Eagle Brook Church is currently the largest church in the state and is ranked the 11th largest in the country, according to Outreach Magazine. Statistics like size, big donations and new buildings often get the public’s attention; however, at the church’s foundation is a group of Christians from White Bear Lake who began by hosting Sunday School services in a White Bear Lake home and, over the years, followed their call to make room for more.
Eagle Brook, formerly First Baptist Church of White Bear Lake, was founded in 1948 by Sam and Ethel Hane, and from 1958, was in downtown White Bear in the building that currently houses the Lakeshore Players Theatre. As the church grew, they purchased 20 acres on the site at Buffalo Street and Highway 61, and dedicated the new building in 1972. Over the years the church added services and built several additions.
“The people of First Baptist Church of White Bear Lake always had a desire to reach this community. It was one of the largest churches in White Bear Lake even before Bob [Merritt],” says Scott Anderson, executive pastor. In 1991, Merritt joined the church as the lead pastor, and under his leadership the church of 350 to 400 people began to have exponential growth. “When Bob came, there was a convergence of that heart, his unique ability to communicate and his dreams for how we might reach this community by removing barriers for people to come to church.”
One of the barriers was having “Baptist” in the church name, due to the assumptions tied to it. The church was renamed Eagle Brook in 1995, and over time, they updated their décor, and added a bookstore and coffee bar to create a more inviting environment for people from both a church and non-church background. They also began to shift their style of worship music from organs and hymns to contemporary Christian music.
“If it wasn’t for some brave people in the early 1990s who said, ‘Yeah, we can change that, I guess’—if it weren’t for them, this church wouldn’t be here today. It wouldn’t be what it is today,” says Anderson.
In 2005, the church relocated to a new building on 60 acres in Lino Lakes. “Attendance went from 5,500 to 8,000 in about two weeks,” says Anderson. Six weeks after Lino Lakes opened, the White Bear Lake building was reopened to provide more people with opportunities to attend a service. “And that’s how we became multi-site. We became multi-site because we just had more people then we had room for,” he adds.
Today, Eagle Brook has 200 staff members (a combination of full and part time) and six campuses: White Bear, Lino Lakes, Spring Lake Park, Coon Rapids, Woodbury and Blaine.
“We’ve always grown out of need and based on where currently people are coming from,” says Anderson. “We’re hoping to begin construction this spring in Anoka and probably have it open in March 2017. We know how we grow ,and so our plan includes probably two more campuses to effectively have a campus within a 20-minute ride anywhere within the Twin Cities.”
Pastor Bob still preaches live from Lino Lakes each weekend, and the service is simulcast on a live delay to the other campuses who watch on screen. Technology is a huge part of the church, including an Eagle Brook app to download message notes and text giving for weekly tithes and offerings. Each campus has a production manager and audio, video and lighting engineers, as well as a team of volunteers to make services happen across the Twin Cities. Attendees are encouraged to connect with others through serving or being part of a small group.
“As I think about the core of Eagle Brook Church, it is still White Bear Lake. And I know that doesn’t make sense because we have 2,930 people who come to the White Bear Lake campus and 21,158 people who come to our church,” Anderson says. “They are in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s now, and they love the mission of this church. They are still praying for our staff, loving our mission, and encouraging Bob and me on a regular basis. It’s really special.”
Both “eagle” and “brook” have strong ties to scripture in Isaiah 40:31 and Psalm 42:1. They also refer to nearby Bald Eagle Lake and the small brook that is across the highway from the property lines of the White Bear Lake location.