By: Christa Meland
When Laura and Brent Cottington served as church camp directors for a week in Iowa, they saw unchurched kids come to know Christ. It was such a meaningful experience that it got them thinking about planting a church and reaching new people on an even larger scale.
Now, more than two decades later, the Cottingtons are in the early stages of doing just that. Their church since 2000, Cross Winds UMC in Maple Grove, went through the Missional Church Consultation Initiative (MCCI) process— and one of the prescriptions that came out of it was to look at planting a church in the west metro.
The Cottingtons volunteered to take a lead role in exploring options. “It felt like such a God thing,” said Laura Cottington. “We have a passion for reaching the unchurched.”
The couple conducted significant research and learned that St. Michael was ripe for a new church. The general rule is that there should be about one church for every 1,000 people, said Laura Cottington.
St. Michael now has six churches for roughly 17,000 residents—and it’s growing rapidly. The city also has one of the largest percentages of families with school-age children across all of Minnesota, and it’s expected to be home to 130,000 people by 2040.
The Cottingtons put together an extensive church-plant proposal and have been working with their church and Rev. Ben Ingebretson, Dakotas-Minnesota director of new church development, to prepare for the new church start and to find the right planter.
“I am delighted whenever someone other than the annual conference identifies an underserved community and takes it upon themselves to create a profile of that community,” said Ingebretson. “This is not a denomination coming with a top-down plan. It’s a grassroots vision and observation of opportunities. That’s where the energy comes.”
The Minnesota Conference’s “Multiply” program helped prepare the Cottingtons to plant a church. The program, led by Ingebretson, is geared toward congregations that want to start a new service or site.
Evidence shows that new churches are more effective than any program or outreach method of an existing church when it comes to reaching new people. The Multiply program provides technical knowledge and tried and true church planting principles to position church starts for success.
Cross Winds UMC will walk alongside the new church start and provide prayer and support—but the St. Michael church will also seek other partner churches to offer prayer and assistance.
For months, the Cottingtons have been praying earnestly for St. Michael, its residents, and a planter who can help them turn their vision into a reality. Often, they drive through the community and stop to pray over key areas in the city— schools, parks, and neighborhoods—and they will be moving to St. Michael this fall.
The Cottingtons have been looking for a church planter that’s from or currently living in St. Michael, partly because having connections is such a critical component in preparing to launch a church. Several individuals have come forth, and one of them has been selected and is almost ready to be announced. Laura Cottington is convinced that’s no coincidence.
“The prayer drives are working,” she said.
Once the church planting-pastor is confirmed, the Cottingtons will work with that person to make inroads in the community and prepare to launch a church there. Laura Cottington hopes to share her administrative and organizational skills. Brent Cottington has a strong financial background and looks forward to contributing that expertise. Networking, they say, will be key to the church plant’s success.
It will likely be at least another full year before the team will be ready to launch worship—probably in a public place, like a school, to remove some of the barriers for the unchurched.
Ideally, the church will have 100 people committed to being part of it before the launch, said Laura Cottington.
For her, planting a church is ultimately about bringing hope to the hopeless and introducing people to abundant life through Christ.
“As Methodists, we’re not the best evangelists,” said Laura Cottington. “This is the time when we need to be…Our greatest hope is to be a missional church from the beginning. We want to always have a multiplication mindset and continue to reach the unchurched.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church