stage," he said. "That's just how it is, everyone's just kind of contributing to the conversation."
Dahlenburg said audiocasts will be posted on the association Web site in the next couple of months, and online training will be offered to those who want to explore particular leadership sessions.
Using social networking technology was a must, Mellado said.
"We want to get the message out in the thousand ways we can get that message out," he said. "If Facebook is where people are, we're going to be there, if [it's] Twitter, we're going to be there."