Willowbrook Community Church was established with just 23 people a little over 11 years ago. Back then, members were worshipping in the auditorium at Forest Lake High School.
Today, the congregation numbers around 600. And after years of looking for a home, Lead Pastor Brad Reis said they feel Willowbrook’s location in a strip mall at 840 S. Lake Street is tailored perfectly for their ministry to the community.
The church moved into the space previously occupied by the Treasure Trove in the Lakes Shoppes. The openness of the former retail site remained, but over 25,000-square feet was transformed from what was once a dollar store to what is now Willowbrook Community Church.
“We believe we can best meet the needs of our community by being located right in the center of town,” Reis said. “In the 1st Century, when the early church was just starting, much of the ministry taking place was often performed in the marketplace. Needless to say, Willowbrook is situated in a commercial zone and is a perfect ‘neutral’ site for people to explore Christianity at their own pace,”’ he said.
The design is far from traditional, with the brightly colored walls and coffeehouse vibe in the common area. “The idea behind it is an industrial feel,” he said.
The children’s wing, known as Route 252, features a fun road to each classroom, with stop and go lights.
Over the past decade, many sites – in Forest Lake as well as Scandia – were eyed for Willowbrook. Then in November 2010, the Forest Lake City Council granted a request for an interim use permit for a period of five years to expire on June 1, 2016. That same year, the council unanimously approved a text amendment to the city to allow a place of worship in an existing multi-tenant building in the General Mixed Use (MU-2) Zoning District.
It seemed that everything was progressing, until Reis said the underwriting of the loan fell through just 12 days before Willowbrook Community Church was set to have a grand opening on Nov. 20, 2011. He noted there have been rumors circulated around as to how the financial pieces came together.
Reis said the congregation rallied together the less than two week period to raise more than $400,000 to complete the build out. The auditorium can seat 410-plus.
“It truly highlighted the passion of the church to make a difference in our community,” he said.
Willowbrook, Reis says, was actually built for those who have yet to attend. Parishioners are committed to growth, outreach, and transformation. The focus is to reach those individuals and families who may have been given up on the whole church scene, he added.
“Willowbrook has been known as a ‘mosaic’ church because of the variety of people who attend from all backgrounds and denominations,”’ Reis said.
His passion is to clearly articulate the truth of God’s Word in a relevant, creative, and timeless manner.
Reis said that since Willowbrook’s kick-off in January of this year, the community church has grown by 20 percent. He admits that the new growth has led to some exciting challenges, including parking, traffic flow, additional service times, etc. There are two worship services every Sunday; at 9 and 11 a.m.
Willowbrook Community Church is currently featuring Fill the Bus. Several local businesses are teaming together with them to collect non-perishable food items. The bus will be parked at various locations, including Walmart, Cub Foods and Rainbow Foods throughout the month of April.
Also, Willowbrook is hosting numerous community events for the public to attend at the church. From a carnival, to an illusionist, coffee shop nights, and an adults-only dance.
The main attraction is scheduled for Saturday, April 28. Not Dead Yet will be playing the best 70s, 80s and 90s rock music from bands like U2 and Foreigner to name a few. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.
“The purpose behind each of the events is to raise support and awareness for Family Pathways,” Reis said.