Whatever it takes

By Rez Gopez-Sindac

Scott Anderson, Executive Pastor, Eagle Brook Church, Centerville, MN

Scott Anderson started attending Eagle Brook Church (EBC) with his family in 1993 and joined the staff in 1997 as the facility manager after 18 years of managing restaurants for the McDonald’s Corporation. He started as a “glorified custodian,” but he says it was the very best way for him to learn from the ground up.

As Eagle Brook Church grew from 350 people in 1991 to 5,500 on the same property in 2005, to today’s five campuses around the Minneapolis – St. Paul area – each hosting four weekend services and altogether often attracting 18,000 people or more each weekend – Anderson says the leaders and attenders became experts at creative solutions to making room for people who needed to hear the Gospel.

Before Eagle Brook moved to its “Promised Land,” a 92-acre facility in Lino Lakes, MN, the church was doing seven weekend services and seeing 5,500 people in a 60,000-square-foot facility that seated 800 people. Lots of lessons learned, Anderson admits. On Dec. 6, 2005, EBC held its first service in the new campus that seated 2,100 people at a time. That weekend, more than 8,000 people showed up for services at Eagle Brook Lino Lakes, effectively exceeding capacity on the first weekend. As the new campus quickly filled up, EBC reopened its original facility six weeks later for weekend services.

Thus, the multisite ministry was born, as well as the learning curve – from campus leadership and staffing to technological challenges and funding. Anderson says he’s had the incredible honor of being able to grow with the church. Today, he serves as the executive pastor, reporting directly to Bob Merritt, the senior pastor.

What attracted you to join Eagle Brook Church in 1993 and stay there long enough to get hired on staff?

My family and I were looking for a church closer to home. One of my employees at McDonald’s, Chuckie, was always talking to me about her church. So, in some ways, just to get Chuckie off our backs, we decided to give First Baptist Church of White Bear Lake (later to be known as Eagle Brook Church) a try. The week following our visit, we each received permanent nametags in the mail with our names on them. We saw a church that clearly was on a mission to reach lost people, and a church body that was willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Even then, the growth in attendance was stretching the capacity of the building to its limits. One Sunday we came to church, all of the staff offices had been torn out to make more lobby space, which was sorely needed. I had never experienced a church where the right decision could be made and executed in the snap of a finger.

How did your work experience at the McDonald’s Corporation prepare you for the facility manager job – and eventually the executive pastor role?

In 18 years of working for McDonald’s, I was trained and given the opportunity to lead in the areas of people, products and systems, each of which is critical to almost any organization. Added to these were years of balancing these elements in a constantly changing and fast-paced environment, giving me the ability to thrive in a world filled with unknowns.

Ironically, working primarily with teenagers for almost two decades was the perfect preparation for working in the church world. Sometimes church people act like teenagers when they don’t get what they want. It’s natural for people who have a great sense of ownership in the church to want to also have a strong level of influence. Managing those expectations is tricky, delicate and sometimes has to be done with decisiveness. It’s never easy, but always necessary.

As Eagle Brook has become a multisite ministry, the need for appropriate processes and systems has grown as well. Whereas 10 years ago we all worked with each other day in and day out, today, we work in different campuses and on different parts of the mission. Our people have had to grow in this area, too, so that we can effectively manage more than 200 employees and still hit the mark.

What perspective has working from the ground up given you that could be easy to miss in the church world?

At Eagle Brook, we look at people through the lenses of character, competence and chemistry, but the biggest indicator of true fit is character – and that is developed over time. I made a lot of mistakes as I worked my way through my career, but at every juncture I had a choice to make – to learn from my mistakes and keep moving, or just stop growing my character. I still have a long ways to go in this area, but what character development I have experienced has been the result of time, relationship and work.

For many, it takes a full year or more to become acclimated to our culture and the way we do ministry, and far too many people come into a new role and just go for it without taking the time to understand the world they just entered. Obviously, things have to get done and decisions have to be made, but spending time getting to know the players, understanding where the landmines are, and finding out what is most important should be a top priority.

What is your most important role as executive pastor?

I have to work hard to know what it is that I need to be in the circumstance that I am in. Often, I am convener and discussion leader. More often than I prefer, I am the one who has to lean in on difficult relational conflict between staff or with an attender. Sometimes, I am cheerleader; other times I am critic. Each part of my day calls out something different in me, and I have to be thoughtful about it.

Probably the most noticeable impacts that I have had are in future-planning. I tend to be the guy who starts to percolate on what the future may look like from a logistics standpoint. We decided as a team, for instance, that we were going to be a church of 10,000 by 2005, but it was my responsibility to put the plan together that would get us there. In today’s world, we’ve purposed to add four to five new campuses in the next 10 years, and with a great team, we identify the stepping stones that will enable us to get there.

What lessons have you learned from leading a number of capital campaigns at EBC?

I have led five stewardship campaigns at Eagle Brook, starting in 2000. We’ve been in a perpetual campaign without a break since that time. A few things I’ve learned:

  1. People want to be part of something that’s important, something that will make a difference in this world.
  2. A campaign is a forced reminder to teach about our mission as a church. It refocuses us on what is most important and reminds our people that it’s about more than just us.
  3. A campaign is a great on-ramp for people who don’t always see the value in giving to the operating fund. They can use the more inspiring initiatives within a campaign to get excited about, and begin a journey of spiritual growth through giving.
  4. The details aren’t as important as you think they are. If people like who you are and are drawn to your mission, keep it big-picture. Have the details for the major donors and those who ask questions.
  5. People will trust you more than they should. Be worthy of that trust. Make sure you can deliver on what you dream about doing together.

How do you run a five-campus, 18,000-strong church efficiently?

We don’t! One of our organizational distinctives is that doing church in a multisite environment is messy, and we are OK with that. That said, we are a rather high-control environment, meaning that what happens at a campus is thoroughly designed and delivered to the campus for implementation in a way that keeps our core values and desired outcomes at the top of the list.

We measure five important outcomes:

  1. Are we growing? The only way to reach new people is to have new people coming through our doors.
  2. Are people saying “Yes!” to Christ? If people are not choosing to follow Jesus, we lock ourselves in a room until we have a plan in mind to address the problem.
  3. Are people involved in a great small group? We have seen that a transformed life never happens in a vacuum.
  4. Are people serving in the church?
  5. Are people living a generous financial life?
  6. I have the best team anywhere. Passionate, proven leaders who understand our mission and will do whatever it takes to enable it to be achieved.

What’s on the horizon for Eagle Brook?

We’ll continue to plan for growth, look for seats and do whatever it takes to reach people who are far from God. Today, at 18,000 in average weekend attendance, Eagle Brook has dreams to keep planning and preparing for aggressive growth, even as the challenges of making it possible get more complex.

But looking back reminds us of God’s faithfulness. Over the past 21 years, Eagle Brook has grown at an average rate of 20.3 percent per year (Kind of freaky). To people who come to find out about us more recently, it seems like an overnight story, but I can tell you that idea is far from the truth. One person at a time – one campus at a time – one community at a time, God is doing something. We’re just keeping up.


Bold moves, growth tactics

Over the past 20 years, Eagle Brook has grown by an average 20 percent per year, so one of the biggest strategies we have used is to regularly review our staff structure and make needed changes. It has meant that about every two years we have reorganized how our staff is structured. Our structure should answer the question, “Is this the best way to get the work done?”

A key concept that we developed early on is that we will plan for 20 percent growth each year, just in case God wants to send it. If it didn’t happen, we wouldn’t complain – but if it wants to happen and we can’t handle it, why would we be blessed with it? Every year, we’d actually look at what we would need to do to accommodate 20 percent more people in the coming ministry year – and then we’ve made adjustments to allow for it to happen. This required us each year to sit down, intentionally look at our current attendance level and ask the hard questions:

If we had 20 percent more people in worship, could we fit them all in our current services approach?

If we had 20 percent more people coming, will our children’s space be able to handle the increase?

If we had 20 percent more people, do we have room in the parking lot to fit the additional cars?

Over the years, the answers to these three questions led us to:

  1. Add a new worship center onto our building.
  2. Add a Saturday night service, then a second Saturday night service, then add a third and a fourth Sunday service in our original worship center space, making seven weekend services before we moved to a new location.
  3. Add a second campus, then a third, fourth and fifth.
  4. Changed our children’s ministry programming from grade-based classroom teaching to large-group teaching with small-group breakouts.
  5. Purchased land so that we could enable more parking, and expanded parking lots at two of our campuses.
  6. Purchased houses along our property so that we could create a second entry/exit from the parking lot.

Another key concept that we introduced was that we would do whatever it takes to reach people who were far from God. On its face, it doesn’t seem so revolutionary, but in practice, it is harder than one may think! Finally, we decided that we would be a church that was willing and available to do what God calls us to do for Him. Again, it sounds very warm and fuzzy, but over the years it has caused us to do some things that I would have never thought we would do, like:

  1. Merge with another church.
  2. Launch a campus in a school.
  3. Respond to the plight of people in Mozambique, Africa, with more than $2 million per year in support.

— Scott Anderson


Quick Facts:
Eagle Brook Church: eaglebrookchurch
Senior Pastor: Bob Merritt
Five campuses:

  • Lino Lakes
  • White Bear Lake
  • Spring Lake Park
  • Blaine
  • Woodbury

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