International Falls, Minnesota



Mission Statement:


Zion Lutheran Church [Northeast Minnesota Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America] is a mid-sized church located in the heart of International Falls, Minnesota. It was started in 1912 by Norwegian Lutherans. Currently, there are 840 baptized members and 596 confirmed members. There are three other ELCA Lutheran churches in the area: First Lutheran in International Falls, Bethany Lutheran in Loman, and Littlefork Lutheran in Littlefork.

In response to action by the ELCA governing body, Bishop Thomas Aitken, NE MN Synod, challenged every congregation in the Northeastern Minnesota Synod to prepare and submit their own mission plan by 2020. Zion Lutheran began its planning in the summer of 2016 with a Mission Planning Task Force (MPTF) of 12 people. The MPTF met nearly every two weeks beginning with exploring “The 3 Great Listenings”: listening to God, listening to the community, and listening to the congregation. The MPTF brought in speakers, community resources and data to help with the listening process. Each meeting began with a relevant devotion led by Pastor Stephen Olson. Next, the MPTF used a SWOT analysis to evaluate Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. As issues were brought up, the group discussed the possibilities for action. A one-year plan and a three-year plan were created to be presented to the congregation at the annual meeting.

TASK FORCE MEMBERS: Sue Olson, Garner Wiley, Tim Gerlach, Vicki Giauque, Jan Leerssen, Mary Dahlen, Brooke Joslyn, Dawn Piekarski, John Cann, Carol Cassibo, Mandy Baron, James Stavseth, Pastor Stephen Olson

 THE WORK OF THE TASK FORCE: The task force considered the following: Vital congregations deepen the discipleship of their members, who speak openly about their faith with their friends and their neighbors. With the Holy Spirit’s gifts of hope and courage, the people in these congregations are set free in Christ to serve their neighbors and the world with joy and compassion.

The task force asked the following questions:

What is God calling this church to be and to do in the future?
How can we best respond?
What changes will help us to respond most faithfully?

The task force also changed our mission statement to include the words: ‘through Word and Sacrament’ because they more properly described who we are and how we understand our mission in International Falls, Minnesota.  The new mission statement that will become operative when the congregation accepts this document is: ‘To proclaim the joy of salvation through Word and Sacrament.’


There are many evident problems in our community and surrounding area, including: 

 Homelessness—In warmer months, there are people camping outside in tents and sleeping in their cars. In the colder months, people often “couch surf,” staying with friends and relatives for a few nights at a time. KOOTASCA and the Salvation Army help with short- term housing issues when funds are available.

Hunger—There are still people in our community who are food insecure and usage of the food shelf, Ruby’s Pantry, and the Community Café is increasing rapidly.
Dysfunctional Families—Teachers and Social Service Providers expressed a need in the community for stability, programming, social skills and day care. Our culture has shifted away from traditional families and the students are coming to school unprepared.
Chemical Dependency—Sheriff P. Hedlund explained that many of the problems in our community are the direct result of drug and alcohol abuse.
Unchurched—There are many people in our community who are not part of a faith community and haven’t given much thought to joining one.


 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’  And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. [Matthew 25:34-40 (NRSV)]



Zion has an open communion policy and serves Holy Communion at every service.
Zion has two Sunday services, at 9:30 am and 7:00 pm, and a service of Word and Sacrament at Good Samaritan Care Center on Thursdays at 10:00 am. The 9:30 am service is broadcast on radio station KSDM-104 FM. A mix of traditional and contemporary liturgies and music are used. Lay liturgists, lectors and ushers serve the worship community. Fellowship is encouraged through morning coffee time sponsored by members with proceeds going to a variety of dedicated funds.
Zion’s music program is exceptional and valued in the entire community as the sanctuary serves as a performance space for choirs, soloists, and instruments. Zion has a paid music director, a Chancel Choir, the Zion Chimes [handbells]  and the Zion Strings.

Zion’s members volunteer in feeding the hungry by participating in the Community Café, Ruby’s Pantry, filling $5 bags of groceries at Super One, using two loose change offerings/month for the Community Café and ELCA World Hunger Program.
Zion’s members serve others through the “God’s Work, Our Hands” (GWOH) community project. The Evangelism Committee takes calls requesting help and assists in various needs of individuals such as shoveling, moving, rides, cleaning up an empty lot in the downtown area, and more.
Zion’s members serve the underprivileged by making quilts, personal care kits, and rolled cloth bandages for Lutheran World Relief, Global Health Ministries, and local needs.  Members also support grieving families by providing meals following funeral services.
Zion has a cooperative ministerial partnership in the community and has participated in collaborative worship services with First Lutheran, ecumenical Lenten services with 5 area churches, and cooperative confirmation, Vacation Bible school, youth groups, and text study.

 Zion has a 20-year-old building with a new roof and siding, and a 60 year old Sunday School building with new windows. It is handicapped accessible and is well maintained. There is on street parking only, and ushers place handicapped parking signs near the entrance for Sunday morning services. In addition to worship, activities, and education, it is also used by AA, Al-Anon, Girl Scouts, and Weight Watchers. We’ve hosted community classes and the Aging Options Program.


ONE-YEAR ACTION PLAN – [Within existing Committees at Zion Lutheran]

In strengthening our current ministries, Zion will:

Worship & Music – Support worship service of Word and Sacrament at Good Samaritan with Lay Assistant to the Pastor, Joe Belanger, leading. Support and grow other nursing home/care facility ministries.  Encourage attendance at any of our three worship services using social media, word of mouth advertising, and in our bulletins. Provide Lenten services at our own church. Provide space for weekly text studies for area clergy and laity. Provide marriage services using “Prepare-Enrich” programming. Provide baptism and funeral services.
Evangelism – Grow the God’s Work Our Hands Ministry by using social media, apply for a Ruby’s Pantry grant of $500 - $800 to fund requests, continue collaborating with First Lutheran to fill $5 bags at Super One for the Food Shelf, send cards to our home-bound members, plan fellowship opportunities including social gatherings, meals and summer picnic. Encourage volunteers and strengthen numbers for GWOH.
Stewardship – Develop intentional stewardship campaign and continue stewardship throughout the year that celebrates our current ministries and develops new outreach. Emphasize how our financial strength supports our ministries. Promote and grow our “Simply Giving” program.
Education/Youth – Provide Sunday School for our youth, monthly youth activities and Confirmation, 1st communion preparation, adult bible and/or book study, and expand partnering with neighboring congregations.
Property and Management – Provide building access for AA, Al-Anon, Girl Scouts, and Weight Watcher’s groups.  Evaluate additional opportunities. Maintain building in current condition.

THREE-YEAR ACTION PLAN – [Within existing and new Committees at Zion Lutheran]

In strengthening our future ministries, Zion will:

Worship & Music – Look for ways to collaborate with other area congregations for joint worship and music opportunities. Reach out to un-churched and new people coming to town. While being respectful of our Lutheran tradition, and being reflective of contemporary society, look for ways to reach out to millennials. Look for ways to relate positively to the community.
Evangelism – Become more welcoming and inviting. Look for ways to reach out to others and invite them to worship services.
Stewardship – Match priorities to opportunities, and budget towards expanded ministry rather than shrinking ministry. Step out in faith!
Education – Maintain or grow Sunday School, Confirmation and Vacation Bible School; partner with other congregations, and develop adult spiritual growth opportunities.
Property and Management – Maintain present condition of the facility.
Mission Planning and Review Task Force [New] – Develop criteria for evaluating mission plan. Review, evaluate, and adapt current mission plan and plan for the future.
Ministry Collaboration Task Force [New] – Considering changing economic circumstances, look for ways to support the work of the kingdom. Begin discussion with other area ELCA congregations for collaborative ministry opportunities, which may include education/youth ministries, pastoral visitation, shared worship, adult education, and pulpit exchange, with the possibility of sharing some administrative functions.


To Proclaim the Joy of Salvation
Through Word and Sacrament



Zion Lutheran Church