Minnesota church ‘pivots’ to reach more people for Christ

Michael Smith

Former Converge Content Specialist

  • Church planting & multiplication

In 2018 Free Grace United in Minnesota had a near-record-high average attendance and baptized more people than in any other year since the church launched in October 2004.

Despite all its success, the church decided now is the time to “pivot.”

“We must pivot, or we won’t be reaching people 20 years from now,” senior pastor Eric Dykstra said.

Part of the pivot included changing the church’s name from The Crossing to Free Grace United on March 31.

In explaining the reason for the need to pivot, Dykstra points to the current crisis in the American church.

Pastor J.D. Greear writes in his 2015 book Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send, “According to a recent LifeWay Research study, in the next seven years 55,000 churches in the United States will close their doors, and the number of those who attend a church on the weekend in the U.S. will drop from 17% to 14%. Only 20% of churches in the U.S. are growing, and only 1% are growing by reaching lost people. So 95% of the church growth we celebrate merely shuffles existing Christians around.”

Dykstra said that the church needs to find more effective ways to reach people for Christ beyond the attractional church model.

“The world is not going to come to us on their own so we must go to them,” he said. “It is not about what happens inside the doors as much as what happens outside the doors.”

The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.

Matt. 9:37-38

After years of following a multisite model, Dykstra now considers his church “multicongregational.” Free Grace United consists of nine different churches throughout Minnesota, plus its online church.

“We are a family of grace-based interdependent local churches,” he said. “Each church has its own lead pastor and seeks to do ministry in a way that fits its community and culture.”

  • The Minneapolis location meets in a coffee shop, ministering to college students and homeless people.
  • The St. Paul location meets in a community center and has a strong addictions ministry focus.
  • The St. Michael location meets in an outlet mall, where it blesses suburban moms as they shop.

“Each one of our locations looks a little different, and that’s good,” Dykstra said. “We can reach people so much more effectively if each church seeks to find its niche and go to where the people are.”

In 2018 Free Grace United started five new churches, and it plans to open at least two more this year, including a bilingual (ASL/English) congregation.

Dykstra said that while the church’s mission stays the same – “help as many people as we can cross the line of faith and follow Jesus” – it has a new, bolder vision: Not 20 churches in 20 years, but 100 churches by 2040.

As Free Grace United continues to start new churches, Dykstra said the church will use the Converge Church Planting Assessment Center to make sure its church planting candidates are qualified.

Dykstra admits the changes have created challenges, but he said it’s well worth it.

“We have sent out some of our best leaders, some of our most gifted musicians, some of our best teachers to other places. We could have kept everyone here in Elk River, and we could have had the greatest show on earth. But I’m not interested in the show; I’m interested in people meeting Jesus.”

Michael Smith, Former Converge Content Specialist

Michael Smith served as a content specialist for Converge from 2018-2021.

Additional articles by Michael Smith