Cody and Cheyenne McManigle were on the verge of divorce. Then, they accepted their friend’s invitation to visit his church one Sunday. It was a last-ditch effort to save their marriage—and it worked.
God used Verndale Family Life Church in Verndale, Minnesota, to transform their lives. Now the couple, who has several kids, is serving in the church’s ministries and sharing their testimony with other men and women there.
The McManigles are just one of many families who’ve helped the church’s attendance skyrocket from a dozen people to about 260 in just six years.
It began in 2010, when the church had dwindled to 12 members. The pastor and most members had left. The environment that remained was unhealthy. When now-Lead Pastor Amos Self arrived with his family to lead the church that May, he knew the only direction to go was up.
“The old church cliché says that it’s easier to give birth than to raise the dead,” Self says, “but in this case we really did try to raise the dead.”
The church started by looking inward: modernizing their building decor, website and services to appeal to a younger demographic.
“In those first couple of years we tried to reshape our church’s culture,” Self says. “We didn’t want to do things the way we’d always done them. We needed to be different, because normal wasn’t working.”
Then, they looked outward. Self knew he wanted to reach the 15,000 to 20,000 people who live within a 45-minute drive from the church, since Verndale itself has just 600 people.
So the church started participating in community events like the Verndale Summer Festival and a “Thanksgathering” with its sister church, where the fire and police chiefs judge a pie contest. The men’s ministry serves the community with tasks like chopping firewood for families. The congregation ran a shoe drive and built a playground for kids whose neighborhood didn’t have one. They even bought fire-resistant flashlights for the fire department and a stun gun for the police department.
“We wanted to undo our church’s bad reputation and bring our community together,” Self says. “And we wanted to make fully devoted followers of Christ. We really put an emphasis on serving and taking ownership of what’s here.”
But things took a turn in November 2012, when an electrical fire destroyed the church’s newly renovated building. But that disaster turned out to be a blessing. Against the advice of contractors, the church voted unanimously to buy an old, vacant factory nearby and make it their new church home.
“We knew God wanted us to do this, although it didn’t make any sense at the time,” Self says. “Now we don’t know what we’d do without this space.”
The building not only better accommodates the growing congregation, but it has allowed the church to operate a food pantry that serves 50 to 70 families and gives out 3,000 to 5,000 pounds of food each month.
“The attitude toward our church has been great,” Self says. “You often hear the question, ‘If your church shut down, would the city miss it?’ I think we’re there: This town would miss us. I don’t say that to brag, but that’s been our heart. We’ve wanted to make God indispensible, where our community really wants what we’re offering.”
VERNDALE FAMILY LIFE CHURCH