As attendance swelled from 20 to 120-plus, Redemption Church in Owatonna, Minnesota, began to burst at the seams in early 2022. The congregation’s 110-seat meeting space no longer fit the church’s needs despite its two services, says senior pastor Christian Kohs.
“We were actually losing people because they didn’t want to sit so close to everyone,” Kohs says. “We had chairs in the lobby and in the sanctuary. And it was like, ‘Lord, I don’t know what we’re going to do.’”
Since 2019, Redemption has met in a 3,200 square-foot building in a strip mall. As the congregation outgrew the space, Kohs began looking into purchasing and renovating a warehouse, a process he said would have taken years to get up to code.
Instead, God provided an opportunity for Redemption to purchase a meeting space in the heart of downtown, breathing new life into the oldest building in Steele County and providing opportunity for growth.
Making an offer
On a Tuesday in February, a Redemption member learned from a neighbor that First Baptist Church (FBC) on Main Street was closing its doors. With FBC’s council meeting to vote on bids just three days away, Kohs spun into action, walking through the building, consulting Central District Conference (CDC) leaders and making an offer matching the asking price of $168,000.
The 132-year-old building and its contents were worth $3.1 million, Kohs says, and Redemption’s bid was the lowest of three. But because the two higher bidders wanted either to demolish or gut the building, the church accepted Redemption’s offer.
The CDC paid for the building, and Redemption closed on the space June 30, providing a permanent space for the congregation to continue to grow.
Room to grow
With three levels and 18,000 square feet, the building seats 325 people.
“The upstairs of the church is as big as our current church, and the upstairs is the smallest,” Kohs says. “The basement and the main floor are the biggest.”
The building boasts stained glass, wooden pews and a 14-rank pipe organ built in 1893. The space needs some work, but the congregation has moved in quickly while continuing with painting and renovations.
Kohs says the congregation will leave the sanctuary as is to maintain the history of the building, although Redemption plans to sell the organ in order to help finance renovations.
Kohs has fundraised more than $100,000 for paint, sinks and HVAC. The basement also needs some work, Kohs says.
“We can do a lot with a coat of paint and some signage,” Kohs says.
Redemption will use the current pews, although replacing the cushions.
“When the sun hits the room just right, you can see the shading on the back where all the backs were of people,” Kohs says. “It’s like do you know how many Christians have walked in and out of these doors and how many people have met Jesus in and out of these doors.”
Redemption will also display old photos they’ve found while cleaning the building. Redemption held a garage sale to clean out items left in the building, distributing invitation cards to garage-salers. The sale provided an opportunity for Redemption to give free furniture to a family whose basement flooded.
“Little did we know that their son’s girlfriend has been attending our church with her dad, so it’s like, ‘God, can we get him and his parents now?’” Kohs says. “That’s the kind of stuff this building has already done for us.”
Kohs intends to stick with a two-service model, but will primarily advertise one of them, leaving the other as a pared-down version for those serving during the main service.
“We wouldn’t have to even think about moving or going to a third service until we’re probably 400 people, so this could be a nice permanent home,” Kohs says.
In the heart of downtown
Situated in the heart of downtown Owatonna, a city of 35,000 people, the building neighbors the courthouse and Central Park on Main Street, providing visibility for Redemption.
“Before, people (knew) about our name, but they (didn’t) know where we (were),” Kohs says. “There’s no excuse anymore.”
With Redemption located across the street from a large insurance company, Kohs is already dreaming of new outreach opportunities to employees required to take walk breaks at lunch.
“The last Friday of every month, we’re going to have hotdogs out there and serve them lunch,” Kohs says. “If they want to pray with us, that’d be great. If they want a Bible, cool. They’re always walking, so we’re going to serve them lunch.”
Kohs would also like to get involved with Central Park activities and plans to do worship in the park in August. He is considering reviving an FBC practice of a Wednesday night service. Redemption’s kids’ ministry continues, as does Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on Friday nights.
People are already stopping in to see the space, including some, such as couples married there, who have memories tied to the building.
“I’m actually praying that people just come to check out the building and then they get sucked in,” Kohs says. “They hear the word of God preached and their heart is transformed because they met Jesus or their heart was renewed with the gospel and they’re like, ‘Well I haven’t been in church for 20 years but I think I’m going to start coming.’ We’re unashamedly going to use the building to our advantage.”
Grand opening in September
Redemption held its first service in the new building July 17. Kohs preached from Hebrews 12 on running the race and continuing the legacy of FBC.
The congregation is planning a grand opening celebration Sept. 11, which coincides with Redemption’s fourth birthday. The church launched on Sept. 9, 2018. Redemption has personally invited the 11 remaining members of FBC to attend.
“We’re going to bring them up on the stage, and we’re going to pray for them,” Kohs says.
Redemption will host the Central District Conference convention in November, which is the target completion date for renovations.
“I hope the Central District conference is a celebration for the district because Redemption’s coming off subsidy,” Kohs says. “We don’t need money from the district anymore because our church is growing enough. You’ve supported redemption for three and a half years and now we have a building in the heart of downtown.”
More than space to spread out, the new space gives opportunity for Redemption to grow.
“We want lives transformed with the gospel, and if God does that, that’s amazing,” Kohs says. “It’s not so (we) have more elbow room, it’s so we can see more people meet Jesus.”
Janae Rempel is the Christian Leader associate editor. She joined the CL staff in September 2017 with six years of experience as a professional journalist. Rempel is an award-winning writer, having received three 2016 Kansas Press Association Awards of Excellence and an Evangelical Press Association Higher Goals award in 2022. Rempel graduated from Tabor College in 2010 with a bachelor of arts in Communications/Journalism and Biblical/Religious Studies. She attends Hillsboro MB Church.