I received an email a few weeks ago from Mike Bellanti, the pastor at Northbrook Church in Richfield, Wisconsin. Mike invited me in a few years ago as a fresh set of eyes. He had recently come to the church to be the lead pastor after it begun experiencing decline. In his own words, the church had lost its way and staff morale was very low. He compared it to those Febreze commercials where people have gone “nose-blind” to the smells in their house or car. The church had gone “culture-blind.”
After the ministry health assessment, Northbrook made some major adjustments and has seen some fantastic fruit:
- They have grown to around 2,000 in weekly attendance (up from a low point of about 700).
- Their small group involvement has grown to about 80-90% of the adult weekly attendance.
- They realigned their staff to the vision and are continuing to do so in order to have maximum effectiveness.
- They made developing a leadership development process a priority, gave it to a staff member to own and design, and will soon launch it with a goal of identifying, equipping and releasing leaders to do ministry, both volunteers and staff.
- They have made creating a better guest experience an ongoing priority and taken significant steps to improve it.
- They re-imagined their children’s space, since that was a key area of the guest experience that was lacking.
- They expanded their facilities by adding 34,000 sq. ft. to the existing property and are launching an on-site venue in the fall.
To get these results, they had to make some courageous changes. They simplified the vision so people could run with it. They chose Small Groups as a primary strategy for carrying out the vision to tremendous success. (At one point, they had 103% of their average weekend service attendance involved in Small Groups! They’ve settled in between 80-90%, which is still remarkable compared to what we typically see.) To focus on groups, they canceled all classes and learning environments outside of the small groups system. During the months when they are promoting groups, they don’t promote anything else. Mike models the emphasis by leading a group himself. They have a specific group all people must go through before joining the church.
They made the difficult staffing and structure changes that needed to happen. When they clarified the vision and strategy, they gave their people an opportunity to align. Not everyone did. And that’s one of the hardest parts of leading change. Mike’s team is a tight-knit group. But in his own words, you have to have the courage to make the right decisions for the church, to lead it where God is leading you.
I get incredibly excited when I see churches who were stuck get unstuck. This church has done that. By not being afraid to take an honest look at where things were, Northbrook positioned itself to make the radical changes they needed to make. I hope their story encourages you like it does me. It’s why I started The Unstuck Group. The Church doesn’t have to be stuck.