The Rev. Wes Feltner of Berean Baptist Church got the news this fall: His Burnsville church was among the top 10 fastest-growing churches in the nation.
Nearly 700 new faces flocked through its doors between the spring of 2016 and 2017, practically a stampede for a church that at that time had fewer than 2,000 in the congregation.
“I was a little shocked when they announced we were No. 10 [in the nation],” said Feltner, referring to the church’s 34 percent growth over one year.
“It was a pleasant surprise,” he said, adding that it brings both opportunities and challenges.
The rankings are based on the annual survey of Protestant churches by Lifeway Research, an evangelical research group based in Nashville, and published in the Colorado-based Outreach magazine. The survey looked at both the top 100 fastest-growing churches, based on percentage growth, and top 100 based on sheer size.
Other higher-profile Minnesota churches showed up on the lists, too.
Eagle Brook was the 11th-largest church in the nation, with 22,000 faithful at six Twin Cities campuses. It was the 54th fastest-growing church. River Valley Church, with 8,400 average attendance in eight Twin Cities locations, was the nation’s 46th largest and the 23rd fastest growing.
Berean Baptist is a bit of a surprise. It’s been a staple in Burnsville for more than 50 years, enjoying steady growth and planting several “daughter” churches in the south metro. Average weekend attendance was about 1,600 as of three years ago, according to staff.
But the church adopted a new “vision” several years ago, said Feltner, who became lead pastor in 2014. There’s a heightened attention to family and children’s ministry, he said, and to global outreach and local service. The worship style also changed, staff said.
“The pastor uses more technology, like showing movie clips, and has a different sense of humor,” added Kay Larson, director of church operations.
The communications office grew, adding a younger vibe with more social media. The church opened a Lakeville campus.
As folks flocked in, the church added a Saturday night service in the fall of 2014, said Larson, which grew from 250 early on to 500 people today. A year later, the church took over its biggest Sunday school classroom, set up folding chairs, and simulcast the worship service — drawing another 250 faithful.
In the fall of 2016, it launched a campus in Lakeville, which has grown to close to 300 people, Larson said. It’s now renovating its Burnsville building, which will house a 1,050-seat sanctuary across from the existing 600-seat sanctuary.
Feltner credits the explosion in growth to the strong foundation laid by the church’s previous lead pastor, the Rev. Roger Thompson, to dedicated staff, and to the church’s fresh direction.
But he’s also a bit mystified.
“You can say we did A, B and C, but lots of churches do A, B and C — and they didn’t grow,” he said.
But growth brings challenges, he added. Newcomers need to be integrated into the church, to feel part of the community, or there’s a risk of losing them. New staff need to be added to work with both parents and their children.
And just finding seating for everyone at weekend worship can be trying.
“Last Thanksgiving weekend, for example, an extra 50-60 people were sitting in folding chairs in our commons,’’ Feltner said.
He marveled: “You really can’t explain it.’’
Jean Hopfensperger 612 673-4511