Rock River Church Undergoes Revitalization
A small Assemblies of God church in Minnesota that has long been stagnant is "seeing newness of life each week." The expansion is thanks to the new leadership from a couple who have led the congregation through a major revamp and revitalization using creativity and innovation.
Started in 1954 as Assemblies of God Church and later renamed First Assembly of God, the church in Luverne had seen years of minimal growth with a weekly attendance of approximately 20 people.
However, the church was renamed, again, as Rock River Community Church after pastors Bob and Annette Junak took over in 2021. The Junaks have been credited for leading the effort to turn things around and the church now draws nearly 100 weekly worshipers.
The church in Luverne, which has a population of approximately 5,000, had been "stuck for a number of years," according to AG Minnesota District Superintendent Jim Filbeck.
Former Minnesota District Superintendent Clarence St. John was appointed as the interim pastor after the elderly pastor of the church retired.
After successfully dealing with issues that needed to be addressed at the church, St. John was contacted by the Junaks about leading the congregation. At the time, Annette was the credentialing coordinator working with Filbeck.
"When Bob and Annette interviewed with the search committee, he told them if he was hired that he would make a ton of changes," Filbeck recalls. "The committee was open to this. For the last two years, they have made many changes, including the name of the church."
The couple took down all wall coverings, pictures, and trinkets as well as repainted all the walls. The stage is black and now has new lights, a new sound board, and a smoke machine.
"I will tell you that not every church would have allowed this to happen," Filbeck explains. "There have been a couple of families who left out of frustration with so much change. However, the church is seeing newness of life each week.
"Why did the people not get mad or kick them out?" he asks. "Because people were getting saved every week. Baptisms started happening. They just baptized seven more people on a recent Sunday. New people walk in every week. More chairs were added weekly. Bob and Annette built an area for kids. They created a warm atmosphere as you walk in with greeters and coffee, and so much more."
Bob Junak, 56, says their vision was "to identify with the local community."
"What better way than to take advantage of the name Rock River, which flows through Luverne," he adds. "Another contributing factor was the church did not have a website, which we feel is very crucial these days as everyone goes to the web for information.”
Annette, also 56, notes that she wouldn’t call what they've done "creative innovations." The Junaks came to the church in March 2021 from Minneapolis, located more than 200 miles from Luverne.
"What we have done is taken urban-style ministry and brought it to rural living," she explains. "We do our best to create energy from the moment you get out of your car by having music outside the church in the entry lobby and auditorium.
"The energy continues during the service by quick and calculated transitions between worship, welcome, prayer, offering, and any announcements," Annette adds.
Rock River's branding has been recognized in the community and is a contributing factor to its growth.
Our 'church merch' has almost been overwhelming," Junak explains. "It’s crazy, but people who don’t attend our church have purchased items. Our branding is super cool, very complex, but looks simple and clean. Our church campfire-style coffee mug looks great, which we give to first-time guests, and we supply the area chamber with one to place in each welcome bag when someone moves into town.”
"Because of our branding and our heart for our community, I was asked to be on the Luverne Chamber board to assist in marketing our community for tourism," he adds. "They were impressed with how fast we became known in our area and thought I would be a good addition. We give glory to God for the favor He has given us in the church and the community."
Stan and Karen Van Wettering were part of a 4,000-member church located about 30 miles from Luverne, but they found themselves "drifting" during the global pandemic when no in-person services were available.
The couple's son and daughter-in-law then started offering to pick them up to attend Rock River.
"Never in a million years did we think we could find a church that was so full of community near us," Stan Van Wettering, 64, says. "We feel that all of our church experiences have led us to this church family. There is a sense of closeness we've never felt at any other church.
Karen, 59, adds, "We have been able to grow our faith and contribute in a way we have never been able to at any other church. God knew what he was doing when He led us here."
Mira and Ross Steensma were attracted to Rock River for many reasons.
"Pastor Bob and Annette were welcoming, and really put forth a vision for the church from the beginning," Ross Steensma, 28, says. "Their vision focused on bringing in the younger generation to keep the church alive, while still keeping the core roots and values in place for the older generations."
Mira, 25, adds, "The name Rock River Community Church not only ties into our community by using our local Rock River, but using the word community shows we want to be a part of the community. We as a church are involved in various community events like parades, Hot Dog night, the Rock County Fair, and the Christian Motorcycle Association. This stuck out to Ross and I as we wanted to be involved in our community and church."