- Associated Press - Saturday, May 20, 2017

STREETER, N.D. (AP) - A growing number of kids don’t have a minute for church, but a Streeter couple hopes they have five minutes for a technology church, instead.

The Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/2qwT3uJ ) reports that John and Hannah Erbele are founders of 5MinChurch, a free download app for phones or smart Apple TVs, so young people and others can experience God and the Bible, blogs, sermons and songs on their favorite device.

John Erbele, 43, has family roots in the Streeter area and a background in traditional North American Evangelical ministry. Hannah Erbele, 41, a former hair-clothing stylist with media connections and book author from California, is a pastor for their tech church.

They created the app in 2014 and claim it now has more 12,000 users and growing.

“I believe, humbly, that in five years we’ll be the largest individual church in the world,” John Erbele said. “We are now the 40th largest church in the country.”

The premise started with idea that the typical church - the brick and mortar, the minister, the congregation and the offering basket - is as good as gone.

“Sixty percent of millennials are hostile to church and believe that church is a dangerous institution. Churches are dying, and they can’t afford to keep the lights on. We’re the last generation that’s even giving a little. The baby boomers, people aged 60 and older, still give to churches, but, once we lose the boomers, churches will be closing like you wouldn’t believe,” John Erbele said.

He looks at Streeter, with its three churches and a population of 125.

“How long can they keep going?” he asked.

The Erbeles continually upload new content, videos of sermons and blogs, recordings of original music and entertainment-based interviews with Bible-believing celebrities under a 5MCE! tab. There’s also a “Get Help” tab where people can put in prayer requests and a “You Share” tab for personal stories that may eventually, through the app, become a format for interaction. It’s mobile, so uploads can be done from anywhere, including their base in Beverly Hills, California.

“Our ultimate goal is to reach millennials,” Hannah Erbele said. “Why spend all our time and money trying to get people to come to church, when we live with this thing (phone) on the end of our hands. They could be at Starbucks with this and have a little quiet time together.”

They also promote the small church concept, where a few people gather in a home as in earlier Christian times, tune in to the app and have their own faith-based interactions.

The Erbeles are part of a small church in Tappen, where Curtis Rangeloff opens his home on Sunday mornings to about a dozen or so people. Rangeloff says he did so when a newly formed Recharge Church in Streeter split off with John Erbele over disagreement on the technology emphasis and his divorce and remarriage.

That church, with John Erbele’s “come-as-you-are, rock’n’roll” approach was really drawing people, especially young people, Rangeloff said.

“Christians can judge people more than anybody. They’re so brutal on that,” said Rangeloff, who described John Erbele is one of the most gifted people he knows, musically and in his messages and illustrations. “You won’t fall asleep during his sermons.”

Rangeloff said he’s an old-school flip phone kind of guy and doesn’t have the 5MinChurch app, though they go through it and answer all the prayer requests every Sunday at their small church gatherings. He thinks of it as something kids and others can connect to for a short little message throughout the day and week.

“Kids don’t come to church anymore. This is a way they can be reached out to every day. I believe it’s good, but I’d never tell anyone to give up church,” he said.

Rev. Daryl Thompson supervises the Northern Plains District of the Evangelical Free Church of America. He said the claim that churches are dying is spot on and that North American churches are in a learning curve to learn their way back to relevancy.

But the church itself shouldn’t be thrown away in the process because it’s ground zero for what really matters, he says.

“If we isolate and remove ourselves, we lose something that is irreplaceable - the blessing of each other. Social media is no substitute for being in a relationship and experiencing the spiritual aspect together,” he said.

John Erbele agrees that the human connection is vital and wants the small group concept to flourish.

“We still need the dimensional connection of 5MinChuch, but people can start their own group. We support life-giving churches that we feel fit our theology and vision, that are Bible-based. It’s about people loving people. We don’t discriminate,” he said.

The Erbeles say one reason why people from all 50 states and nine countries so far are downloading the 5MinChurch app is they can experience a Christian message with none of that judgment that Rangeloff talks about. People who take part can look however they want, be whoever they are, live however they do and it’s nobody’s business but theirs and God’s, John Erbele said.

“It takes the stigma of going to church away; churches can be so personality driven,” he said. “We’re all sinners; there’s no room to judge anybody.”

And John Erbele has his own sin to reconcile. In 2009, he was arrested in a Minneapolis, Minn., prostitution sting, after agreeing to sex with an undercover agent. He pleaded guilty, served a year’s probation and the offense was removed from his record.

He eventually moved to Streeter, where his dad lived, divorced, a single dad of three and in 2015 married Hannah Andrusky, whom he’d known 20 years earlier. She’d written a book “Living the Invisible Disability” about a brain injury she’d suffered, and its aftermath, including suicidal episodes, a DUI charge and weaning herself from anti-depressants.

“I was here in Streeter struggling and she was in California struggling, too, and we connected, talking mostly. In essence, this 5 Minute Church came out of struggle, pain and failure. I lost everything,” he said. “It’s a comeback story.”

The public charges, publicity and the fall from grace in the church community were a hard journey through failure and redemption, he said.

“It’s made me a better man, husband, father and pastor.”

“No sin is different than the other,” Hannah Erbele said. “We wouldn’t wish what we’ve been through on our worst enemy, but we wouldn’t trade it for the world, either. It’s made us who we are. God’s grace and mercy is new every morning.”

The Erbeles say they minister through emails and social media, available 24 hours a day, paying special attention to anyone who expresses suicidal tendencies. Their office fills the front porch of an older home on a corner lot that he bought for $11,000 when he moved to town.

Rangeloff says he tithes 10 percent - not all to the 5MinChurch - and says the tech church is supported with online contributions, though he’s not familiar with the financials.

The couple says one benefit of a tech church is the lack of a big expense.

“It’s a church without walls. We’re not invested in a building, so we can invest in people,” Hannah Erbele.

They’ve also developed and promote a mental health supplement from locally grown flax and turmeric and said the overall income does support a “family here in North Dakota.”


Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide