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Northern Oaks, in the Twin Cities, is ‘the little church that could’

MINNETONKA, Minn. (BP)–The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are home to numerous mega-churches, but Northern Oaks Community Church -– stop No. 37 on SBC President Bobby Welch’s national bus tour –- is not one of them.

“We’re like the Little House on the Prairie church in the big city,” said Dennis Murphy, pastor for the last 12 years at the suburban church where about 45 people gather for Sunday morning worship. “People come because they’re hurting, their marriage is suffering, they need one-on-one attention they can’t get in a larger church.

“The challenge we have is being the lifeboat in the big church harbor,” the pastor continued. “The Twin Cities have a very churched culture but that doesn’t mean those who attend have a relationship with the living God.

“When people ask why our church doesn’t grow numerically, I tell them I feel the main reason is what I call the Wal-Mart effect,” Murphy said. “As long as people take a consumer approach to where they go to church, the ‘mom-and-pop’ churches can’t compete. But for somebody who’s hurting, or seeking a place to serve God, they stick with us.”

Despite its size, Northern Oaks Community ministers in a “big church” way.

It’s preparing for its second annual free clinic, where tax advice is offered as well as dental, eye, hearing and chiropractic exams and more. A second day just for women has been added to the event this year, which will include manicures, massages and little gift bags.

The daughter-in-law of a Northern Oaks member got an idea for ministry while serving at the clinic last year: She has started a foot washing ministry at an area homeless shelter and elsewhere that also includes sharing her faith and distributing new shoes.

One of Northern Oaks’ key ministry fields is the nearby government-sponsored apartment housing –- four complexes where rent is based on income. About 40 percent of its congregation comes from there, the pastor said.

In its gym, built just before Murphy came to Northern Oaks, the church hosts Upward Basketball, an evangelistic league which last year consisted of eight teams and this year is expected to double. Of 55 participants last year, nine prayed to receive Christ.

Northern Oaks also sponsored a back-to-school event that included free shoes, socks, school supplies and haircuts.

This summer, Northern Oaks Community hosted volunteer teams from three churches from the South who did backyard Bible clubs, Vacation Bible Schools, acts-of-kindness evangelism and personal witnessing, plus concerts and block parties.

Northern Oaks sponsors Vietnamese and Korean churches, and it sent five of its members on a short-term mission trip to Brazil this summer.

“We do all these things realizing they won’t grow the church but they will the Kingdom of God, and that’s what’s important,” Murphy said. “For us to do these things, God has to provide outside groups, and He does that in abundance.”

One of the dozen people baptized last year at Northern Oaks Community had been assigned to the church as his community service for a traffic ticket.

“Ordinarily I turn these down,” Murphy said. “But for some reason I said yes. I witnessed to him for about six months, gave him ‘The Case for Faith,’ [written by Lee Strobel] and one day he gave me a note: ‘I prayed that prayer today.’ So we baptized him, and right after that he got his dream job.

“For a little church, we baptize quite a few people, but then they move away,” the pastor continued. “They tend to go to larger churches after they’ve been a Christian for a while. A church our size can’t offer the bells and whistles for their children, and I understand that.

“We’re definitely the little church that could, but only because of God,” Murphy said. “Anytime I start to feel discouraged, all I have to do is go down the list and see what God has done with a small group of people. It truly is a miracle.”