The Christian Reformed Church began with the 1857 secession of about half the congregation from Second Reformed Church to create their own more Reformed, less evangelical church.
First Christian Reformed Church was organized on March 19, 1857 by members seceding from Second Reformed Church due to the work of Gijsbert Haan. At the heart of the controversy was the use of Richard Baxter's Call to the Unconverted, a Puritan devotional very popular in evangelical circles that Haan and others like him considered "not in accord with the Reformed faith". These like-minded individuals met separately from Second Reformed for a year before prevailing upon Rev. H. G. Klyn to join them in secession from the Reformed Church on January 27, 1857, and the group took about half the congregation with it.
Specific objections of the seceders included:
- The use of hymns in worship instead of only psalms.
- The use of choirs in worship.
- Use of Union Sunday School books, which were not rooted in Reformed doctrine.
- Admission of any evangelical Christian to communion, not just those of the Reformed faith.
- Allowing ministers of other evangelical denominations to preach.
Representatives of the Grand Rapids, Graafschap, Polkton, Vriesland, and Noordeloos congregations organized as the Classis of Michigan on April 29, 1857, the birthdate of the Christian Reformed denomination.
The city of Grand Rapids expanded its borders in 1857. On the north, it was bounded by Richmond and Sweet, on the east by Fuller, on the south by Hall, and on the west by the Grand River and Garfield. The 1860 U.S. Census showed Grand Rapids with a population of 8,085, of whom 867 were Dutch-born. While the urban population had tripled in a decade, there were 4.5 times as many Dutch-born. (This takes no account of the American-born children of these immigrants.)
Later in the year, Rev. Klyn repented of his schismatic actions and returned to the Reformed Church, leaving the new congregation without a pastor until Rev. William H. Van Leeuwen arrived in 1863. The Spring Street building was erected in 1867 with seating for 1,300, which was reduced to 1,200 when an organ was installed in 1887. A spire was added in 1888. According to Baxter's History of Grand Rapids, even with this capacity, the church held three Sunday services, and by 1875 it began to develop new congregations in outlying areas - such as East Street, Jenisonville, Kelloggsville, and Alpine Avenue - where clusters of its members were already located.
As with many churches near the old Calvin College Franklin Street campus, membership declined during the 1966-73 period as the college slowly relocated to its current location on the edge of the city.
- Spring Street, 1857-67
- Commerce Street, 1867-1912
- Bates Street, informally, 1912-present
- First, 1912-present
LocationsEditFirst CRC separated from Second Reformed in 1857 and built its first sanctuary on Spring Street SW (now the northwest corner of Ionia and Weston, 1 on map), where it remained until 1867. The congregation located at 58 Commerce Ave. SW (2) from 1867 to 1912, moving to 650 Bates St. SE in 1912, where it remains to this day.
First Reformed was at the corner of Michigan and Ottawa (A) from 1842 to 1872, then Division between Pearl and Lyon (B), from 1872 until 1891. Its third location was 164 Fountain Street NE (D), where it remained until it merged with Second (C) to form Central Reformed (E) in 1918.
- Hendrik Geert Klyn, 1857-58
- Wilhelmus Hein Van Leeuwen, 1863-67
- Roelof Duiker, 1867-72
- Gerrit E. Boer, 1873-76
- John (Jan) Kremer, 1877-79
- Jan Hindrik Vos, 1881-1900
- Tiede Vander Ark, 1900-05
- Gerrit Johannes Haan, 1906-08
- Peter Ekster, 1908-18
- Edward J. Tanis, 1919-27
- David Douwe Bonnema, 1927-41
- Edward F. Visser , 1942-51
- William Van Rees, 1951-60
- Marvin Beelen, 1961-71
- Charles Terpstra, 1970-82
- Donald Jack Klop, 1973-80
- Rodney Eugene Alexander, 1982-84
- Daniel Gilbert Bos, 1983-84
- Morris N. Greidanus, 1985-2002
- William De Vries, 2003-11
- East Street (now Eastern Avenue), begun 1876, organized 1879
- Alpine Avenue, 1881-1992
- Fourth (now LaGrave Avenue), 1887 - first English speaking congregation
- Fifth Ave. (later Franklin Street), 1887-1967
- Grace, 1962, cosponsored with Neland Ave.
The Christian Reformed denomination did not collect annual membership statistics until 1881, when it published data for the previous year. Total membership peaked at about 1,800 and was nearly cut by half when first launched two daughter congregations in 1887.
During the early 20th century, while Beckwith Hills (then known as Coldbrook), Eastern Avenue, Alpine Avenue, LaGrave Avenue, Fifth Avenue (later Franklin Street), West Leonard, Oakdale Park, Grandville Avenue, Broadway (now Westview), and Dennis Avenue (now Mayfair) had solid, consistent growth, First's membership took some major dips.
Still, through much of this period First was a very large congregation, with 800-1,000 members, only falling into decline in the turbulent 1960s. Professing membership didn't reach its peak until the early-to-mid 1960s, after which it went into serious decline as the composition of the neighborhood went through significant changes.
Eastern Avenue, Sherman Street, and First are geographically close and saw their neighborhoods change from predominantly white to mostly minority during the 60s and 70s. During this time, many members of these congregations moved, some commuting to their old church, others transferring membership to nearer congregations.
As neighborhoods become increasingly mixed, congregations grow out of fit with their environment, unless steps are taken to embrace the change. While steps were taken to promote civil rights, the inner city riots scared a lot of people, both within and outside of the church.
First declined in membership until the mid-70s, dropping to 620 members, then saw a membership increase to 657 members in 1979. Since then the congregation has seen a slow, steady decline in membership, youth ratio, and birth rate. This plus a very high death rate seems to put First in the danger category.
Overall Membership DataEdit
Green (lower) line shows membership in families; blue (middle), professing members; red (top), total members; and magenta (thin), non-professing members. Note effect of forming daughter congregations in 1881 and 1887.
Red line shows nonprofessing members as a percentage of total membership.
Five Year Growth RateEdit
Red line shows five year growth rate. A five year growth rate between 10% and -10% is considered stable; greater than 10% indicates a growing congregation; one below -10% indicates a church in decline. This makes no allowance for daughter churches.
Data source: Yearbooks of the Christian Reformed Church. Dates are year prior to publication date since data is gathered at the end of one year and published in the next.
- History of the City of Grand Rapids, Michigan , Albert Baxter, 1891. Especially the section on Spring Street Christian Reformed Church