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"Think of this like a restaurant that might have a soft opening," Louis said. "This gave us time to get the kinks worked out."
Christ Redeemer is getting its start like many churches, said the Rev. Tim Caspers, the lead pastor of Crosswinds Community Church, which has met for the past 13 years at Rutherford Elementary School in Stillwater. The congregation just finished building its own facility in Stillwater Township and will have a grand opening on Easter at 10:30 a.m. April 8.
"It's common to start new churches in schools, theaters and storefronts," said Caspers, who started Crosswinds as part of the church planting ministry of Faith Community Church in Hudson, Wis. "But they must have good visibility, room to grow and must not bust the bank for the rent."
While generally cheaper than owning a building (Crosswinds spent $1.7 million for land and its new worship center at 9125 Newgate Av.), "portable churches" are not tied to a mortgage. However, they sometimes move from place to place and might meet in a temporary home for as long as 10 years, Caspers said. With that comes the tasks of setting up and taking down chairs and sound systems every week -- something Caspers said Crosswinds volunteers have done more than 900 times -- and establishing a presence in the community.
"It's always about people, but a facility helps," Caspers said. "A building does say 'we are here to stay.'"
No permit required
While Christ Redeemer might hold the distinction of being Woodbury's newest church, city officials say there is no way of knowing for sure because churches that meet in schools do not need to get city approval and are not tracked by the city.
"We do not issue permits for those types of events," said Melissa Douglas, a senior planner for Woodbury. "When we have a school building, we think of all the global ways it might be used beyond daily educational uses. We assume this type of thing would happen."
Currently there are three congregations that meet in buildings operated by the South Washington County School District: Eagle Brook Church at East Ridge High School in Woodbury, Christ Household of Faith at Park High School in Cottage Grove, and Crosspoint Church at Lake Middle School in Woodbury. That number has stayed consistent over the past few years, said Ernie Pines, the district's Community Education director.
Churches that meet in office buildings, warehouses or other commercially-zoned property do have to get a conditional use permit from the city. There are "a couple" of those in Woodbury, Douglas said.
As the city's population grows, Douglas said there always seems to be some interest in starting new congregations.
"We have regular discussions with existing churches that want to open a new location or new churches trying to form in the city," Douglas said. "After new households are built, it creates opportunity for new places of worship, or existing churches to open locations in Woodbury."
That is one of the reasons Bethlehem wanted to start a church in Woodbury, Louis said.
Ministry kept calling
Louis originally went to school to study physical therapy after suffering several sports injuries in high school and college, but the ministry kept calling. He said he read his Bible more than he did his textbooks, and he finally went to seminary.
Louis eventually got hooked up with Bethlehem's Church Planting ministry, and started Christ Redeemer in Woodbury because the area has a large number of people who are not affiliated with a church, he said.
The church began with a small group affiliated with Bethlehem that met Sunday evenings at Central Park in Woodbury. Over the the past two years, charter members invited relatives and friends to join. Now, with a place to hold Sunday services -- and with an average weekly attendance of more than 140 at worship services, education classes and using nursery services -- Louis said it was time to invite the neighborhood residents.
To get the word out, parishioners last week delivered 3- by 5-inch cards to area residents to invite them to Sunday's grand opening. The church also hired a telemarketing firm to make calls to those who live near Footprints.
"We are not trying to steal [people] from other churches," he said. "We are looking to find people who are unconnected" to a church.
Christ Redeemer is the 10th church plant by Bethlehem Baptist. However, it will operate as a separate congregation and not as a branch of the Minneapolis church.
"We will carry the Bethlehem DNA with a commitment that the Bible is the authority and God is sufficient," Louis said. "We are rooted in Christian history, but we are in the 21st Century. There is joy in God. He created us to enjoy him. Here everybody is welcome."
Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039 Twitter: @timstrib