Dale Hummel preaches on the move. Wearing a long-sleeved purple Vikings shirt, he paces across a wooden altar. He sits on an old couch. He cracks jokes and pokes fun at politicians, getting laughs from people in the pews.
The new senior pastor of Wooddale Church is bringing a different style but the same ambition to one of the nation’s most prominent evangelical churches.
As leader of the Eden Prairie megachurch — whose nearly 5,000 attendees include former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — Hummel’s engaging sermons and dynamic ministry style are winning over the congregation that recently named him head pastor following the retirement of longtime leader Leith Anderson.
Under Hummel’s direction, Wooddale leaders have ambitious plans to become one of the largest churches in the state, expanding membership and creating several new church campuses throughout the Twin Cities.
“To me, measuring the church’s growth is like finding out how my body is doing, the pulse, the blood pressure,” said Hummel. “It’s like the vitals of a church … I want to make sure we’re reaching more people.”
Hummel takes the reins from one of the most important religious leaders in the country. Anderson, 68, is president of the influential National Association of Evangelicals, representing more than 45,000 churches with close to 30 million members. His current term ends in 2016.
Anderson will remain on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships through this year.
In an e-mail, Anderson said he was not involved in picking his successor.
“I’ve always encouraged long-term pastors to step away from influence in their congregations with trust in God and confidence in the church leadership and new pastor to effectively minister to the next generation.”
Decades of growth
Wooddale grew from 1,000 to 5,000 during Anderson’s 35 years. Besides its sprawling Eden Prairie campus, Wooddale has a campus in Edina and has established at least nine congregations around the Twin Cities and in Nisswa, Minn.
Pat Mazorol, chairman of the board, said Wooddale wants to continue that growth. Hummel stood out in a field of nearly 30 candidates, particularly for his track record of growing churches.
“We were not looking for someone to be just like Leith,” Mazorol said. “I think it’s helpful he’s got a little bit different style. It’s a new chapter for Wooddale.”
Warren Bird, a religious scholar who’s writing a book about church leadership, said there is continuity for Wooddale in picking Hummel. Indeed, Mazorol said weekly attendance and giving is stable. Wooddale has a total revenue of nearly $10 million.
“Most successions follow the pattern of an initial honeymoon when there’s great enthusiasm,” Bird said. “Then a realization that this is indeed a different person.
“The challenge ahead for both pastor and congregation is to find that new comfort zone in which growth and change are welcome while still honoring what came before.”
Bald and sporting an athletic build he’s gained from boxing in his free time, Hummel, 53, stands in contrast to Anderson’s thick gray hair and bespectacled, academic profile. Rather than sermonizing from a podium, Hummel paces. He uses props like chalkboards and the old couch to get congregants’ attention. He disarms with witty asides and humor.
During a recent Sunday morning sermon following a Vikings pregame loss, Hummel walked onto the altar and said, “Good morning, Wooddale, are you guys alive, awake and refreshed? I have my Vikings purple on because I believe.” Hearty laughter rose from the congregation. “The question is, do you?”
The son of missionary parents, Hummel was born on an island in the Caribbean. Hummel recalls being chased as a child by an ax-wielding native in Papua-New Guinea when his parents were spreading the gospel there.
He returned to the United States to attend school and met his wife, Marcia, while at St. Paul Bible College (now Crown College) in the Twin Cities. He received his bachelor’s degree there in 1982, his master’s of divinity degree from Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio in 1987 and a doctor of ministry degree from Trinity Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Ind., in 1989.
His ministry started small, at rural churches in Ohio. From there he went to a California church from 1989-2001, growing the congregation from 200 to 800. Since 2001, Hummel has been pastor of The Compass Church in Naperville, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. Under his leadership, Compass has increased in weekend attendance from 800 to more than 3,000 and built a nearly $11 million worship center.
At Wooddale over the next decade, Hummel said he hopes to establish or “plant” up to 10 more church congregations and create up to 10 new satellite campuses.
Beyond growth, there’s little Hummel seeks to significantly change at Wooddale. He’s a great admirer of Anderson and espouses the same conservative theology.
He also seeks to steer clear of mixing politics with religion, another hallmark of Anderson’s tenure. Anderson, for example, did not formally endorse Minnesota’s anti-gay marriage amendment, which failed to pass in November.
“What I want to avoid is what I’d refer to as political activism,” said Hummel. “I want to focus our energy and resources on making Jesus known. … And I think we do that best by befriending the culture, showing them God’s grace and love.”
“I’m not going to compromise or back down on what God says about various issues that the culture might be wrestling with. … Sometimes I think it’s easy for a pastor of a church to use the truth as a club, a billy club, to beat on people. … I want to speak the truth. But I want to make sure it’s in a loving way.”