Former Largest Church in the ELCA to Close

A sad story from Minneapolis in this week’s Ministry Briefing:

At one time North Heights Lutheran Church had 7,600 members, making it one of the largest ELCA churches in America. However, the church has broken into contentious factions over the leadership of pastor Mindy Bak. A 2014 membership meeting noted several problems, but some church officials downplayed their seriousness. Today the church is slated to close down and at least one former group of members are meeting at a local hotel.

Source: Star Tribune

Why does this matter for church leaders?

A large, growing church usually falls apart slowly over time and one thing is rarely to blame. A story like this has a great deal to teach us.

  • How does theology divide congregations? Disagreement over homosexuality was one of the reasons why the congregation at North Heights divided. Are there any theological issues that could prove divisive for your church in the near future?
  • How do you handle mistakes? As recently as 2014 a business meeting delivered a troubling report about financial, programmatic, and staffing mistakes made by the church’s pastor. The report optimistically reported that these could be overcome. Do you have a strong support network to help you through difficult seasons or major mistakes?
  • What is the point of no return? It’s likely that no one at this church in 2010 could have imagined it closing down when it had over 4,500 members. It’s clear in retrospect that drastic action was required, but when do you take a step like that to prevent a ministry from closing down altogether?

Hard times are bound to come for any ministry, but do you have a plan in place to manage them?


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About the Author: Matt Steen

I love Jesus, Theresa (my wife), the Redskins & Capitals, and am currently living in Waco, Texas where I am studying the finer points of BBQ (while working on my MDiv and MBA at Baylor University). When not studying, I serve church leaders through and am the Director of Connections for Harris Creek Baptist Church's Downtown Campus.