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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

‘Organ Donors’ Bring Life Into Churches

By Jocelyn Green
Aug. 12, 2012

Rob Ketterling had a dream — but he didn’t have money.

He didn’t let that stop him.

River Valley Church (Assemblies of God) in Apple Valley, Minn., had grown from 13 people in 1995 to 250 by 1999 under Ketterling’s leadership. But then growth stalled. His vision, however, never lost momentum: Reach 1,000 members and plant more churches.

“So we risked everything — all or nothing,” Ketterling says. “We went into an office warehouse that could seat 500. Our building payment was 80 percent of our monthly income. I remember thinking, Either God will come to us and show us we did the right thing, or I will lose everything I own.”

God came, and so did the people. In fact, they haven’t stopped. Today, River Valley Church has more than 4,300 congregants attending one of its 10 weekend services across four Twin Cities metro-area locations: Apple Valley (the original site), Faribault, Minnetrista and Savage. A fifth campus has opened in Valencia, Spain.

One of the keys to River Valley Church’s phenomenal growth, according to Ketterling, is “organ donation.”

In 2009, an Assemblies of God church in Fairbault had lost its pastor and had only 40 people in attendance. Assemblies of God Minnesota District Superintendent Clarence St. John invited Ketterling to take the church under his leadership umbrella and bring it back to life. The first time Ketterling met the remaining congregants at Fairbault, he showed them his driver’s license and told them he was an organ donor.

“If I’m dying, take everything you can and give it to the living and let them live a full life with it,” he told them. “If you will give this building — the organ — to us, I pledge to win this city for Jesus.” Members voted overwhelmingly to give River Valley the building, and today it averages 400 attendees per week.

Two years ago, AG churches in Minnetrista and Savage also offered their “organs” to River Valley. Minnetrista had 17 people attending in 2010, and now has around 225. Savage had a strong congregation of 300 people, and today has double that attendance.

Once River Valley takes on a new building, the church typically closes it down for three months to refurbish it.

“During that time, we ask those who had been attending that church to drive to our main campus or watch online,” says Ketterling, 46. “We train people in the DNA of our worship, and we launch it, full of faith and optimism.”

Ketterling remains River Valley’s vision-caster and preaches in one location, while the others watch him through satellite video. But each site has its own campus pastor to provide pastoral care, as well as its own youth pastor, children’s ministry leader and worship team.

“There’s a very personal touch on each campus,” St. John says. “Each one is filled with positive laymen, doing the ministry they do best. That’s a real key.”

Church planting methods have changed over the years, according to Steve Pike, national director of the Fellowship’s Church Multiplication Network.

“The old-fashioned form of church planting was like throwing someone out of an airplane with a parachute and saying, ‘Plant a church where you land and let us know how it works out!’” Pike says. “River Valley is doing the opposite. The sending church is strong. The new church is close enough that it can benefit from the larger church’s organizational aspects so the new church can focus on ministry.”

Pike points out that the sending church also provides a place to look for and recruit team members.

“It’s close enough that people can be temporarily assigned to get it going or decide to be a more permanent part of it,” he says. “Plus, River Valley already has a good understanding of how to engage the culture, so when they start a new church, it will be one that can also engage the culture effectively from the beginning.”

It’s a model being followed across the nation by other AG churches. When Red Rocks Church in Golden, Colo., opened its doors for the first time on Easter six years ago, almost 1,700 people showed up.

“You’d think it was an overnight success, but it wasn’t,” Pike says. “Those folks were in the community for three years, cultivating the soil before their first public service.”

Ketterling acknowledges that attendance is only one standard of evaluation.

“Conversions are the number one thing we celebrate,” he says. Ketterling also wants to make sure church plants are discipling souls.

So far, that answer has been a resounding yes for River Valley, which has planted three other churches outside of its own campus: Evergreen Church in Stevens Point, Wis.; High Point Church in Eagan, Minn.; and Canvas Church in Northfield, Minn. Today, River Valley is working to open campuses in three more Minnesota cities: Burnsville, Edina and Minneapolis. And from that church in Valencia, another 20 sites are on the drawing board in Spain.

“It doesn’t help the Kingdom if all we’re doing is growing and keeping,” says Ketterling. “We want to bring people in, raise them up and send them out.”

JOCELYN GREEN is an Evangelical Press Association award-winning freelance writer and author who lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

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