“I’ve turned into a church planter with no training and no intention,” says Pastor Kurt Nichols, as he describes how he came to pastor New Song Fellowship Church in Valparaiso, IN. In 2002, he was hired by the UMC to develop a young congregation in a yet-to-be-built facility. It was essentially a plant being sent by an established church. He had experience revitalizing old congregations, but he’d never been a part of a plant — and this plant wasn’t typical.
Kurt started by building community with the young families and leveraging a very successful small group strategy. But the promised building never happened, and he and his team eventually found themselves looking for a space to gather. They landed in a basement space of a Buffalo Wild Wings about two blocks from the main church building. They launched a service there as an off-site campus of the sending church with 43 people. It quickly doubled, reaching unchurched people in their community. Eventually, all decided that this service was effective at reaching young, unchurched families and should be launched as a standalone church family.
“Our high point was 230, but we averaged 160-180. We learned how to do small groups and build community before launch, but after we started gathering as a whole, small groups suffered. In the beginning we dealt with low giving, always running a deficit. After several years we started breaking even, but we were no longer growing in attendance. We needed to recapture a ‘missionary mindset.’ I hadn’t been prepared for this in seminary. I realized we could use some support from someone who had been in our shoes.”
At one of his previous churches, Kurt had seen a lot of consultants come through. He became distrustful as he realized they were often hired by the senior pastor as an outside voice to confirm his particular wishes. As the leadership team came to agreement over involving an outside group, they decided they wanted complete honesty. No sugar-coating. The experience re-ignited the vision that they wanted to do more than exist; they wanted to advance the Kingdom.
“The Unstuck Group was recommended to me by a person I respect, and we gave it a shot. Through the experience, we ended up identifying five areas we needed to work on. It has made my leaders want to lead again. We’re making progress.”
- A renovation that had been on the back-burner got moving.
- They restructured the leadership team to align with the vision.
- They’ve worked out a new branding scheme.
- They’ve planned a kick-off event in August to present the changes to the congregation.
“We want to be a church that produces ‘good fruit.’ I appreciate the process The Unstuck Group goes through. As far as consulting firms go, there are none more honest, empathetic and energetic. I would recommend the strategic planning process because in the short time you spend together, you get where you need to be.”