ELK RIVER, Minn. (WCCO) — Manipulation, brain washing and greed. For months, they have been the allegations mounting against a large suburban church.
WCCO has learned the organization that oversees Baptist churches in Minnesota, the Minnesota Iowa Baptist Conference is investigating complaints against The Crossing in Elk River.
For the first time, the pastor of The Crossing, Eric Dykstra, talks about the controversy. He said he’s misunderstood.
It sounds like a concert in Elk River and it’s exactly how the church wants it. Dykstra wants to be different.
Dykstra has spent the last 11 years in Minnesota. First, as a youth pastor at Grace Fellowship in Brooklyn Park. He started his own church seven years ago, when he and his wife, Kelly were asked to plant their own church in Elk River.
“I knew when our pastor approached us and told us he thought we should go and start a church. I knew it was the beginning of something really exciting and exhausting,” Kelly Dykstra said.
At first, there were 40 members. Today there are more than 2,000 along with three satellite locations.
“The average church in America is doing one to three baptisms a year. And we did 547 baptisms last year,” Dykstra said.
It is a trajectory that most churches will never experience.
Randy and Kim Quick were members of The Crossing for years, along with Jen Haag and Woody Manias.
“It was very contemporary. It had an edginess about it that was very refreshing,” Manias said.
Last spring they started to leave when they say something changed.
Whatever happened at The Crossing has left their faith bruised and left them feeling broken.
“If I can just stop one person from hurting as much as I do it will be worth it,” Jen Haag said.
They are just five former members of The Crossing who are part of a support group who have left the church. There have been more than 100 in the last few months.
“It became about numbers and it became about money. Absolutely about money,” Kim Quick said.
Last spring, the church launched what it calls The Code of the Samurai, with a goal to get a two-year commitment from members to raise millions to makeover the Elk River location and eventually open 200 Crossing campuses.
For weeks, there were sermons about giving above and beyond.
“We cashed in our 401(k). The whole thing is coming to the church,” the pastor said in one sermon.
After telling members of his own generous gift and raising three million dollars, Dykstra bought a new house on the river.
WCCO asked Dykstra about the purchase.
“We switched houses mostly because where we presently live 2,000-plus people knew exactly where we lived and every morning on the drive we would have people drive by, honk the horn, every single day,” Dykstra said.
“We had people stopping over at the house constantly to the point where I actually had less peace at my house than I did at the work place,” he added.
“At the very least, after your big give it’s bad form to, before you even break ground on a new building, to go buy a house and truck first,” Randy Quick said.
The Quick’s, who started a blog about their experience at the church, were members of The Crossing for more than two years. They were dedicated volunteers and small group leaders. They describe a tightly choreographed service at The Crossing. They say volunteers are told where to sit to stir up the crowd — laughing and clapping at just the right times.
The church said that’s not true, that the response is real.
Woody Manias grew tired of what he calls the constant pressure by Dykstra to get new people in the door.
“He said ‘Are you going to bring somebody? I’m not here for you. I’m here for them’ and he pointed outside. I’m sitting in my seat … and something inside of me just went ‘That’s not right,'” Manias said.
There are also questions about just what Dykstra is preaching.
This summer, Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian Radio visited Elk River. Rosebrough challenges his listeners to think critically about church teachings.
After analyzing more than 20 of Dykstra’s sermons, Rosebrough calls him a Bible Twister. In a phone interview, Rosebrough said he’s never seen a pastor put so much pressure on his members to give such big amounts of money.
“I’ve only in my 25 years of studying religious predators, seen religious predators talk like this,” Rosebrough said.
Dykstra said that’s not at all close to the truth.
“I’m not making anything up. You can read the passages for yourself. I tell people to take notes every week. They can go back later on and see if I’m smoking crack. They’ll find out I’m not,” he said.
Dykstra said he doesn’t understand all of the fallout, believing people are suspect over anything that’s different.
When WCCO visited a Sunday service, there were a couple hundred people in the audience clearly moved by the message. Members are even told they can take money out of the offering each week if they need it.
Jeff Bergman has been going to The Crossing for years.
“You can hear a lot of things and people like to talk negativity but if you show up and see the life change. The reason why I like coming back to The Crossing is this is the only place where I’ve seen the true life change in such huge numbers,” Bergman said.
The Crossing is ready to distance itself from all the questions.
“I’ve been misunderstood and misquoted,” Dykstra said.
Unlike some denominations, there is a lot of autonomy that goes along with Baptist churches, so pastors are able to implement their own plans.
While, Dykstra doesn’t have a board or an organization that holds him accountable, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Iowa Baptist Conference told WCCO they are “in dialogue with the church and working with folks on both sides.”
While it’s very rare for the conference to distance themselves from a church, it’s not out of the question.
A pastor from Dykstra’s former church, Grace Fellowship told WCCO “from this vantage point it looks messy. We are praying for both sides.”
WCCO has learned that there is a board that is responsible for the church budget and to hold Dykstra accountable in all areas. It is composed of two couples from within the church and a pastor from another church.