We have updated our Privacy Policy to provide you a better online experience.

From Small Beginnings

Rural Minnesota church grows from a handful to hundreds.

Located in a blue-collar resort town about 80 miles northwest of Minneapolis, River of Life Church of Cold Spring launched with just six people, huddled in a hotel room with space for a dozen.

When the subject of turnouts came up at a sectional meeting, Pastor Dennis Curran hesitated to reveal the full story about the lack of attendees. 

“I told them the room was half full and if it gets any fuller I’d have to find a new room to meet,” Curran jokes about River of Life’s modest beginnings in 1993.

Since then, the multisite congregation has grown into the largest outside of the baker’s dozen of Catholic churches located in a 10-mile radius. Averaging more than 600 on Sundays, last fall the Assemblies of God church kicked off the third phase of a long-term building campaign. Its goal is to move from its 450-seat sanctuary into one that will accommodate 750 people — in a town of 4,025.

In addition to its main campus, River of Life has a second facility in nearby Annandale. Over the years, the church has helped plant five other congregations in the region.

However, the numbers that most excite Curran and long-time youth pastor Kirby St. John are conversions. Last year the church recorded nearly 300 salvation decisions for Christ, more than 100 of them teenagers.

“We pretty much see someone saved every week,” says Curran, a North Central University graduate. “A few of our new people who are getting saved are over 60. I’ve never seen that before. One of the elderly couple’s kids were shocked they even came to church, and were more shocked they made a commitment.”

“It’s fun to see people change and connect with God for the first time,” says St. John, who recently witnessed 30 young people accept Christ as Savior at the youth group’s weekly Wednesday night worship service. The converts included one of the hockey players St. John coaches.

“The most fun for me is to hang out with people who aren’t from our church,” St. John says. “That keeps me focused on why we do what we do.”

Arriving 23 years ago with considerable resistance in a heavily Catholic community, Curran tried to build bridges by getting involved with local residents. That included coaching a sixth- and seventh-grade hockey team for five years.

St. John has coached a trio of youth teams for the past 17 years, most recently a high school boy’s team composed of students from five different regional high schools.

The church has established a reputation for caring through such projects as a weekly backpack ministry that provides emergency food for up to 100 children per weekend.

A trio of annual Christmas productions raises as much as $10,000 a year. The money is given to such charitable causes as helping a family whose home was destroyed by fire or one facing steep medical bills because of a child’s cancer.

“We’re here as a help,” says Curran, whose Irish Catholic background helped pave the way for River of Life’s acceptance. “We’re not in competition with anybody.”

The pastor credits the amazing growth to the church’s emphasis on intercession and financial sacrifice.

With an annual budget of about $1.3 million, River of Life gives 20 percent to mission causes. The youth group has gives up to $85,000 annually to Speed the Light.

“We believe the passion our people have for prayer and missions has opened the door to supernatural experiences,” Curran says.


Kenneth C. Walker

Kenneth C. Walker is a freelance writer, co-author, and book editor from Huntington, West Virginia. He has more than 4,500 article bylines and has written, edited, or contributed to more than 90 books.