Mike Bellanti on Turning Around a Stuck Church


Thanks so much for joining us for another episode of the unSeminary podcast. I’m excited to have with us today Mike Bellanti, the lead pastor of Northbrook Church outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Northbrook is a nondenominational church about 30 miles outside of Milwaukee, made up of upper middle class families who mostly work in the city but don’t want to live there. Located in a rural area, Northbrook is multi-generational, but really reaching families with kids still at home. When Mike arrived, Northbrook was stuck in their development. It had grown fast, going from 12 to 1,000. But then Northbrook began to decline and the pastor left. By the time Mike arrived, they had been without a pastor for over a year, finances were in trouble, and over 600 people had left. Mike was hesitant to come at first, but felt God’s calling and now is working to revive and change Northbrook.

  • Give people a voice. // When Mike arrived, Northbrook had very siloed thinking among the staff, which then flowed into the congregation. It was challenging to change that and get the leaders to work together and speak out with their ideas and input. Mike’s first goal was to encourage that change and get the leaders to realize that they did have a voice and he was interested in hearing what they had to say. He spent a year bringing health and cohesiveness to the team, creating an environment where the staff felt comfortable being open and honest.
  • Examine what you’re communicating. // The church had a lot of print material, and so they taped it all up on the wall. Seeing so many different materials highlighted the siloed nature of the church and how complex ministry had become. As Mike noted, the materials looked like they could have been from twelve different churches instead of just one! Staff didn’t know what other ministries were working on and the team wasn’t working as a unified front. They knew they needed to revision the whole church so Mike and the core leaders met every other week at 6am for a year. They would pray, talk, argue, cry and laugh as they pursued God’s plan for what Northbrook should do and be. It was tough, but that time together was a catalyst for the change that was needed.
  • Simplify the strategy. // Once they had clarity on what the vision of the church was, they realized that they needed a simple strategy. The entire staff talked about what they were going to do as well as what they were going to stop doing. That led to some complications for a while because no one likes getting rid of things, especially things that had been their pet projects and passions. But it was necessary, and it gave the church room to try new things. Having everyone’s buy-in meant that the success rate of new initiatives increased because everyone had a voice in developing it.
  • Honor your team. // Making changes within a church can lead to a large turnover due to conflicting ideas. Mike worked to avoid that by really honoring his staff. He listened to their ideas and made them feel like they did have a part in the church and the new direction. Only one person left because he realized that Mike’s hope for him and his department was not the same as his hope for those areas. It was a graceful leaving, and the member spent six months working on the transition to another leader within his department, so there was no turmoil caused by a sudden departure.

You can learn more about Northbrook at their website http://www.northbrookchurch.org or email Mike at [email protected].

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Lightning Round

Helpful Tech Tools // Evernote, Basecamp, Toggle

Ministries Following // Andy Stanley & Northpoint Church

Influential Book // Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear by Scott Sauls

Inspiring Leader // Brené Brown and Richard Stearns

What does he do for fun // mountain biking, shoot clay pigeons, read cheap novels, run

Contact // northbrookchurch.org, or email Mike [email protected]

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.