The mysterious beauty of starting churches and cultivating disciples
Pastor & writer
Church planting & multiplication
A new identity exists in border cities Fargo, North Dakota, and Moorhead, Minnesota, since Microsoft and other large businesses opened offices and distribution centers there. Moreover, refugees from several countries settle in the largest northern metropolitan area between Minneapolis and the West Coast.
So, Steve Krier, the pastor of Converge North Central congregation Ignite Church and director of church planting for Converge Heartland, has one question.
“Why can’t we be a discipleship center for the rest of the world,” asks Krier. “If everything is getting shipped out of here, why can’t we send disciples out of here?”
Ignite Church has planted one church 20 miles away and another in Ukraine. In addition, the church has supported 73 mission trips in 36 countries on six continents.
“Here it is, in this overlooked place, that these things are happening,” Krier said. “Praise God for all of it.”
The man wants the first plane into Fargo-Moorhead
In 2009, Krier and his wife, Natalie, sat in a Minneapolis airport. Major havoc unfolded in the region as the river on the Minnesota-North Dakota border flooded.
As he watched people trying to fly somewhere else, he realized Fargo was where he wanted to be. They wanted to go home.
“I want to be next to the river. I want to help my neighbors. I want to do life in this area,” he realized 13 years ago. “That’s a huge driving force for us coming back, these are our people.”
Words like “driving force” help explain why Krier is a church planter. Specific passions move him, so he deployed those desires as God matured and led him.
He earned a degree in sociology because he loves studying culture and people. Living and working on three different Ojibwe reservations offered Krier lots of opportunities to watch people interact.
Moreover, Krier discovered an eagerness to be entrepreneurial at North Dakota State. He and another student started a philanthropy drive that continues to this day. More than $1 million has been raised for the childcare center near his former university.
100 miles a week, a place to serve
After college, Krier and his wife Natalie started praying about a ministry they could do together. A few weeks after they started praying, Natalie’s home church in Fosston, Minnesota, reached out.
The pastor knew Natalie’s parents, so he asked the Kriers to consider restarting the church’s youth ministry. They agreed to help in October 2003, driving 100 miles round trip on Wednesdays and Sundays.
The church paid for their gas mileage at first. Then, they hired Krier part-time, and finally, they engaged him full-time in June 2004. The job that found him became his apprenticeship in ministry.
Under three different pastors, Krier learned essential ministry skills. He learned to preach and think biblically, shepherd people with compassion, lead a church and step into conflict.
After six years, he’d been part of baby dedications, building projects, elder meetings, budget planning, weddings and funerals.
“I knew how to do all that stuff because someone invited me into the room,” he said.
Still, Krier’s next direction in ministry would be the closest yet to his God-given identity: starting a church.
A heart for the overlooked
In 2011, Krier turned 30-years-old and led the first worship service of Ignite Church. Finally, what he hoped for in the airport had become a reality.
“Church planting is the most thriving fit,” he said. “It married my love for Jesus with my entrepreneurial wiring.”
In youth ministry, he just started things because that’s who he was. Before being introduced to Converge, Krier didn’t know church planting existed. He liked that whenever he spent time around Converge leaders, he heard people passionate about and committed to new churches.
“I didn’t even know you could do that until I got around Converge.” Krier was stunned, yet so pleased that starting a church was a possibility and played into his entrepreneurial strengths.
For more than 10 years, Ignite worshiped in the same movie theater. Then, by God’s kindness, the theater owners sold the building to the church during COVID.
Since that day in the Minneapolis airport, Krier has been grateful and excited for the place and the opportunities in the Fargo area.
“I love how God can make decisions that are best for all parties involved,” he said. “I grew up in a town of 1200; my heart has always been for the overlooked. There’s just this real beauty in being called. There’s this select few that God says, ‘I want you in different places.’ I really feel like I’m in that part.”
Krier relies on the idea that God formed him and called him into a ministry suited for his own identity. He’s just been taking the next right step, watching for the doors God opens.
Forming a church that fits a place and people
He also recognizes the power of culture for church planters. He explains that North Dakota and much of Converge Heartland are slower builds for sharing the gospel.
Fargo-Moorhead residents sometimes feel isolated and overlooked. Krier said methamphetamine addictions, alcoholism and human trafficking are rooted in hopelessness. Because of those trials, and other more ordinary cultural features, people in the Midwest wonder why someone would care about them.
People stay at Ignite, Krier explained, for one of two reasons. Either they felt like a person who matters, or the Bible came alive for them through Ignite ministries.
“We want to excel in hospitality because people matter,” he said. “We want to have an accessible theology. Can you grab onto it and be able to make that your own?”
Ignite succeeds as a church because of disciples who make an impact. Some people change the way they parent or others take mission trips. New churches start and marriages are restored.
“We need opportunities for people to interact with the gospel. The reality is our populations are growing and we don’t have enough churches to reach them,” he said. “Church planters are still a great way to see more people know Jesus. We have churches that look different, all shapes and sizes. It’s going to grab people in different ways.”
R&D for Christ and the people he loves
Comparing church plants to research and development departments, Krier said church plants have innovation in their methods even as Christ and the gospel stay the same. Krier added that church plants and existing churches mutually benefit each other.
For example, Krier said new churches often have creative approaches to sharing the gospel. Christians can reflectively share the gospel by sharing the best hook first with their neighbors.
“Saying you’re a lawbreaker and there’s a judge and Jesus is our advocate might not resonate to people who watched Enron get away with stuff or Hollywood where no one gets punished for anything,” he said. “But if you say, ‘God covers your shame,’ that’s a whole different conversation, isn’t it? The gospel has a different touch point for grabbing people in different ways.”
He said believers and church leaders today must recognize three changes in the cultural landscape. First, what people know of God, his will or word isn’t guaranteed. Secondly, people don’t live in the same country in which they grew up. There are losses but also new opportunities. Finally, God is enough for all of the changes.
“His Holy Spirit is with us, his word is timeless,” Krier said. “We don’t have to come up with a new gospel.”
Giveback Sunday initiates God-sized stories
Consider Giveback Sunday, an 11-year-old practice at Ignite Church, as an example of a new opportunity that shows God is enough. This R&D approach to discipleship and worship through tithing has generated ‘insane’ stories, Krier said.
“In our first year of church, we took a week’s worth of offerings and split it up and gave it to everybody,” Krier explains of Giveback Sunday.
After a Giveback Sunday one year, a small group at Ignite Church discussed how everyone ended up at Ignite. One couple joined the church after seeing a man and woman give an envelope of money to a woman traveling with her children.
They were so touched a church would do that. As soon as they finished their story, someone else in the small group said, ‘that was us.’
“They had no idea they were sitting in the same room as the people whose generous act inspired them to come to Ignite,” Krier added. “We want to put ministry in the hands of every believer. You go do ministry and we’ll invest in you as the church to go do that.”
Krier said Ignite had the margin to do something crazy like Giveback Sunday because the church was new. There have been a few churches that called Ignite because they wanted to do something like Giveback Sunday.
“That keeps the whole church more vibrant,” he explained of trying and sharing new ideas. “When you have new life around you, it keeps you young. It reminds you of what is right in the world. New life has a way of pulling out of all of us what is really important.”
Now, on one Sunday a year, Krier invites the church into the life-giving exercise.
“We want you to go use this to bless people, however the Lord leads you,” he tells the church every year on Giveback Sunday. “If you brought an offering today, put [the Giveback offering] with that money and go bless somebody.”
Whether it’s Fargo or somewhere else in America, sharing the new life available through Christ is something new churches can do. As director of church planting from North Dakota to Oklahoma, there are rural opportunities and urban options. There are many areas that need rural church planters. But large and mid-sized cities like Kansas City, Tulsa, Lincoln, Sioux Falls and Norman need more churches too.
Krier believes church research and development is happening across the Heartland region for how churches start.
For example, residencies are a vital training ground for finding and developing church planters. These are programs inside existing churches that grow someone with skills-based training and theological knowledge to be a pastor, particularly in a new church.
“Culturally, our best bet is raising up our own,” he explained of residencies. “We’re really creating pools to recruit from.”
Whether in rural areas or growing, shifting cities like Fargo, Krier is excited about what God can do through church planting residents from his church to make Christ known.
Like the rest of the Heartland, Fargo has something to offer the world. There’s more in North Dakota than working for big companies or a place to live. God’s will is pretty plain: help people find an eternal home and live out of Christ’s abundant life.
“This is the way I see it,” Krier said. “If we don’t make disciples, we fail. Jesus gave us one job ― make disciples.”
Still, there’s an important question: How many churches are needed to reach more people?
To Krier, the answer is easy.
“The number of churches we have aren’t enough,” he said.
But he knows God is enough and that’s how more churches can start.
“Jesus tells us to make disciples,” Krier said. “He says, ‘I will build my church.’ There’s something mysteriously beautiful about it. I love the local church.
“The world doesn’t need another Steve Krier. What’s the vision God gave you? I want to help you become all that God’s created you to be.”
Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.