New DL church is easygoing -- hopes to attact those who don't attend church
A perfect place for imperfect people.
That's the message behind eXperience Church, a fairly new church in Detroit Lakes, which officially started last September.
Considered a parachute drop from the Journey North Community Church in Brainerd, eXperience Church was one of three church plants last year.
"Knowing that in a 20-mile circle (of Detroit Lakes) there's 40,000 people ... and 20,000 are connecting to no church," Pastor Mike Verlennich said, Detroit Lakes was a right fit for a new church.
So Verlennich and his wife, Amy, and their children -- they have nine with eight at home still --moved to town to make contacts and start the church.
It's a little non-traditional. They've been known to serve popcorn during the church service, and they hold services in the VFW building in Detroit Lakes. Their first one was on Sept. 26.
Beginning this weekend for Easter, however, they will be holding their church service in the Holmes Theatre, starting at 11 a.m. on Sundays.
While Verlennich said he's very thankful to the VFW, the church has grown to the building's capacity already and needs space to expand. They average about 100 people a Sunday -- "largely because we can't fit anymore (people in) " -- since beginning seven months ago.
"While church in a bar is a unique thing and raised some eyebrows, it's not for everybody," he said. "We like to raise eyebrows, but we want to be accessible to everyone."
Thus the move to the Holmes Theatre.
eXperience the difference
"We accept people exactly where they are (in their life and in their spiritual journey)," he said.
The point is to make a fun atmosphere that's welcoming to everyone, no judgment passed. The message is to "love God and love people." And don't forget to have fun doing it.
"It's a party and we want to treat it as a celebration," Verlennich said. "I don't want anyone to walk away saying, 'that was boring.'"
As the only paid employee of the church thus far, Verlennich depends on volunteers. He has various bands that come play at the church each week, playing rock-style music.
God is the ultimate creator, he said, so why not be creative about how to get the message across?
While the doors are open to everyone, Verlennich said his church is targeting the 20-to-40-year-old crowd, "the largest group not connected to a church." They are a family-friendly church as well.
"There is mission work in our own backyard."
With that work, creative and fun work at that, Verlennich is hoping the location and size of the Holmes Theatre will encourage more people to come check out the church, and hopefully help it to grow.
"We're still babies as far as churches go."
While they have a Sunday morning service, they don't have Wednesday night programs for kids, small group meetings or other programs that larger churches have to offer. But that just means there's plenty of room to grow.
While Verlennich has no plans to leave Detroit Lakes, in the future, with the success of eXperience Church, he hopes to have another pastor plant a church in another community from this one.
His wife Amy -- who he calls his right hand -- takes care of service programming, making sure everything is organized.
People talk about organizing a wedding or anniversary party or birthday party for a couple hundred people being a lot of work, but that's what she does every weekend, he said.
No matter where people are in life, he stressed, the church welcomes them -- even if they are there to "explore faith, kick the tires of faith, no matter where they are."
Starting a planted business is nothing new for Verlennich. He has had a career planting new restaurants and starting his own businesses.
For about 20 years, he didn't attend church at all. Then, when he owned a pawnshop, he befriended a customer that turned out to be a pastor.
"I was incredibly curious about his faith."
Then once Verlennich and his wife had a couple children, he decided they should go to church for the kids' sakes if nothing else. That's where he ended up finding his own faith.
He sold his pawnshop business and started a concrete business with his brother. But, he felt a calling into the ministry, so he enrolled in Crown College and earned his degree.
"I had no idea what that was leading us to, but I knew it was leading us to something," he said.
He went to work at the Journey North Community Church in Brainerd to get his feet wet before planting a church in Detroit Lakes, which was always a part of the plan.
"They took me on and then sent me out."
And regardless of how much fun, and creativity the church has to have that fun, there's still the same underlying message -- "we're a little 'c' church. Christ is the big 'C'."