This month Elmwood Evangelical Free Church begins its ninety-fifth year. We began as a Lutheran Free Church in the Scandinavian part of northeast Minneapolis. In 1965 the congregation moved into a brand-new facility in the city of St. Anthony Village, one mile west of 35W, just off of County Road D. Farmland was rapidly being turned into post-WWII suburbia. The building was modern and well-equipped.
Eventually. during the revival days of the 1980’s, the congregation outgrew their facility and built a beautiful addition, including a spacious new sanctuary, and joined the North Central District of the EFCA. Fast forward to 2015. The congregation was rapidly aging. One after another, our newly married couples decided that St. Anthony Village was not the best place to buy their first homes. They headed out to the third ring suburbs, looking to obtain more for their money in the hinterland. We no longer had Sunday School or a youth ministry. The proverbial hand-writing was on the wall. Elmwood was dying.
The congregation tried hard, but nothing worked. New young couples or families would join us for worship on a Sunday but never return. The average age of the folks still at Elmwood was well over fifty. Our worship attendance on Sundays just got smaller and smaller. But, by the grace of God, it wasn’t over yet. We prayed, we fasted, and we sought God for a miracle: that He would bring new life, young life to Elmwood once again. Over and over again, we prayed that the light of the Gospel would not go out on our little hill.
We continued to read, study, and pray. How do you revitalize an old neighborhood church when the troops are weary and the numbers are few? In desperation we contacted the North Central District office. I was put in touch with Dan Moose, the district’s Multiplication Catalyst. A strange title, but it struck a spark of hope in my heart.
Wrestling with guilt and failure, I met with Dan. He listened to my story, and he prayed with me. No condemnation. No shame. He suggested that I contact Pastor Andrew Peterson at Park Community Church in St. Louis Park. This congregation had successfully done a “church marriage” between a young church plant and an older neighborhood EFCA church. Andrew fanned the flame of faith in me as he told the wonderful story of Park’s new life and similar stories from across the country. He shared that it was Park’s passion to pass on their new life to other struggling congregations.
We began to pray together about the possibility of Park doing a “church marriage” with Elmwood. Maybe they could send some people, some support funds, and even young pastoral leadership to help renew Elmwood. Dan Moose began to meet regularly with our leaders. The school of revitalization was rigorous. Meeting after meeting, hour after hour, at times it seemed impossible, but our people refused to give up and continued to pray for a miracle as I continued to preach “CHANGE”. Definite plans began to emerge; a “church marriage” with Park was going to happen.
Then suddenly, just last summer, the Lord overwhelmed us with a bigger plan, a grand plan of revitalization. Centennial Evangelical Free Church, north of the Twin Cities, had a cell group that was meeting in Columbia Heights, just a couple of miles from Elmwood in the home of Centennial’s young pastor, John Stromberg. John had a passion to plant a church. The Lord took John’s dream and Centennial’s commitment to multiply, joined them to Park’s passion to replicate what God had done in St. Louis Park and bought them all to Elmwood. The prayers, dreams, and passions of three churches have become a reality. Park sent their vibrant seminary grad, Matt Frey, thousands of dollars, and wonderful people of God. Centennial sent John Stromberg, thousands of dollars, and beautiful young individuals and families. Together we are a new Elmwood Church.
Old and young officially worshipped as the new Elmwood family for the first time last Sunday. Our attendance doubled. The hope and joy was physically tangible. We humbly acknowledge that this is the Lord’s doing, not ours, and gratefully thank Him for the privilege of living in the middle of a miracle. The transforming power of the Holy Spirit is doing something far beyond our expectations and dreams. Yes, by the grace of God, miracles do happen. Come and see.
Pastor Fred Thoni
New Elmwood EFC
St. Anthony Village, Minnesota