A revival swept through Thief River Falls in 1900. A group of believers, many of whom had been converted during the revival, were ministered to by Solomon Bergstrom and family. They were missionaries to China and were visiting relatives in the area on furlough.
A New Ministry Begins—The First 25 Years
On March 21, 1901, nine of these believers met to discuss the best way they could in unity promote the Kingdom of God in Thief River Falls and, unanimously agreed to unite in love as a congregation, to be known as the Scandinavian Evangelical Church of Thief River Falls, Minnesota. The nine men were: S. Bergstrom, Ole Nyhus, Andrew Rindal, Carsten Christensen, K. Jorstad, Ed. Myrsven, L. Ulstad, M. Brude, and Hans Johnson.
At another meeting on April 4, the same year, it was decided to purchase a site on Horace Ave. between 1st and 2nd Streets, for $210.30, on which to build a church. This building was begun in August under the leadership of S. Bergstrom, M. Brude, and Ed. Myrsven. After forty days of labor, most of which was donated, it was completed at a cost of $311.46, and on March 17, 1902, was incorporated. (In 2001 dollars that would be approximately $3,600 for the land and $5,400 for the building)
For many years the church was served by visiting evangelists and an elder elected annually, S. Bergstrom being the first and upon his return to China was succeeded by Ole Nyhus, Andrew Rindal, George Newland, and John Christensen also served for some time.
Though a Sunday School had been in progress for some years, J.D. Turnwall was elected the first Superintendent in 1910. In 1911, voting membership was extended to women believers, and in 1918 the church building was improved with a basement and furnace.
A constitution was adopted in 1919, and at the annual meeting – January 12, 1920 – it was decided to join the Evangelical Free Church Association from whom they were already receiving some support.
Reverend Bot Nyborg was the first pastor of the church, serving from the fall of 1918 until August 1923.
Growing a Ministry On The Prairie
In the fall of 1923, Reverend J. O. Jacobsen was called to pastoral service. The church saw many changes in the thirty years the Jacobsens served here. The church celebrated its Golden Jubilee (50 years) on October 28, 1951.
In 1936, a seven-room parsonage was built at 215 Markley Avenue North at a cost of $4,200.
The growth of the congregation in the early years was somewhat slow, but steady, and the time came when it was evident that the church building, in which they had assembled for fifty years, became much too small. This was especially felt in the area of Sunday School and youth work.
In September 1952, the building and property were sold to the Salvation Army for a sum of $18,000. In 1953, a new building was erected on the corner of 3rd Street and Kendall Avenue. The lot was a gift from Andrew Norby. However, the property lacked an adequate parking area. In 1964, the Norby property adjoining the church was purchased. It contained a dwelling house and garage, which were sold and moved off the premises. Later, the south half of the lot was purchased from Ager Baird, the building was sold and removed, thus doubling the area. In 1965, gravel was hauled in, and by 1967, the church enjoyed much more rapid growth, and it was keenly felt that facilities were inadequate and plans for expansion become necessary once more. After considering the many angles in regard to relocating or enlarging the present building, the latter plan was adopted. The addition to the south was erected and the main sanctuary was enlarged and remodeled. This provided a rather spacious foyer, a nursery, a fellowship room, and a pastor’s study.
Youth organizations that have helped to win young people, deepen their spiritual life and train them for serving the Lord have been: Early Seekers, Crusaders, Jet Cadets, Pioneer Girls, Boy’s Brigade, Junior and Senior F.C.Y.C., Daily Vacation Bible Schools, Release Time Classes, Christanoes, and others. These have been primarily promoted by elected officers of a Christian Education Board.
A church library was started in 1955 when a gift in memory of Hans Sande, who passed away that year, was given by his wife Jennie. This gift was specifically designated to be used for the purpose of purchasing books to launch the project.
Music has played an important part in the church program. Besides the senior, youth, and children’s choirs, other groups and individuals have ministered in vocal and instrumental music in the church as well as reached out as witnesses in other areas.
Believing that much depends upon the faithful prayers of its members and friends, the church has, since early years, maintained a midweek prayer meeting. Later, a women’s prayer group and a men’s prayer breakfast were added.
A Mature Church Still Young At Heart
On October 17, 1976, the Evangelical Free Church of Thief River Falls celebrated its Diamond Jubilee. By this time the church was well known for its Christian outreach in both missions and in sending young people into the service of our Lord. On the occasion of this celebration this is what then President of the Evangelical Free Church of America, Dr. Arnold T Olson had to say to the congregation:
“The Congregation at Thief River Falls has stood as a beacon in the North. Not only has it ministered to the people of the community but it has won to Christ, trained and sent forth many young people who today are Christian leaders in communities to which they migrated. The entire Evangelical Free Church of America has been enriched by her ministry.”
In support of this statement, no less than 10 persons were listed in the Diamond Jubilee Celebration booklet as having gone from this congregation into the Lord’s service.
In 1977 Reverend Curtis Anderson was called to minister to the needs of a growing congregation. Under Pastor Anderson’s leadership, the church provided leadership in the ministry for five pastoral interns from 1980-1985.
1980 was a year of change for the church. Sadly, the Bread of Life Hour radio ministry was discontinued in 1980. This was a difficult decision for the church to make since the radio ministry was in its 27th year. 1980 was also the year that a second floor was added to the educational wing. Air conditioning was installed in the church and a home to be used as a parsonage was purchased at 240 N. Kendall.
In 1984 a new organ and sound system was purchased.
In 1985 the church called its first Associate pastor, Sheldon Lorenson, who returned from the mission field to help Pastor Anderson shepherd the church in its growth. By 1989, when the Lorensons left Thief River Falls, the church had grown to host two Sunday morning worship services. Sunday morning worship attendance averaged about 260 at this time and Sunday School attendance numbered over 200.
By 1990 more remodeling was necessary to facilitate church growth, so the lower auditorium was remodeled and enlarged. About this time a new telephone system was installed and the church moved into the computer age with a new computer and printer system.
In 1992 the congregation took a leap of faith and hired Reverend Edsel Lindquist as a third pastor. Pastor “Red” served as a full-time pastor in a part-time position. If anyone ever overflowed a job with their presence in that job, it was Pastor Lindquist. Later, Pastor Lindquist would retire and his position would stand idle for a time, but the need for a third person on the pastoral staff was firmly established during the time he served.
Shortly after the 1990 remodeling, it became evident that more room was needed. While neighboring houses had been purchased and removed in recent years for more parking area, it was soon obvious that facility expansion at the 3rd and Kendall location was not a good option. While the congregation wrestled with what course of action to take, the Washington Elementary School became available. This 30,000 sq. ft. facility was eventually purchased for $525,121 and became the new home of the Evangelical Free Church of Thief River Falls in September of 1995.
On November 12, 1995, this new facility was dedicated to the Lord’s service. Dr. Paul Cedar, Evangelical Free Church of America President, delivered the dedicatory message.
Shortly after the congregation moved to the new facility it was decided to enroll in the AWANA program. This program, while demanding and intense, continues to be a great ministry opportunity for us in the community. As the program ministers to the kids, our church could minister to the parents. The positive result has been the continued growth of the congregation.
By 2003, the congregation fully paid the Washington Elementary mortgage-12 years early. Thanks to God’s provision, we had grown to support two morning services in the gymnasium, a Sunday School program that filled every room in the building, and a Wednesday night ministry that expanded beyond AWANA to support Jr. High, Senior, and adult ministries. Furthermore, the church’s indoor and outdoor facilities continued to be used to serve community organizations outside the congregation, including sporting events, conferences, and school functions. Foreseeing future growth, a fund was started in 2004 to further expand the facility. By 2006, the congregation raised $300,000 to fund a $1.4 million worship center. This loan was paid in full by 2020.
Being debt-free has allowed the congregation to expand church staff and open more doors in our community, region, and world. In 2019 the church’s care ministry staff director became a critical part of relational ministry and also launched a deepened vision of community partnership. The addition of a director of music and media has opened our weekly services to those outside our facility and provides a “digital front door” for the church in an always-connected world.
We are excited for the future. God has shown His faithfulness and provision in the past, so we move forward confidently knowing God’s blessing is upon us. Let us show compassion to our neighbors while boldly sharing the salvation of the gospel.