Rob Ketterling led River Valley Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota, as they expanded to eight campuses in the U.S. and overseas and are now reaching over 6,500 people. We recently sat down with him to get his perspective on healthy strategies for church growth.
Tell us a little about the DNA of River Valley Church and your growth journey.
When we started about 20 years ago, we were very traditional, and over the years we’ve just morphed. I’ve said if you took Hillsong, Willow Creek, and Fellowship Church and threw them in a blender, you might find us. When we went multi-site, we did it because our church was full. We actually went multi-service first, then we gave people away to start a church, then we grew more, then we went multi-site. I learned you need to go multi-service before you go multi-site, because it will help your congregation understand multi-site. Also, if you’re willing to give people away to start a new church, every person in your church knows you’re serious about reaching lost people. The thought process is, “Our pastor loves reaching lost people so much he gave people away—I need to invite someone.” All of a sudden you have more people coming in than you can handle.
What would you consider to be the most important things needed to support healthy church growth?
Trust is key. If people trust you as a leader, I’ve learned they’ll go practically anywhere with you. I’ve also learned two things keep you from having problems: church growth and budget growth. So, keep winning people to Jesus and handle your finances right.
To support church growth, one of the biggest things for us was giving ministry away. I learned that the first 200 people in the church came because they liked the pastor and bought the vision. The next 200 people came because of the staff and the ministry they were receiving. After that, it was a question of whether there was a place for them to use their ministry gifts. The more I gave ministry away—Bible studies, ushering, greeting, hospital visits—the more we grew.
To support a healthy budget, a key philosophy we’ve maintained is to pay for comfort with cash and use financing for expansion. Here’s what I mean: If we want to make a room nicer and more comfortable for people, we’ll raise cash. If we want to add on for more people to join us, we’ll take a loan.
What would you say to help growing churches prepare to talk to a lender?
Once your church hits a certain size, has money, and wants to do something with a building, everybody that wouldn’t give you a loan before will now. So it’s important to work with a financial institution that understands ministry and church growth. They’re going to be able to look at more than just the bottom line. They’ll know that if you start a church and it grows, you’re going to need another phase … and another … and another, and they’re not going to be freaked out by multi-site.