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Woodbury Lutheran absorbs flagging Stillwater congregation

Woodbury Lutheran Church has merged with the former Risen Christ Lutheran Church in Stillwater. The new campus is dubbed Oak Hill.

A Woodbury church was already looking to expand when it was approached by a congregation in a neighboring city to help keep its doors open.

What was once Risen Christ Lutheran Church in Stillwater is now another campus of Woodbury Lutheran Church, called the "Oak Hill Campus."

After 30 years, the congregation in the Grant Township church - located about 10 miles north of Woodbury on Highway 36 - had been declining when leaders decided to look for a way just to keep the doors open.

So they approached a number of churches last fall to see if a partnership would help the church that was struggling financially.

"We wanted to make sure the ministry continues," said Derek Broten, one of the pastors at Woodbury Lutheran who now heads the Oak Hill Campus. "At that point we were looking at expanding our ministry; we felt that God was calling us to bring the gospel to other areas.

"There are still a lot of people that don't know Jesus," he added. "One of the ways to do that is to go where people are at."

After about six months of discussion, the two churches agreed that new leadership and staff would help turn things around, Broten said.

Former Risen Christ senior pastor Chris Nilges was replaced by Broten, a decision that was difficult for some to accept, Broten said.

"Pastor Chris is dearly loved and a wonderful guy," Broten said. "That was one of the hard parts of this merger."

But the congregation was slowly fading, going from about 400 down to 85. So the committee that was responsible for coming up with solutions decided that change would help bring new members to the church.

"We had to find some way to bring new life," Broten said "There had to be some kind of change that was going to take it to a different direction than where it was."

By merging with Woodbury Lutheran, a congregation of 4,000 members, Oak Hill could benefit from its resources that include youth ministry, mission trip opportunities and counseling.

Broten said one of the new goals is to have every member of the church and their skills involved in various roles; whether it's teaching, serving or hospitality.

"We believe every single person has a gift that they can serve with," he said. "And we want to make sure they're involved in that."

However, reaction to the changes hasn't been all positive.

Broten said some of the members were looking forward to the merger, while others were more apprehensive.

"There are some who are very excited about having the resources of a larger congregation coming in," he said, adding "and then you have some who, they built this church, they've been here for 30 years."

So to have to say goodbye to a pastor they've known for years was difficult, Broten said.

But the resources that will come with a larger congregation will be beneficial to the small community of the new Oak Hill Campus, he said.

Because the church was focused more on keeping its doors open, it was tough to get members involved in activities outside the Sunday service, Broten said.

"We can present different opportunities on different campuses that both campuses can take advantage of," he said.

The main campus of Woodbury Lutheran Church is located on Valley Creek Road and is called the Valley Creek Campus.

The church is also holding outdoor worship and sporting events this summer at a location on Manning Avenue and Bailey Road, a land they named the St. Croix Campus, where they hope to build a new church in the future.

The Oak Hill Campus will likely attract Stillwater and Grant Township residents who were already attending service at the Valley Creek Campus, Broten said.

"We're anticipating 100 to 125 that will come over and make this their worshiping home," he said.

The merger officially took place in July, but the kick off service will be held Sunday Sept. 16 at the Oak Hill Campus.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.