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Nondenominational Detroit Lakes church marks a milestone

A large potluck-style meal was served after Sunday's special service. Submitted photo1 / 5
A "Memory Lane" full of informational displays created in honor of Christian Fellowship's 50th anniversary were still set up near the church's main entrance early this week. Marie Johnson / Tribune 2 / 5
Past and present Worship Band members performed a mix of old and new songs during the celebration Sunday. Submitted photo3 / 5
Christian Fellowship Church Pastor Tim Rice, right, raises a shovel during a groundbreaking ceremony for a construction project at the church that will double the building's size. The ceremony was held in conjunction with the church's 50th anniversary celebration. Rice is pictured with church elders Bruce Beckman, Lonnie Perrine and Dewey Lindsay, left to right. Submitted photo4 / 5
Christian Fellowship Church founder and original pastor, Jim Erb, poses for a picture with youth members of the church Raena Funk, Brody Paskey and Hallie Rishovd, left to right, during the church's 50th anniversary celebration on Aug. 12. Submitted photo5 / 5

When country farmer Jim Erb began hosting small Bible study groups in his home in the mid-1960s, he didn't know he'd started a movement that would impact thousands of people's lives and still be going strong in 2018.

Erb felt called to become a pastor, and so he started having people over to share stories and messages of faith and fellowship. In time, that small group of people grew into a larger group, and those informal gatherings evolved into regular meetings. By 1968, a formal church was established.

Today, that church is the Christian Fellowship Church of Detroit Lakes, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary on Sunday, Aug. 12. An estimated 175 people were present for the occasion — including Erb, who remains an active member.

Current Senior Pastor Tim Rice explained of the church's humble beginnings, "It was just a small movement, very organic. They weren't part of some big organization, they were just some local folks who started getting together."

Christian Fellowship has experienced its fair share of change and ups and downs in the decades since then. Membership numbers have fluctuated, from a peak of about 300 in the mid-'80s to a low of about 60 when Rice took over as pastor in 2009. Today, an estimated 110-120 people regularly attend the church's Sunday morning service.

The number of ministries within the church, and its overall reach into Detroit Lakes, have also varied over the years. At one point, there was a K-12 Christian Fellowship School, and a popular ministry called Kids Club "was very strong and influential in the community for a good number of years," with a couple hundred kids in attendance every week, according to Rice.

Eventually, those and other programs ran their course, and today, the church is in the process of rebuilding and reshaping some of its ministries, with a focus on families. Efforts are underway to grow and enhance the children's ministry, for example, and a Thursday morning men's group has grown to include about 25 men who get together for breakfast and Bible studies. The church's outreach ministry in Haiti, where church members have built an orphanage and helped with cleanup efforts following the 2010 earthquake, is also "where our heart is at right now," said Rice.

Rice is one of only three pastors that have led Christian Fellowship over the years. Founding Pastor Erb was the first, of course — he started the first church in Snellman, about 30 miles east of Detroit Lakes, in 1968, then moved it to Egelund, just east of Richwood, before moving again into downtown Detroit Lakes. The building the church now calls home, at 28048 Meadow Drive in Detroit Lakes, was built in the mid-'70s. Pastor Keith Barberg took over for Erb in 1997 and continued until Rice arrived in January 2009.

The church is nondenominational, open to Christians from all backgrounds. Services tend to be pretty informal, according to the church's website, offering a blend of traditional and contemporary music along with teachings that focus on the word of God and its application to life.

"We're a family-oriented church," Rice said. "My goal as a pastor is to reach families. I think church is not complete unless you've got grandpas sitting with grandkids and moms and dads — the whole spectrum. Our goal, our vision, is that when you come here, you can come as a family."

The church's Associate Pastor, Brian Erickson, is also the lead Pastor of the Cowboy Church and Chapel on the Hill in Detroit Lakes. He spends his Sundays preaching at those two locations, and his weekdays at Christian Fellowship. It's a unique arrangement, Rice said, but it works well for them.

As Christian Fellowship moves forward into the future, Rice said he and the congregation anticipate continued growth. A second Sunday morning service will be offered starting this fall, and Rice has set a lofty membership goal of 400 — a number he said came to him as he was praying.

The church building itself is currently undergoing an expansion, with construction soon to begin on a project that will double the size of the facility, adding a multi-purpose room and fellowship area to the main floor. Rice said the addition will make the church more accessible for those with mobility issues, as all the main areas of the church will be on one level instead of two. Ground was broken on the project during Sunday's 50th anniversary celebration.

Other components of the celebration included a special anniversary worship service, a video presentation on the history of the church, music by past and present Worship Band members, special guests including all three Senior Pastors (Erb, Barberg and Rice), a fellowship meal, a "Memory Lane" of historical displays, a church-related mystery contest and more.

"We brought back some folks from years past to join in the current worship team, and they went back and sang some old songs along with new — and all three of the pastors spoke," said Rice. "There was a meal after that, some prizes offered... Some family and folks who hadn't been here in a long time popped back in, so it was just a good time of fellowship."

For more information about Christian Fellowship Church, visit " target="_blank">sites.cfcdl.org/mainsite/home.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune as a reporter and magazine editor in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in Detroit Lakes with her husband, Dan, their 3-year-old son and baby daughter, and their yellow Lab.

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