A multicampus Twin Cities megachurch revealed that a single donor has just made the last installment in a $17 million gift that paid off the debt it took on 10 years ago to build its mother church in Lino Lakes.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy said the gift to Eagle Brook Church is the largest to a house of worship in Minnesota since the national periodical began keeping records in 2005.
The Rev. Bob Merritt disclosed the generous gesture during his Dec. 5 sermon, without revealing the donor. The pastor said only that he was a financial manager who was new to the church when he made the pledge over lunch four years ago.
“As of this weekend, on the 10th anniversary of the Lino Lakes campus, this individual and his wife sent the final check for $1.7 million; and today, Lino Lakes is completely debt-free,” Merritt told the congregants. “It’s unbelievable.”
The leadership of Eagle Brook, now Minnesota’s largest church with six north- and east-metro locations and average weekly attendance of 22,000, decided in 2001 to buy 92 acres for its Lino Lakes home, having outgrown its single White Bear Lake locale.
After two fundraising campaigns left Eagle Brook $18.5 million short of the $28 million it needed, the church took out a loan for the rest.
Merritt admitted that was a significant burden for the church.
“U.S. Bank told us you’re making a big mistake,” the pastor said, adding that a lending institution in Milwaukee came through. “[It] was really hard on me.”
That burden was lifted in 2011, when up stepped “a person who was new to our church, and he was finding new life in Christ here,” Merritt said in his sermon. “One day he called and asked me to meet him for lunch.”
As Merritt began his pitch for a donation, the man at the table interrupted and said, “ ‘Bob, forget about that. I think I’m going to pay the debt for Lino Lakes.’ I didn’t know if I heard him correctly because there was noise in the restaurant.”
Merritt asked him to repeat what he said. “ ‘I’m going to pay off the Lino Lakes debt. What is it, $17 million or so? I’m going to take care of that.’ ”
The pastor’s reaction? “My jaw dropped,” he said.
Merritt said he received a letter from the donor recently explaining his generosity. The pastor read it during his sermon:
“I wanted to honor God for the many blessings that he bestowed on me. Giving to this church seemed to be an appropriate way to honor God. My wife and I love the way Eagle Brook has transformed so many lives in a deeply fundamental way. Our devotion to God and Eagle Brook has become the bedrock of our marriage and our life.”
The donor went on to recall in the letter that “my palms were sweating when I committed to it.”
As for what the benefactor wants in return, he wrote: “I say, pay it forward.”
Along with Lino Lakes and White Bear Lake, Eagle Brook’s other campuses are in Woodbury, Blaine, Spring Lake Park and Coon Rapids.