This is our story of why we, Neil and Hannah, chose to leave the Crossing Church in Elk River, Minnesota. If you’re reading this and you attend or have attended the Crossing, chances are you have at least seen us around.
We began attending in September of 2010, during the series First and Goal. We were drawn in the by alternative feel of the church, like so many have been. The loud music, the flashy lights, the dreadlocked worship leader, and the lead pastor with ripped jeans and a visible tattoo. During our nearly six years at the church, we both occupied various serving roles. By the end of our time, Neil was on paid staff as a weekend video producer, and Hannah served on the tithe counting team. We were part of the “#chosenfamily.” We went on a staff retreat with every staff member for four days. We had thanksgiving dinner in the Dykstra’s home.
We truly loved The Crossing. We believed that they did church the way it was supposed to be done. We enthusiastically gave our money, our time, and our devotion. During the series What Christians Believe About, Hannah even got a tattoo inspired by a point in one of the talks. We truly believed the message and stood behind it. When people we knew would say something negative, we were quick to defend the church and the Dykstras. We would encourage them to come and see for themselves, even if it was just to check it out one time. We were always inviting our friends and family, to the point where Hannah was awarded for bringing the most people on Easter one year. The Crossing was our church, our home.
At the beginning of 2016, as an increasing amount of time was being expected from Neil’s part-time position, we realized that it was time to take a step back. After a year of employment, Neil resigned in early January, and offered to work until they found a replacement, or until the end of February. Hannah informed her team leader that she wanted to take a break from serving, as we were feeling burnt out and were worried about resenting The Crossing for how much time was expected of us. We wanted some time to actually attend church together as a family, something we had not been able to do in months. We resigned on what we thought were good terms, with an open invitation to consider returning to staff later.
Hannah was encouraged to continue attending, and to not take more than a two month break. Neil was also encouraged in his exit interview to continue attending. During all this, we never intended to leave for good. But by the time we had decided to take a break, we had already begun noticing a lot of red flags. A lot of things that made us uncomfortable. Our last series at The Crossing was Easter weekend 2016.
Around May, Hannah was expected to begin volunteering again. She informed her leader that we would no longer be attending The Crossing and expressed disappointment that our absence had not been noticed. She explained that it no longer felt like our church, and that too many things were changing. This conversation, which was initiated by Hannah, was the only time someone from The Crossing has expressed any concern about why she hadn’t been around. Neil only received a few impersonal text messages from people he was never close to, and a voicemail from the Elk River Campus pastor, whom we’d never met or heard of.
As mentioned before, the last time we attended The Crossing was on Easter Sunday, March 27th. It took over two months for somebody to reach out and express concern for us. Why is it that two people who were a part of The Crossing for six years, who were staff, were so easily forgotten? So easily written off? What does this mean for you, the volunteer, or just an attender? If they didn’t care about us, what’s to say they care about you? Nearly six months later, and neither of us have heard anything from the Dykstras, our pastors. We thought we were doing ministry together?
Suddenly, six years’ worth of excuses hit us like a ton of bricks. The past few months have been spent talking with each other, our friends and families, as well as other people who have been hurt by The Crossing. We began asking questions, a lot of them. We learned that we were not alone, that our story was far from uncommon. We have come to believe that we need to share our perspective.
The Gratitude Project was the series that first challenged our trust in The Crossing Church, as well as Eric and Kelly Dykstra. This series was marketed as a four-week teaching series on how to become more grateful in your life, so you could ultimately live a better life. Statistics about better marriages, better jobs, a closer relationship with God, a longer life, and greater income were among the advertised benefits that gratitude carried. Staff were encouraged to change their profile pictures to the series’ ad, invite friends, and push this series on social media. They passed out bracelets and sold t-shirts to create hype. This is typical, however, this was much greater. Each staff member was asked to write a blog. They wanted everyone excited for this series.
It became obvious in week one what the real message of this series was. Within the first two minutes of the first talk of the series, Eric Dykstra describes ungrateful people as being far from God, weak, whiners, grouchy, and miserable. He tells the audience that if they want higher incomes, they ought to be grateful. That if your kids are behaving badly, it’s because you’re not grateful. “Gratitude draws us closer to God and makes us stronger, happier, healthier people.” Gratitude makes everything better.
Then Eric defines gratitude. “Gratitude is more than an emotion, it is a desire to express appreciation in words and action.” Some other points that are made:
If you’re reading this and you went to the series, you know what the Gratitude Project was really about. The Gratitude Project Commitment was about showing your gratitude to God by giving money to The Crossing. So the way you express gratitude to God through action is by giving money. You were asked to bring a big gift, over and above your normal giving, in week four (titled “A Gratitude Gift”, and unavailable to view online), and to choose an amount higher than your regular 10% tithe to regularly give toward this project, or to begin tithing. (Very reminiscent of Purple Cow and Code Of The Samurai for those who remember.)
Do you see what’s going on here? When breathing is a miracle, and gratitude requires action, how could you not feel obligated to give money to God, to his Church, to The Crossing? This is manipulation through guilt. We are told we are under grace because Jesus paid it all. We are told that we are guilt free.
That’s just week one.
In week two, titled “Acts of Gratitude”, Eric calls people who aren’t expressing gratitude “ingrates,” which he defines as being whiny (“whiners are wieners!”), negative, entitled, demanding, and that they aren’t practicing true spirituality. He suggests that if you aren’t getting anything out of his messages, that it’s because you’re ungrateful and entitled. He says that there is a direct spiritual connection between gratitude and increase and says the more you express gratitude the more increase you will see. But he says that God cannot pour increase on an ingrate, because the ingrate wouldn’t notice it. “How you view your life when it comes to gratitude determines if you’re ever going to see increase.” If God never did anything else, it would be enough. The third and final point is completely missing from the uploaded video of this talk. Why? It says that you “increase in gratitude by habitually bringing tithes and offerings to say thank you to God”. Neil was instructed to edit this part out of the video because it’s about money. Which brings us to what we find to be one of the biggest red flags.
There are entire points of each talk during this series that were cut from the videos. It’s common knowledge among those involved in video production that if the focus of the talk is money, it will not be uploaded to the website (which they have been doing for years). This includes The Gratitude Project week four, and most recently Magical Mystery Tour week two, where tithing was the focus of the entire talk. They’ll say that this is because they don’t want to have the image of focusing on money, but aren’t they? Is that not deceit? If you don’t want the image of asking for money, why was a giving pitch added to week three of The Gratitude project when Neil was instructed to edit out any mention of money? (This is not in any other uploaded talk.)
Neil’s job duties as weekend video producer were to direct the video volunteers through the worship set and the pastor’s message. He would record and edit the services, then load the edited video onto laptops for the other campuses the next morning. On Sunday morning, he would direct another two services, and finish some editing from the night before to go to YouTube and DVD copies. In all, he would attentively see the entire service four times each weekend.
During The Gratitude Project, Neil was informed that at some point during each talk of the series, it would transition to a portion specifically speaking on giving money toward the project. This portion would be the final point of each of the weekend’s talks he directed. He was told this so he knew to edit out any reference to that final point. He was to pay attention to when the point began and ended so as to find a place to cut that part out and resume the video for the final prayer.
The average time of 20 other talks around The Gratitude Project comes to about 47 minutes. Taking the average time of the 3 videos available online from The Gratitude Project, you get a different figure. It comes out to about 36 minutes. That’s an average of 11 minutes missing from each talk.
In week three, “titled Statements of Gratitude,” more emphasis was put on on showing gratitude, and the importance of giving a valuable gift to show your appreciation. Here are a few points:
As you can see, this entire talk is so full of guilt. Jesus died for you, so how could you even consider giving below 10%? Even if you can’t afford it. And again, there is an obvious cut at the end.
Another huge red flag for us came the day of the Community Of Leaders meeting (a monthly meeting for volunteers, known as “COL”) in December, right before the final week of The Gratitude Project. Both of us received text messages the day of asking how much we would be giving to the commitment project (not IF we were giving), because they wanted to announce the amounts to COL. Why? So the total amount staff would be commiting could be announced to all the volunteers to encourage more people to join in giving. We were not offered a choice in giving to The Gratitude Project, just like we were expected to set up our tithe as automatic giving from Neil’s paycheck. (Because we were expected to lead the way in generosity.) Being new parents and still recovering from both losing our jobs during Hannah’s pregnancy, money was already tight, but we replied with an amount out of guilty obligation.
Week four, as stated before, was titled “A Gratitude Gift” and is not available online, nor are the notes. This was when everyone turned in their commitment cards and brought their big gift. They asked you to list five things you were grateful for in 2015, and to list what you are thanking God, in advance, for answering in 2016. They then ask you to give money. “I believe all I have comes from God, the Giver of gifts. I choose to express my gratitude with a gift in return.” [their emphasis] We never turned in a commitment card, but received a letter a few months later informing us we had not been meeting our commitment.
To members of the Crossing Church, or people considering attending, we urge you to consider our story. Consider that we were staff, a title that not many are offered. We ask you to take a step back and look at your church. Ask questions. Have you noticed how often they ask for money now? Or that the offering is now before the main message, before you have a chance to leave? (They’ll tell you that they moved it because it’s part of the “worship experience.”) Do you think it’s a little strange that coffee costs you money, but they don’t have Bibles available for use anymore? You’re not alone. Ask why week four of The Gratitude Project isn’t online. Ask why they cut entire points out of the talks.
We took a step back and examined the big picture. We stopped looking at the individual complaints we had and began piecing them together as a whole. We’ve come to see the subtle, systematic manipulation that The Crossing Church uses. What we’ve laid out in this post is only one small portion of our six years of memories.
This blog will serve as our personal story, yet it echoes many that are similar. We’re coming out against The Crossing Church not out of bitterness, spite, or anger. We’re coming out against The Crossing Church because enough is enough.
Don’t just take our word for it. Do some investigation of your own.