By: Christa Meland
A Twin Cities campus of Embrace Church opened its doors Nov. 8 with two worship services and 438 people in attendance—making it the largest launch of a single United Methodist Church site in Minnesota in recent decades.
“It was electric,” said Rev. Austin Walker, who leads the new “St. Croix” campus in Lakeland, about 35 miles east of Minneapolis. “The entryway was packed full of people from all different generations.”
Walker led most of the services live in-person. But Rev. Adam Weber, lead pastor of Embrace, delivered via live streaming a powerful message about what we wish we could tell ourselves 10 or 20 years ago, and what we wish we could tell ourselves today (watch the message here).
At the beginning of the message, he gave a special welcome to the people at the new campus. “We spent time praying for all of you at St. Croix—we just prayed that everyone would come and feel welcomed and at home, and more than anything, that you would sense God’s presence here with us today,” he said.
Embrace Church, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was recently named the 10th-fastest-growing church in America. It began in 2006 with 40 people and now averages more than 3,000 people in average worship attendance across four physical locations (three in South Dakota, plus the Minnesota campus) and an online community.
The idea of starting a Twin Cities campus emerged about a year ago when Bishop Bruce R. Ough (bishop of both the Dakotas Annual Conference and the Minnesota Annual Conference) invited Embrace leadership to consider doing so. This past summer, they said “yes” to that invitation.
“We’re so excited to be a small part of what God is doing and will do in the Minnesota Conference,” said Weber.
Embrace’s new campus is located inside what used to be St. Croix Valley United Methodist Church. Members of that congregation, which had become older and smaller in recent years, voted in August to discontinue and give their building to Embrace so that Embrace could launch a new campus there.
Since then, Embrace leaders have been preparing the church building and working to get the word out about the St. Croix campus through social media, mailings to the surrounding area, and door hangers with Coke bottles that they left on the door steps of people in the community.
“We challenged anybody and everybody that we knew to invite their neighbors, friends, and coworkers,” said Walker.
About 50 people who used to attend St. Croix Valley UMC were among those present. Several had tears in their eyes as they told Walker they could feel God’s presence and loved seeing the church full again.
Rev. Jeff Utecht, who served as interim pastor for St. Croix Valley UMC when it discontinued, said he too heard from many former members of St. Croix Valley UMC, who were pleased to see so many people—and, in particular, so many children—in a place they hold dear, a place they long hoped would reach the next generation and connect more people with Christ.
“It was a terrific launch,” said Utecht. “I can’t help but believe it’s going to have a good trajectory of growth. I am pleased and hopeful and impressed.”
Walker, who is from Minnesota and spent eight years as the youth director of Hastings United Methodist Church, returned this fall after having spent eight months leading one of Embrace’s South Dakota campuses.
He is excited to build on the momentum from launch Sunday. Many people in close proximity to the church don’t have a church home, and he said he looks forward to continuing to welcome newcomers. “There’s always room for more,” he said, noting that additional worship services will be added as needed based on attendance.
“We concentrate on every Sunday being the most important Sunday of the year,” said Walker. “We want to do anything and everything we can to reach the next person for Jesus.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church