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A dying congregation finds rebirth as a church plant


When you visit St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Rocklin, Calif., don’t look for a steeple, a manicured lawn or stained glass. Rather, drive to the edge of town, to a warehouse nestled against undeveloped land. There you will encounter a welcoming faith community where people are the mission of this innovative and traditional church.

But how does a declining Lutheran church in Sacramento end up in a converted warehouse in Rocklin? Their story is much larger than their building’s 50,000 square feet.

In 1995, a handful of mission-minded families from Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Sacramento, decided to sell their church building due to declining church attendance. They planted something new in the Roseville/Rocklin area because they saw the mission potential of the growing suburbs.

They worshiped in a store-front facility in Roseville for about 10 years, until Rev. Brad Cusson was called to shepherd the congregation in 2005. Shortly after, they decided to build new and worked with Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) in their capital campaign. “LCEF has been with us throughout the whole journey,” Cusson said.

But once they built their church in Rocklin—a beautiful 11,000-square-foot facility—they quickly outgrew it. “They say that the moment you build, you limit yourself,” Cusson reflected. “I think we experienced that. Within five years we had three services on Sunday and one on Saturday. That place became too small for us, even though we hadn’t been in it very long.”

Church leadership discussed expanding the Rocklin property, but then the opportunity to purchase a warehouse seemed to gently glide into their hands.

“(It caused) all of us to stop and say, ‘What is the church?’” explained Matt Molinari, the former Director of Christian Education, student ministry and outreach at St. Matthew. “Church is not a building. The church is people. So that growing experience, that journey that we went on together as a congregation strengthened people’s understanding of what a church should look like. We were getting back to the basics of following Jesus, making disciples.”

“Being in this space allowed us to have the space we wanted—for significantly less than what it would’ve cost us to build on our old site,” Executive Pastor of Discipleship Nathan Hausch said of the converted warehouse.

The leadership intentionally created space where both the unchurched and faithful can feel comfortable to connect in genuine community and grow toward a deeper relationship with God. Right when you walk into the glass-windowed doors, attendees step into a large sealed-concrete floor gathering space. Curated for conversation with strategically placed tables and chairs, the space is anchored by a café serving coffee.

“Church culture is a very strange culture to people,” said Cusson, who also noted the church built an indoor playground for kids. “We don’t want any barriers. We want this to be a place where people want to bring their friends, their family members.”

Rooted and innovative worship styles

The larger space allows attendees to connect in a variety of worship preferences. They designed two worship spaces: One for a more traditional liturgical practice, and the other for a more contemporary expression of worship.

“We try to just be a church that reaches out to our community. We are strongly Lutheran theologically, where we stand on the sacraments and how we practice all those things. But our goal really is to be a church that reaches our local community,” said Marco Mejia, worship arts director.

The traditional service follows the liturgy and the church calendar. They also utilize a choir and organ. On the other hand, the contemporary service is a bit more innovative while still using some portions of the liturgy.

“We pride ourselves on being a wonderful LCMS church,” Mejia said. “But at the same time, our goal is to not to be bound by what we are able to do and provide for our congregation.”

More space, more ministry

In addition to a welcoming environment and varied worship possibilities, the bigger building provides ample opportunity for ministries to develop, such as the Hope Wagon—an outreach that serves the needs of the local community with a food-truck style vehicle that functions as a ministry on wheels.

“There isn’t a forgotten area of ministry when it comes to people” said Becca Bills, director of communication and administration. “I think there’s such an ability here at St.

Matthew to see everyone and to intentionally strive to provide opportunities in ministry for such different kinds of people, different ages of people, different backgrounds.”

Investing in people and church

With the larger space acquired in partnership with LCEF, the future of St. Matthew Lutheran Church is promising. There’s vision to raise up leaders—disciples that make disciples—to launch new ministries, even to plant other churches.

“We’re going to teach (them) how to be leaders, not just within our congregation, but then also going out in the community and becoming leaders,” said Dave Clawson, long-time member and elder at St. Matthew.

St. Matthew also gives financially to ministries. They invest in ministry opportunities outside of their church by giving to district and local ministries and donating interest from LCEF investments to helping other ministries thrive.

“It’s really cool to be a part of,” said Pastor Cusson. “Now we’re, in a sense, joining the ministry, not only where we were at, but now through our investments, through every place LCEF (is) at.”

Walking by faith

The future for St. Matthew is unfolding step by step. “We’re kind of walking by faith,” Cusson said. “We’re laying the floor as we walk on it. But our dream (is) not only to have Christians discipling Christians, but to have this congregation birth or disciple other congregations around us.”

From a handful of mission-minded families in 1995, God has rebirthed a congregation that will make disciples that make disciples and plant churches that plant churches. “We’re here for the people that aren’t here yet,” said Cusson.

Only God knows what will unfold, but whatever growth takes place, LCEF will be there to help along the way.