FARGO-At a time when many downtown churches around the country are struggling to fill their pews, Fargo's First Lutheran Church is embarking on a $12 million expansion project.
Growth in the congregation is one reason for the project, according to Dave Rogness, head of the building project committee, and Terry Yoney, a retired administrator of the church who now serves as liaison between the church and the contractors during construction.
Traditionally, First Lutheran, 619 Broadway, has seen itself as a downtown neighborhood church, but it has become something of a metro-area congregation as well, according to Rogness.
"We have members that come from Mapleton, Casselton, Horace, and Clay County; we draw members from around the metro area," Rogness said.
The congregation now numbers 4,000-5,000, but it is expected to grow to 6,000 by 2020, according to Rogness.
To accommodate that growth, the church moved quickly once members decided that a project should move forward, and the necessary $12 million was raised in a span of six months.
Construction, which began recently, is expected to take 18 months, with a dedication expected in December 2019, when the church turns 100 years old.
A major component of the expansion is construction of a new contemporary worship space that will seat about 700 people.
The current contemporary worship area can seat about 250.
A community asset
"We're hoping this (contemporary worship space) can be a venue for the arts," Yoney said, adding that North Dakota State University already holds some functions at the church.
"It's really going to be state of the art," Yoney added, referring to the new space.
In planning the expansion, the church kept in mind the needs of young families, according to Daniel Damico, church administrator.
Church officials estimate First Lutheran has about 700 young people from Kindergarten age to about age 17.
"We see there is a need for cost-effective child care. We would be a little short sighted to not look at that as an opportunity for us to fill a need," Damico said.
Church staff numbers about 22 full-time employees and about 20 part-time workers, according to Yoney, who said the timing of the project couldn't be better, given the state of the economy and the demographic trends happening downtown.
"The congregation was excited, the staff was excited, and it fell into place," Yoney said.
Damico said the congregation's hopes for the future of the church played a major role in the decision to expand.
"It's not just the immediate bursting at the seams, it's also looking at the long term for this church. That's one of the driving principles behind this, was looking above and beyond ourselves to the next generation of the church," he said.