A wealthy financial industry executive has donated over $17 million to a Minnesota megachurch to help the congregation pay off the mortgage for a campus that was built over 10 years ago.
Pastor Bob Merritt of Eagle Brook Church, which has over 21,000 weekly worshipers and six locations across the Twin Cities area, announced to his congregation last month that he was blessed to receive notice that the mortgage for the Eagle Brook campus in Lino Lakes was officially paid off, thanks one unnamed donor who paid off the final $17 million of the mortgage over the span of four years.
After Eagle Brook opened its Lino Lakes campus in December of 2005, the church fell into millions of dollars in debt. In an attempt to help the church pay off the mortgage for the new campus, Merritt started a funding campaign years ago and called on donors to help foot the bill for the church.
Merritt explained to his congregation back in December that four years ago he met for lunch in Minneapolis with a wealthy financial services executive in hopes of getting him to contribute to the campaign. Instead of making just a contribution to the campaign, the donor told Merritt that he would simply pay off the entire debt for the church.
“I began my pitch and about halfway through he interrupted me. I thought I heard him say ‘Bob, forget about that. I think I am going to pay the debt,'” Merritt recalled. “I didn’t know if I had heard him correctly because there was noise in the restaurant and I said, ‘What did you say?’ He said, ‘I am going to pay off the Lino Lakes debt. What is it, $17 million or so? I am going to take care of that.'”
“My jaw dropped. People have said things like that to me before. I was guarded,” Merritt added. “That was four years ago. I don’t know how to tell all of you this. This is fairly emotional for me, but as of this weekend, on the 10th anniversary of Lino Lakes campus, this individual and his wife sent the final check for $1.7 million and today, Lino Lakes is completely debt free. It’s unbelievable — 15 years early, debt free.”
Along with the check for $1.7 million, the donor sent Merritt a letter, which he read aloud to his congregation.
“Why did I do it? I wanted to honor God for the many blessings he has bestowed on my life,” the man’s letter stated, as quoted by Merritt. “Giving to this church seemed an appropriate way to honor God. My wife and I love the way Eagle Brook has transformed so many lives in such deeply fundamental ways. Our devotion to God and Eagle Brook has become the bedrock of our marriage and our life.”
One of the reasons that the man felt compelled to pay the remaining $17 million left on the mortgage was because he considered it to be “sacrificial giving” and added that his palms were sweating when he committed to pay off the mortgage.
“The financial blessings God has given me has enabled me to help people who need it,” the man’s letter states. “When they ask me how they can repay me, I tell them to pay it forward, to help somebody else who can’t repay them. With this letter, I am asking the great people of Eagle Brook to pay it forward.”
“To the people of Eagle Brook, please follow my lead. Step out in faith,” the letter continued. “If you are giving to church today, please increase it a lot. Make your palms sweat. If you are not giving today, please start. Developing the habit of giving will reach other people like God has reached you.”
According to Outreach magazine, Eagle Brook’s 21,000-plus weekly worshipers made it the 11th largest megachurch in the U.S. in 2015.
“My take on this is to be very grateful,” Andy Peterson, who has been a member of the church since 2008, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “The biggest thank you we can give a person like that is to have a ripple effect in the whole community. He is challenging us to pay it forward.”