Church Planting in Grand Rapids?!?
April 14, 2014
This coming Wednesday, April 16th, at 7pm Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church a "new, old church" will launch its first public gatherings in the heart of the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The church plant is beginning with its Wednesday evening gatherings--a time of teaching through the book of Ephesians, worship and prayer. During the fellowship time afterwards there will be an introductory, informational, meet-and-greet meeting for all who may be interested in this new Reformed church plant, located at 507 Broadway Avenue NW. If you know someone in the Grand Rapids area who needs a solid church, feel free to share this with them.
Here are some thoughts via an interview with the lead (interim) church planter, Bill VanDoodewaard:
1. The question many people might be tempted to ask is, "Does an area like Grand Rapids - a place that is seemingly saturated with evangelical Christianity - need another church?"
Some people are asking that, and some--not just hyper-Calvinists--believe it is a pointless exercise in this city. That's not the case! The Grand Rapids census metropolitan area has a population of 1.3 million. Of these approximately 35% self-identify as being affiliated with a Protestant church. This includes everything from mainlines, which are either apostate or in significant decline (Episcopalian, PCUSA, RCA, etc.), to evangelicals and the confessional Reformed, to the pockets of legalistic hyper-Calvinism that remain in the city. If we are liberally optimistic and assume all of the 35% "Protestant affiliated" are Christians, that leaves around 800,000 non-Christians in Grand Rapids and the surrounding region. This is the vast majority of the population. The reality is that a good number of the Protestant affiliated are also desperately in need of hearing the gospel.
Most think of Grand Rapids as a bastion of Dutch Reformed identity. Again, the reality is somewhat different than the image. Right now, about 20% of the population is of Dutch ancestry, 80% is not. Sadly, while the Dutch (my own heritage, if the name doesn't make it obvious) still represent a good part of the Reformed in the city, many have not done well at reaching beyond the walls of their churches. The tradition has many great strengths, but one of its weaknesses is that it tends to be a fairly insular ethnic community: Dutch Reformed family, Dutch Reformed church, Dutch Reformed schools, Dutch Reformed businesses.
But within the Dutch Reformed community, not all is well. The RCA and CRC, once strong, now face bleak futures as they increasingly embrace theological error and immorality, and pressure remaining faithful ministers and congregations to do the same. Some of these pastors are among the most encouraging and appreciative of the church planting effort. The smaller stream of hyper-Calvinism, legalistic pietism, and half-way covenant church doctrine also needs a vital evangelical Reformed witness.
Of course, there are solid evangelical and Reformed churches here, but almost all of them are in a suburban ring, outside Grand Rapids proper. The inner west-side community where our building (formerly a Latvian Catholic Church) is located has not seen an evangelical church presence for about 50 years--and only older people remember it. This was historically the Roman Catholic, non-Dutch sector of the city. Today, it is a mix of poverty, urban gentrification, and university and college campuses, including a Michigan State University medical school within walking distance of the church. There is also a growing Hispanic population nearby. By and large the heart of the city has a decidedly secular, post-Christian culture. So there's a need.
2. What is the vision for Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church?
We desire to pursue establishing a strong and faithful evangelical Presbyterian church, with Christ-centered expository preaching and rich, simple biblical worship. We desire it to be a place of faithful shepherding and warm Christian fellowship. We are passionate about confessional commitment to God's Word and share in encouragement, accountability, and mission with the wider church. We desire that this place will be a center of gospel proclamation, new birth and growing life, and ultimately of communion with the Triune God, glorifying and enjoying Him.
3. Can you tell us why you are part of the ARP as opposed to another denomination?
My wife was a key factor; she was ARP, the daughter, niece, and granddaughter of ARP pastors. I love the denomination: did a PhD in Scotland on its heritage of gospel proclamation going back to the Marrow controversy, became a student under care in the ARP, was ordained in it, and have been tremendously blessed by many of its people. I appreciate its gospel-centered character, its settled maturity as an old denomination, and its winsome warmth. The ARP has had significant struggles and challenges, and, like any denomination pursuing faithfulness to Christ, will continue to in this world. God has been very gracious to us. I am deeply thankful for its ongoing evangelical and confessional Reformed recovery from a former mainline trajectory.
4. What are some of the challenges that you face personally as a church planter and seminary professor? What advice would you have for those seeking to be church planters?
Each can be all-consuming--and aspects of each can be all-consuming. Prayerfully making strategic choices with time and energy, along with learning when to say no, are essential. God has blessed me with an excellent wife, presbytery committees, and friends who help me in these things. As far as advice for those seeking to be church planters--I am just beginning so have more to learn than say. What I will say is (1) do it Presbyterian, with real accountability and experienced mentors; and (2) in past weeks Haggai has had much to say to me: be strong and courageous; look to the Lord of hosts, he will shake, and is shaking the nations; I and my work are defiled, Christ is abundantly sufficient; love and work together with the saints, pursuing God's glory. And even if it fails by earthly standards, through Christ, it will resound to His glory.