An interview with Amy Verlennich by Joy B. Rudolph
You moved to Detroit Lakes, Minn., to plant a church. What were the special circumstances surrounding the move?
After attending the Church Planters Assessment Center, my husband Mike served as church planter-in-residence at The Journey North in Brainerd, Minn. We had no idea where we were going to plant a church, but pastor Mark Bjorlo had a list of 10 prime locations in the upper region of Minnesota.
We constantly had people asking us where we were going to plant -- an obvious question, but we knew that God had orchestrated our entire path up to that point, and we truly believed he would make it clear to us where we were supposed to be. Just picking a place seemed to take God out of the equation. So we waited, despite questions about ‘where?’ the anticipation and our impatience. And then we heard nothing. God was silent in this matter, but we completely trusted in his timing.
We asked 10 people to fast and pray over the 10 cities for 10 days. That eliminated some of the cities, but we were left with a few. So we loaded up our tribe into the van and over the next few weeks visited the places still left.
Eventually Mike felt God leading us to Detroit Lakes. I, however, was not convinced. I had sent out more than 20 requests for housing and either received a “no” or was ignored. Evidently “husband and pregnant wife moving to the Detroit Lakes area with seven children and chocolate lab” scared some away.
I remember arguing – ahem, discussing the issue, because of course as church planters we never get angry -- and very simply stating that God couldn’t possibly want us to go to Detroit Lakes because he hadn’t provided a house, and we certainly couldn’t move there without a house! I then went to my email and there it was: one “yes” to a 950-square-foot cabin on the lake that we could lease for nine months.
It was the final confirmation. We would move to Detroit Lakes September 1, having no friends there and no launch team. We held tightly to the vision God had given us, and knew he would continue to provide.
You were pregnant and moved into a 950-square-foot house with seven children. Are you crazy?
Yes, but I’m in good company. Hebrews 11 is full of men and women who were “crazy” (Noah built a boat on dry land when it had never rained), who did something different (Rahab, the prostitute, hid spies and later became a part in the lineage of Christ) and took a risk (Abraham moved his family to a place he didn’t know because God told him to). This chapter says that each of these people, because of their faith, were able to do what it was that God wanted them to do.
I believe faith to be an action word. When we’re able to put our faith to the test, we see how ready we are to truly trust in God to do what he’s asking us to do -- especially when it seems crazy.
How did you know God was calling you to plant a church?
We went to the Church Assessment Center at a time in our life when we were at a crossroads. We would either pursue planting as suggested by pastor Jeff Gauss -- whom we were serving under at the time in Cushing, Minn. -- or we would start a new career in a different direction. We believed it was in ministry, but we hadn’t heard much about church planting until Jeff had mentioned it. We went and literally put our future in the hands (and prayers) of the assessors.
We honestly didn’t know what would happen while we were there. Through all the questions and evaluations, I think I realized God wanted us to plant when we were asked the question: “Why do you want to plant a church?”
Mike looked at the assessor and honestly answered, “I don’t.” Oh wow. If you could have seen their faces! Everyone was completely dumbfounded. It was true, though. Mike wasn’t there because he wanted to be. He was there because that’s the door God had opened.
I asked to speak on my husband’s behalf. I explained that my husband was exactly the kind of man they should have plant a church, because he does what God asks, not what Mike wants.
I remember so many people telling us that church planting is hard -- real hard. In fact, some even discouraged us because the number of children we had, saying maybe we should wait for a better time. I told the assessors that if planting a church is as hard as everyone had said, then a man who will press on and do what God is asking would be better than one who only does what feels good or is easy for the moment. A man like my husband would do what God asked regardless of the circumstances or his feelings.
It was then I knew without a doubt that God had big plans for my husband, certainly bigger than Mike had imagined. The assessors later told us we were “dynamic together.” So we knew we would plant a church together, which really is cool, because I’ve got the biggest crush on that man!
How has planting a church impacted your family?
The move was very hard on my older kids, and it’s just plain hard to have people constantly looking at you and evaluating your life when you’re in ministry. Mike and I are a husband and wife first, and parents second. Our ministry, as much as we love it, comes after that.
I know as we get further into this, and eXperience Church becomes more well-known, people will continue to express their opinions. Satan has already been hard at work to destroy our family. My prayer is that we will instill a passion and understanding of why we do what we do, so our children will be able to stand strong in the difficult times, knowing that regardless of what anyone says, their father is an incredible man of God and their parents will forever be grateful to the One who saved them, their marriage and blessed them beyond their wildest dreams with so many unique children.
We pray they will each rise to what God created them to be and they change the world by doing something crazy for God!
What is your role in the church plant?
I’ve been playing many. I truly am right next to Mike in this thing. We are a team and best friends. What one lacks, the other makes up. As my dear friend Kelly Dykstra from The Crossing in Elk River, Minn., said, I could be considered the “mom of the house,” meaning I oversee it all and make sure it’s running well.
Some of my duties have included recruiting and scheduling volunteers, marketing, overseeing the kids programming, preaching a few messages (one with Mike on relationships, which was a blast), creating video bumpers for the talks and graphics for the message series, signs, posters, etc.
eXperience Church recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. Tell us about that.
Actually, instead of an anniversary, we decided to make it a birthday party that we’ll celebrate every year as a church. It was complete with cupcakes and balloons!
The whole morning was a blast, but one of my favorite moments of the day was when a woman surprised us by walking out on the stage with a cake for Mike and me. She shared her story about how she was never going to go to church, but came the second week after our launch -- and because eXperience is in Detroit Lakes, her life has changed. She also told everyone there that if this wasn’t their church, that they should make it their church. And she thanked Mike and me for doing what God asked us to do and for bringing eXperience church to our city. It was a moment I won’t ever forget.
You’re one-year in, what are you looking for in the future?
I am totally stoked about what God is going to continue to do with eXperience Church! We’re already doing amazing things with the small resources we’ve had, and the lives that have been changing are nothing short of miracles.
When we launched, we had 139 people -- our launch team consisted of only nine families or singles). We moved to a bigger space for our first Easter service, and 250 people attended. On September 11, 2011, we baptized 19 people. We began conducting two services on September 18, averaged more than 225. We had 314 people at our birthday party September 25, and have had more than 100 people give their lives to Christ within the past year!
God has brought us this far, and we know that he’s nowhere near finished. We know he’s got this thing, but finances are certainly a need right now. We have incredible numbers for only being a year into this, but because of the people we are reaching, they simply don’t yet understand tithing or giving.
We are praying for more outside supporters to help carry eXperience Church though the next year so that we can focus on our mission to eXpose people to Jesus where they’re at and eXcite them to move one step closer to him.
What advice do you have for other church planters?
- Time doing church things is not time with God. God comes first.
- Your spouse comes only after God. Date your spouse. And remember, God created sex for married couples.
- Your children come only after your spouse. Family time is essential, and they need to know you will turn off the computer, phone, etc., to be with them.
- Your church plant comes after God, your spouse and your kids -- period. If you lose your relationship with God, your spouse or your kids, then your church plant will mean nothing.
- You can’t ask your church for more than you are willing to give. This includes working your tail off, tithing and taking a Sabbath day.
- Never forget that God will use anyone who is willing. Always be willing to do what he asks.
- Nothing comes as a surprise to God. Nothing.
Amy and Mike Verlennich are planting eXperience Church in Detroit Lakes, Minn. Joy B. Rudolph is administrative assistant to Converge Church Planting director Tom Nebel.