During Sunday’s service, Rev. Steve Perkins asked everyone to introduce themselves to at least one new person that day.
Veteran members of Northgate Church in Ramsey could have easily greeted more than one person.
Most recently the church has been averaging around 800 people at two Sunday services when meeting next door at PACT Charter School. At its first three services Saturday and Sunday, 1,427 adults and kids showed up, according to Rev. Wayne Skaff, an executive pastor.
“It’s totally amazing how God works,” said Idelle Day, a member of the congregation for the past three years.
Perkins, who just turned 38 and is Northgate Church’s senior pastor, was scared at the prospect of starting a church three years ago. He had only been the senior pastor at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Ramsey for a couple of years, but he had different opinions on what the vision of the church should be and decided to go on a separate path.
Skaff, who had also been on staff at Lord of Life, said their search for a new home for the church in late July 2010 led them to PACT Charter School. The school leadership showed them a room where other churches had met, but Skaff did not think it would be big enough. They found their temporary home when they saw the school’s gymnasium that could seat up to 600 when the bleachers were pulled out.
Perkins was unsure how many people would follow him, but 597 people showed up at the first service Aug. 8, 2010.
Within nine months, they closed on property purchase with Jim Deal of PSD, LLC for a site next to PACT Charter School and embarked on a campaign to raise $3.2 million for the new building, which was constructed by Kinghorn Construction of Rogers. Approximately half of the money has been raised, according to Skaff.
“We always knew we weren’t always going to be meeting in a gym, but it didn’t consume the vision of the church,” Perkins said. “It didn’t distract from the ministry.”
The main goal of Northgate Church is to connect with the community and this is done in many different ways.
For instance, the 500-seat worship center has top-of-the-line sound and lighting systems and stadium seating, which makes it an attractive performing arts venue.
Skaff said PACT Charter School is already planning to use the space for band and choir concerts and theatrical productions. The Northern Starz Theatre Company will be putting on a production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” this weekend.
The back wall is a false wall that could be moved back to add 200 more seats, Skaff said.
Some churches have their own coffee shops and meeting rooms. There is a small area to pick up coffee and donuts before or after services, but there are no meeting rooms for adults, and only a couple of rooms for youth groups and daycare.
The COR in Ramsey where Northgate Church is based already offers places to meet, Skaff said.
“We want our people to be out in the community, meeting at Caribou (Coffee) or at city hall,” he said.
Parking was one concern raised before the Ramsey City Council authorized this building project to move forward.
Skaff said they have parking agreements with PACT Charter School and the Allina Health Clinic to utilize their parking spaces during Saturday and Sunday services and the school and clinic are allowed to use Northgate Church’s parking lot other days of the week.
Over the past three years, Skaff said many of the former Lord of Life Church members decided the new Northgate Church was not the right fit for them.
Skaff and Perkins estimate that 60 to 70 percent of the congregation that met at PACT Charter School just before the new building opened came from another church or are new to church or have not set foot in one for years.
This past weekend, Perkins said he met people who have addictions or have thought about suicide. Others may be having marriage problems or lost their job, he said.
The message of Perkins’ first sermon at the new building Dec. 7-8 was that God’s power works best in weakness.
“He’ll work in your life if you allow Him to,” Perkins said.
Although Northgate Church has a wide range of ages among its congregation, Skaff said it is targeting 25- to 44-year-olds. Some may have gone to church until they graduated high school and went to college, but are being drawn back now that they are starting a family.
One person Skaff recently met asked, “My six-year-old is starting to ask about God. What do I say to them?”
Northgate offers a more contemporary service with a Christian rock band getting people to their feet at the beginning of each service, but there is a traditional choir. Perkins dresses casually rather than wearing a robe.
“There’s nothing wrong with stained glass or pipe organs, but we wanted to offer something relevant to the community,” Perkins said.
“There are lots more traditional churches out there, so we felt called to do something different. We’re traditional in our theology. How we teach it is just different.”
Shanna Johnson has been taking her two children, ages eight and six, to Kingswood Church in Blaine, even after they moved to Ramsey in August. After receiving an advertising flyer in the mail about the first services at the new Northgate Church building, she was interested in trying a church closer to home.
Perkins’ request for members to introduce themselves to new people was followed. Johnson and her children met many new people and she came away impressed with how well organized the staff were.
“It has a warm friendly feel,” she said.
One of the friendliest people of the congregation may be Kathy Hammond.
“They call me the hugger,” she said.
After her husband died six years ago, Hammond moved in with her daughter in Ramsey and started attending Lord of Life Church. She followed Perkins when he started Northgate Church and said the people are wonderful.
Will Wojcik, lead guitarist for the church band, said this new building shows that, “God will give you what you need when you need it.”
Regular church services are Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. For more information about Northgate Church, visit www.ngatechurch.org.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org