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In 1995, Rob Ketterling and his wife Becca started a Bible study with 13 people in their home. Feeling impressed to start a church, they heavily invested from their own resources, with a goal of 1,000 members in their lifetime.
Within a decade they had met the objective. River Valley Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota, with Ketterling as lead pastor, is now on Outreach magazine's latest list of fastest-growing (47th) and largest (75th) churches in the U.S.
The multisite church draws over 7,500 in attendance at its 18 weekend services across eight Minnesota campuses.
Sermons are broadcast via satellite and each site has its own campus and youth pastor, children's ministry leader, and worship team that minister to the local congregation.
From its inception, Ketterling says the heart of River Valley has been to reach children and lost people.
"Our mentality has always been who isn't here that God wants us to reach and who's here that we need to equip to reach those that are not yet here," he says.
Their philosophy of outreach centers on Matthew 5:16, and is designed to honor and glorify God. Good works, such as cleaning parks, delivering cookies, and taking care of area schools, open doors for people to inquire about faith, Ketterling says.
"Talk about what God's done in your life at church and through your relationship with Him to the point that people want to come and see," he says.
Coupled with this call to reach the lost in the local community is a vision to reach people in other lands.
Church finances are structured around this vision with 10 percent of the general budget going to missions, both in the U.S. and around the world. Last year's giving enabled the church to give a little over $1 million dollars to missions.
Millions of dollars have also gone to Kingdom Builders, through which church members give over and above their tithe to support 200 missionaries a month and for external projects that connect with the overall vision.
Not content just to give, Ketterling has a vision to plant 24 domestic campuses within the U.S. -- 12 outside Minnesota and 12 inside Minnesota -- and two dozen campuses internationally. The international campuses will have a close affiliation with River Valley, which will provide initial funding and direction.
One of the church plants will be in an undisclosed country affiliated with Live Dead, of which Ketterling serves on the board.
River Valley hosted a Live Dead conference last year and supports the effort financially. Live Dead is part of the vision Assemblies of God World Missions has for Africa, the Arab world, India, Iran, and Central Eurasia. The basic concept is to pioneer church movements in teams, says Greg Mundis, AGWM executive director.
Key to going into other countries, Ketterling says, is finding a local church to mother and assist.
"We want to be the nutrients and everything they need to help them grow bigger, healthier, and faster than they could have done on their own," Ketterling says. "We realize that we're helpers to what God's doing around the world."
Mundis notes the philosophy of working with the indigenous church is one of the foundational missiological principles of AGWM.
"We try to plant the seed of the gospel free from cultural biases so the seed that is planted will find residence in the soil where it is and grow in an environment that will let it grow," Mundis says.
Seeds are being planted in the hearts of youth at River Valley as well. Every other summer the church fully finances mission trips for students who are between their junior and senior year in high school. Next summer, River Valley will commission and send approximately 200 students to the mission field.
Mundis says meeting the needs of the local community as well as the global community has found a real residence through the work and the leadership of Ketterling and his pastoral team.
"We're deeply grateful for churches that have this kind of passion and vision," Mundis says. "It's their passion for the Lord, it's their passion for the lost, and it's finding expression where they are."
Not only are those from River Valley reaching their local community, Mundis says, but they also have a biblical world view of reaching out beyond their borders and understanding that they can partner with AGWM to make their efforts sustainable, efficient, and long-lasting.
Looking back to when he first planted the church, Ketterling says he dreams big now. His latest vision is to send 500 members of his congregation who will give at least one year of their life to missions abroad. Nearly 100 have already signed up and completed at least one year.
"Most people dream small because it's safer and safer doesn't require to get God involved or your congregation," says Ketterling, who is an Influences Resources author. "We try to dream big enough dreams that everybody in the congregation is needed and we need God to show up. I think that makes God happier when we dream bigger visions."
Pictured: Becca and Rob Ketterling