Cold, windswept plains or warm, sparkling beaches? Average January low temperatures of 7.5 degrees or 76.2? Minneapolis or Miami. The choice of Minneapolis over that beach down south was a no-brainer for Scot and Holly Mendenhall.
In March 2014, a passionate belief in the God-built potential of others led the Mendenhalls and their six children to move from sun-soaked Miami to the chillier climate of Minneapolis. The inspiration? To tell people about Jesus and start a new church.
“I believe that God has put greatness in all of us,” said Mendenhall, a North American Mission Board church planter now serving near Minneapolis. He first began to sense a call to plant a church three years ago while serving at what he thought was his “dream” youth ministry position at Potential Church in South Florida. In 2013, despite how much he loved where he was, Mendenhall kept asking himself what the Lord had next for his family.
“As a pastor, I felt like I was at the top of my game,” Mendenhall said. “I was serving in a large, thriving church where I was the youth pastor and on the executive team. But I just felt this unrest where the Lord was telling me, ‘No, I have something else in store for you.’”
Over the next six months the couple began processing what God was saying to them with the lead pastor and other leaders at Potential Church. As the couple struggled with what they were being called to do, God brought to their heart a suburban Minneapolis community, called Maple Grove, which they had first experienced together more than a decade earlier as a young married couple. Mendenhall’s family rented a cabin not far from Maple Grove that they visited annually.
“We had first stopped and had coffee there in 2001 on our way to the cabin,” Mendenhall said. “We stopped there every year when we came back. It was the last Starbucks you came to before you got to the cabin. Every year we’d look around and talk about how much we liked that town and how nice the people were.”
Still, for years, the Mendenhalls gave little thought to moving there. But as God began to urge them to take their next church planting step, He brought Maple Grove back to their minds. Not only did God impress a location upon Mendenhall’s heart, but He also gave him a vision for the future church, a vision so deeply ingrained that it had inspired the naming of the couple’s children years earlier.
“Our mission is partnering with people to unlock their God-given greatness,” Mendenhall said. “That’s our hope for the people of Maple Grove.”
The Mendenhalls arrived in Maple Grove in March 2014 with no team and little money. Mendenhall says the first day he arrived in Minnesota, he walked into his office and said, “Churches consist of people. Where are we going to connect with people? Lord, you called us. What do we do now?”
The Lord led Mendenhall to focus his energies on “seeing needs and meeting needs.” Throughout the past two years, the church has met a variety of community needs as a way to demonstrate God’s love to their neighbors. They’ve done everything from shoveling snow and mowing the lawn of Mendenhall’s neighbor (who eventually came to faith in Jesus) to cleaning up after a local parade.
Slowly, people have wanted to know more about the group of people who were giving of their time to help others with little thought for what they would get in return. Eighteen months after arriving in Minnesota, 170 people attend Unlock Church throughout a typical month. Most of those attendees have little experience in church life. Whether it’s singing, serving in children’s ministry or being a greeter, when volunteers come forward to help, they’ve likely never served elsewhere.
Along the way, Mendenhall admits, the church has learned more by what hasn’t worked than what has worked. Transitioning from serving on staff of a megachurch to starting a brand new congregation means learning to redefine what ministry success looks like.
“If you base your success on numbers, you’re going fail,” Mendenhall said. “Some days you’ll hit your numbers. Some days you won’t. If you’re not absolutely sure God has called you to do this, and you’re just doing this because it’s the trendy thing to do at the moment, you’re going to walk away real fast. Church planting is hard.”
Mendenhall credits his relationship with Southern Baptists through the North American Mission Board as a critical part of the church’s early success.
“We had no idea when we started our partnership with Southern Baptists how huge it would prove to be,” Mendenhall said. “They’ve really filled in a huge gap for us. What God is doing through our church never would have happened without the partnership of Southern Baptists.”
Tobin Perry writes for the North American Mission Board.