Minnesota Church Plant Grows at an Incredible Pace

August 10, 2018 | Posted by Demian Farnworth

For as long as he could remember, Rev. Paul Lauer had a strong indication they should plant a church in St. Peter, Minn.

Our Savior Lutheran Church, Mankato, where Lauer is senior pastor, was involved in the launch of several local ministries. Mankato and the surrounding community enjoyed the benefits, boasting over 6,000 Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) members in a community that once had none.

To Lauer, his colleagues and the LCMS Minnesota South District, it seemed to be time to branch out and take the Lutheran faith to a new community like St. Peter, particularly since it didn’t have an LCMS congregation.

“We believed the city of St. Peter absolutely needed a Christ-centered, Scripture-believing, Gospel-driven Lutheran congregation in its midst,” said William Utech, assistant to the district president: missions.

Thus, River of Life Lutheran Church, St. Peter, was born.

Overcoming obstacles

“There was a lot of interest in the mission plant,” Lauer said. “We just had to find the right person.” That person turned out to be Rev. Tom Braun.

Prior to River of Life, Braun served as pastor at Christ Victorious, Chaska, and Family of Christ, Andover. Both were mission congregations in Minnesota. Identified and endorsed by the district, Braun had the experience to lead River of Life. And he would need it.

Braun was called in June 2013 and officially installed on Aug. 18, 2013.

“The first year was very challenging,” Braun said. “We worshipped in four different locations.” In addition to this difficulty, the church plant was small: only five families committed. “It’s not the best way to start,” he said.

The other critical obstacle they had to overcome was covering operating costs like Braun’s salary. “We had lots of pledges, but not enough money upfront,” Lauer said.

This is where a loan through the Merle Freitag Mission Planting Revolving Fund entered the picture. Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) established the fund to provide loans for operational costs that come with the planting of new LCMS missions in the U.S.

“Whoever put that fund together knew what they were doing,” Lauer said. “They knew what a mission plant needs to get off the ground.” This is important, Lauer said with a chuckle, “because what bank is going to approve a loan to a nonprofit that doesn’t have a real business model?”

God’s miracle

Through LCEF, Our Savior secured a loan for $50,000. River of Life, however, only had to draw $24,000 because it was financially stable in over three months. “The donations came in faster than we thought,” Lauer said.

Moreover, because of God’s blessing, River of Life grew at an incredible pace. In fact, five years after planting, River of Life is breaking ground to build a sanctuary that seats 200.

This structure will sit on the seven acres River of Life received as a gift from the nonprofit senior care provider Good Samaritan Society–a gift that included former senior living facilities. Retail value of the lot and building was assessed at $1.6 million.

To keep the church out of debt, the district held and maintained the property until the church chartered as a self-sustaining member congregation. At that point, the district board voted to give the building and property to River of Life.

Just think, Braun said, “If we didn’t have that loan we couldn’t have done any of this. Knowing that we could fall back on it enabled all of this to happen.”

Call 800-843-5233 to learn more about the Merle Freitag Mission Planting Revolving Fund.

Originally appeared in the 2018 summer issue of Lutheran Church Extension Fund’s official magazine, Interest Time. View a digital version here.

Demian Farnworth
Senior Content Writer for the Lutheran Church Extension Fund.