Three-Point Charge in Minnesota Embraces its Neighbors
By Barbara Dunlap-Berg
Pastor John Scheuer serves a three-point charge in Minnesota – Hill City, Moose Lake, and Cromwell United Methodist churches.
“The distance between Moose Lake and Hill City is eighty-five miles, and Cromwell is in between, about forty-five miles from Hill City,” Scheuer said.
Despite the distances that separate them, all three congregations are thriving as they discover new ways to connect with their communities.
In 2023, Hill City, Moose Lake, and Cromwell UMCs received the One Matters Award from Discipleship Ministries. The recognition honors United Methodist churches that are making new disciples of Jesus Christ.
Scheuer has served the thirty-five-member Hill City UMC for three years.
“When I started, Sunday attendance averaged around fifteen, and we now average around twenty-eight,” he recalled. “We have gained several new members, had four transfers and three baptisms.”
While Sunday worship attracts only a handful of children and teens, youth programs are popular with this demographic. Steven, a high school junior, is an exception.
“He has come to worship faithfully each week for the past two years and takes care of our technology,” the pastor said. “His commitment is amazing.”
The church is active in the community with root beer float socials, fishing trips, and participation in Independence Day celebrations. The congregation sponsors a “Stump Event, where everyone is invited to hop on the big stump in the church parking lot to give a speech, tell a story or sing a song.
“These activities and others have brought people into our church, even if they are not members,” Scheuer said. “We have many people who help with many things but do not want to join a church.”
Although Scheuer has served Cromwell and Moose Lake for only one year, the congregations are trying new things. Moose Lake, for instance, renewed their community garden. Many plots were planted this year by people from the Moose Lake community, and several plots grew food for the local food pantry.
“Moose Lake averages about thirteen people on Sunday, but we began a Thursday service from August through October that included a light supper. We averaged fifteen each week,” the pastor said.
The membership rolls include about 30 people, and several former members have returned.
“We have a very dedicated and active United Women in Faith chapter, which will help us in renewal,” Scheuer said. “I have been trying to forge relationships with folks in the community.”
Cromwell has a membership of about twenty-six. Attendance at worship has improved slightly from eleven to around seventeen.
“They were willing to move their worship from Sunday morning to Saturday evening so I could be with them every Saturday,” the pastor said. “We have a couple of youth participating on Saturday.”
One summer community event drew over eighty-five people for worship, and close to two hundred for a dance and a meal. Leading worship at a local care facility has proven successful.
“All three churches are spending more energy on reaching out to the community in a variety of ways,” Scheuer said. This includes participating in food pantries, thrift shops and events such as National Night Out, as well as more subtle ways such as attending school events and volunteering for communitywide projects.
The pastor credits community outreach with increasing attendance, especially evident in Hill City where he has served the longest. At Hill City, the congregation celebrated All Saints Day with a “Saints and Soup Sunday.” They invited the community to light candles for loved ones.
“We are getting more and more people coming on Sunday,” Scheuer said. “However, many join us two Sundays of the month and watch us on Facebook other Sundays. Although official membership has not increased greatly, the number of people participating in the life of the church is far more than just those who come regularly on Sunday morning.”
Scheuer believes that many small churches in the Minnesota Conference are being very creative in what they do to remain vibrant.
“Find ways your local church can remain relevant to all folks in your community whether United Methodist or not, whether folks are believers or not,” Scheuer advised. “People seem to long for community, not only on Sunday morning, but also during the rest of the week and outside the confines of a building.”
Every year, Discipleship Ministries partners with annual conferences by offering the One Matters Award to one eligible congregation at each annual conference. The award, consisting of a commemorative plaque and a check for $1,000, is delivered to the congregation during the annual conference session.
Barbara Dunlap-Berg is a writer in Carbondale, Illinois.