Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Minneapolis has a healthy congregation with a reputation for thriving through transitions. Since its humble beginnings in 1899, it’s been a spiritual home for Norwegian immigrants and Norwegian-Americans.
In 1923 another Lutheran church merged with Bethlehem and by 1927 they had moved into their present sanctuary in south Minneapolis. The beautiful stained glass windows were dedicated in October 1929, just two days before the stock market crash. In spite of economic challenges, Bethlehem continued to thrive, becoming a strong church in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
By 1996 staff and leadership decided they didn’t want to concede to the trend of urban decline and dwindling membership. They began looking for a model of ministry that would complement their theology and heritage and help them reclaim God’s plan for Bethlehem. It was around that time that a brochure for the Purpose Driven Church Conference arrived.
Sending the entire staff to the conference, they were inspired to make immediate changes wherever they could. According to Senior Pastor Chris Nelson, “We started expecting God to make things happen at Bethlehem. We asked for commitment, and rather than it chasing people away, it attracted them. So much so, that our staff went to find more programs and materials to meet the needs of a large congregation responding to God’s call to become Christ-like.”
In their own personal lives, the staff began taking seriously the idea of balancing the Purposes of the Christian faith. They knew that if God was going to use them to lead the congregation, they needed to be willing to take the first step of recommitting their lives to Jesus Christ.
“We didn’t want the label,” says Pastor Chris. “We wanted the health. PD isn’t our identity, rather it’s a model of ministry that helps us be the best Lutheran Christian church we can be!”
Once again, Bethlehem faced transition and emerged with new life that was a blend of their Lutheran theology with Purpose Driven insights. In 1999 Bethlehem was in the first class of churches to receive the Purpose Driven Church Health Award, given to five congregations nationally.
Since beginning their Purpose Driven journey, Bethlehem’s attendance has grown to over 4,000 members. They are now hosting five services at the downtown campus, and a sixth at their satellite location.
Bethlehem has also learned how to be more generous than ever. Three successful capital fund campaigns were undertaken to help them stretch their ministry. They launched two satellite congregations—Spirit Garage, an emerging congregation aimed at reaching the unchurched in the nearby Uptown neighborhood, and Jacob’s Well in South Minneapolis.
After serving in the church for over 20 years, Pastor Chris feels privileged to teach Purpose Driven principles to other mainline church pastors and leaders both locally and globally.
“I serve with a great team at Bethlehem,” says Pastor Chris. “We also continue to develop pastors to serve as leaders for other large ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) churches around the country.”
Most importantly, Bethlehem is a healthy and thriving church made up of a vibrant community with Purpose Driven principles.
To learn more about becoming a Purpose Driven Church, visit pd.church/start.