Every day, Jessica Swanson sees how good some people have it. But, just the same, the Minnesota school teacher sees how hard life can be in the same communities northeast of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
For those who’ve got it good and those who don’t, the same hope appeared in her community on Easter Sunday. That’s when her fellow teacher, Seth Hinrichs, pastored the first service of Second Story Church.
“No matter what you’ve done, whatever your story has been, it will get better once you have Jesus in it,” she said. “That’s our goal: to help people start those second stories.”
Jesus’ church offers acceptance as people craft new lives
Hinrichs and his core team know their neighbors have partnered with social justice programs and trusted political initiatives. People have put their hope in education, wealth, technology and everything they can try.
“I don’t remember a time in my adult life when I’ve known more people struggling to find meaning and purpose,” Hinrichs said.
He sees people wrestling with emotional problems, suffering through mental illness and many other hardships. However, Hinrichs said the answers outside the church ultimately disappointed his friends, neighbors and colleagues.
“People have tried those things, and more than ever, we understand that it doesn’t ultimately work,” he said.
Thus, Second Story isn’t focusing on a particular demographic. Instead, the church seeks to gather with and share grace for people in a post-Christian world that seems post-hope.
It’s about establishing relationships and being missionaries to the people at our places of work, the people at our schools, the people we do life with every day,” he said. “It’s about taking what happens Sunday mornings out into the community. We have a message of hope that God has given us by grace, and he gives it to us so he can give it through us.”
New churches have a particular power
Hinrichs has had the privilege of pastoring churches 150 years old. Recognizing God works everywhere he can, Hinrichs feels excited by Christ’s new work to make and send disciples.
“In my ministry, if you’re looking for a kind of ministry that has the freedom to be relevant, speak into the real-world issues, and meet people where they are, then church planting is a much more viable choice in many cases,” Hinrichs said.
Converge’s 10 districts partnered together in 2021 to deploy 312 church planters by 2026. The goal exists because new gatherings of God’s people are the best way to help more people meet, know and follow Jesus.
Therefore, Second Story’s core team created a ministry based on relationships to meet the needs they see. He added that many people in their community come out of relational brokenness or have done things in their lives they regret.
“I know more people today than I ever have who struggle to feel accepted,” he explained. “There is that need for forgiveness.”
Swanson, the director of ministries at Second Story, went through a tough time during the church’s early phases. However, Swanson said she experienced the power of relationships within the infant church.
“Having the people surround me as I had gone through this tough thing was beautiful,” she said.“You walk in the door, and you’ll be treated with love. That’s the feeling we’re trying to establish: being really connected in a church.”
This Second Story shows people are already gathering, growing and going
Second Story worships on Sundays, and people study God’s word together online in the middle of each week. Plus, the people make meals and repairs at Esther House, a safe house for single moms.
“The calling isn’t just that people come to the church, but people come to Jesus through the church,” Hinrichs said.
SecondStory’s opportunity to work for and worship the Lord so quickly is a testament to help from Free Grace United Church and pastor Erik Dykstra. A few years ago, Dykstra invited Hinrichs to pastor a campus of Free Grace United. That partnership ultimately led to Second Story Church’s solid start as a new congregation.
Beauty and brokenness dapple the Shoreview area
Many of the 25,000 people who live in Shoreview are a little more affluent and educated than other towns near Minneapolis and St. Paul. But, at the same time, Hinrichs said there are more than 50 halfway houses and addiction and recovery programs within several miles of the church.
So, he speaks to a broad cross-section of people of different races, ethnicities, backgrounds and socioeconomic levels on any given Sunday. There are blue-collar workers and white-collar employees. Like most anywhere, Second Story’s neighbors are people who care about their community and their children.
Cultural heritage, spiritual confusion create opportunities
The region’s heritage fosters the hiding of emotions, so people live with less authenticity in their relationships, Hinrichs explained. There’s even shorthand terminology — Minnesota nice — for a habit shaped by German, Swedish and Scandinavian settlers who showed less emotion and genuineness in their relationships.
In response, Second Story graciously offers sermon series and ministry activities that meet people where they are. Moreover, the service of Second Story gives people a faith that transcends what they could find in ordinary life patterns.
“People need a faith they can sink their teeth into, a faith they can live out practically in the very real and hard challenges that they’re walking through,” he said. “It’s on us to preach, teach and model a relationship with Jesus that encompasses our entire being. If we can’t present a faith that is practical, down to earth and nitty-gritty, that’s got some teeth to it when we’re going through the real stuff of life, then what are we doing?”
The spiritual landscape around the new church has two contours, Hinrichs explained.
First, there are Christians who no longer know what to do with a local church. People can hear incredible preaching whenever they want through convenient search engines. Moreover, an app can play the most glorious worship music of the centuries with a swipe.
It’s been a while since the believers in my community have stretched themselves to be a part of a body, to know and be known,” he said. “That’s been much more challenging in the middle of the pandemic.”
Even so, people are looking for a faith they can internalize in themselves and their relationships, he said.
“There is a deep hunger for connection, for mission,” Hinrichs said.“There is a real hunger for that among believers.”
The second contour of the spiritual landscape remains at the heart of Second Story’s vision.
“I’ve had more conversations in the last 12 months with people who are asking spiritual questions,” he said.“They want to know, ‘Is there a god, a plan, a purpose to life,’ because whatever we’re doing isn’t working.”
As this disillusionment and confusion surface around Hinrichs, the relationships Second Story strives to build morph into an opportunity.
“There is a real openness and a real basis for a conversation we didn’t have before,” he added.
In response, this new church offers hope to those who start those conversations and struggle, whether it’s their cultural heritage, the emptiness of affluence or the inadequate answers and hopes of years past.
“Heaven has broken into the real world, and he’s alive and well in you,” Hinrichs said. “The more you can step into that light, the more we can make Jesus’ prayer true: ‘God, bring up there down here.’”
Second Story has a clear mission and compassionate motives
Swanson said that everyone on the core team has a job because people act as a team. Further, Second Story’s people are an aircraft carrier, not a cruise ship.
“We’re going to fill you up and inspire you and love you,” she said. “But the mission field is out there. We’re refueled so that we can go out and serve his mission. It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus, about serving his mission and serving out there.”
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.