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A Statistical Survey of Grand Rapids Christian Reformed Congregations, 1970 to the Present

Written by Dan Knight  for MISS 811, Foundations in Church Growth, Calvin Theological Seminary, Craig Van Gelder, instructor. First written March 1992, revised 1996 and 1997. Copyright ©1992, 1996-2000 by Dan Knight. All rights reserved. No charge to print and share this paper.

Dedicated to my father, John Knight, who taught me to love mathematics and the church.

This was written for my first class at Calvin Seminary and was the project that got me interested in analyzing church growth patterns.

IntroductionEdit

PurposeEdit

The purpose of this research is to examine Christian Reformed church growth and decline patterns in Grand Rapids since 1970. Individual attention is given to each congregation in the city. Sources include denominational yearbooks and information received from surveyed congregations.

Historical BackgroundEdit

Grand Rapids has been the heart of the Christian Reformed denomination from its origin, when members of Second Reformed Church organized an independent congregation (now First CRC) in 1857. Within four weeks the Graafschap, Polkton, and Vriesland churches seceded from the RCA; the Hollandsche Gereformeerde Kerk (Holland Reformed Church) was established on April 29, 1857.

The first English speaking church in the Hollandsche Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk (Holland Christian Reformed Church) was organized in 1887 as Fourth Church (now LaGrave Ave.) of Grand Rapids. In 1890 the denomination united with the True Protestant Dutch Reformed Church and adopted the name Christian Reformed Church.

Classis Grand Rapids was divided into Grand Rapids East and Grand Rapids West in 1898, roughly along Madison Avenue. In 1938, Grand Rapids South was created from Grand Rapids West churches south of Fulton Street. (In 1971, Grand Rapids West was renamed Grand Rapids North to reflect this change.) Classis Grandville was formed west of Clyde Park from Grand Rapids South in 1958. The newest classis in metropolitan Grand Rapids, Thornapple Valley - dividing Grand Rapids East south of 28th Street and east of the East Beltline - was established in 1980.

This overview explains why old, established, central city churches such as LaGrave Ave., Grandville Ave., and Bethel are part of a classis stretching as far south as Wayland and why neighboring churches such as Seymour and Alger Park are in different classes. At the end of this paper, I will suggest a restructuring of the Grand Rapids area classes.

PrefaceEdit

The Christian Reformed Church celebrated its centennial in 1957, just in time to enter the turbulent 1960s. In 1961, several Protestant Reformed congregations (separated from the CRC after 1924 and separated by their own schism in 1953) returned to our denomination. In the same decade, several churches relocated to the suburbs, a few failed, and others began.

The decade was marked by the assassinations of a president, a civil rights leader, and a presidential hopeful; inner city riots borne of anger, frustration, and hatred; great controversy surrounding the Vietnam war; and a counterculture move ment driven by the baby boom.

This provides a partial backdrop for the story of the Christian Reformed churches of Grand Rapids from 1970 to the present.

OverviewEdit

As Table 1 illustrates, the number of Christian Reformed persons in the Grand Rapids area has increased slowly. From 1970 to 1975 we see an increase of 5%, a small decline between 1975 and 1980, a 3.5% increase from 1980 to 1985, and about a 2% in crease from 1985 to 1990. Overall growth for the two decades is roughly 10%.

However, this pattern is not consistent between classes. GR East declined from 1970 to 1980, then edged upward. GR North grew consistently through this period, helped by the success of Sunshine. GR South saw remarkable gains between 1970 and 1975, perhaps due to suburban migration. Since 1980, GR South has seen a very small decline.

Classis Grandville declined from 1970 to 1980, but has reversed that trend. Thornapple Valley is essentially the same size as when it formed in 1980. These last two classes are given for comparison, but are not covered by the present research.

Table 1Edit

Classis

1970

1975

1980

1985

1990

GR East

16,922

15,843

9,561

9,927

9,966

GR North

8,618

8,816

9,590

10,427

10,889

GR South

6,825

10,430

9,936

9,805

9,862

Grandville

14,112

13,744

13,561

13,933

9,762*

Thornapple

5,848

6,082

5,810

TOTAL

46,477

48,833

48,463

50,174

46,289

Classis

1970

1975

1980

1985

1990

GR East

16,922

15,843

9,561

9,927

9,966

GR North

8,618

8,816

9,590

10,427

10,889

GR South

6,825

10,430

9,936

9,805

9,862

Grandville

14,112

13,744

13,561

13,933

9,762*

Thornapple

5,848

6,082

5,810

TOTAL

46,477

48,833

48,463

50,174

46,289

  • Classis Georgetown (1988) not included.
SOURCE: ANNUAL CRC YEARBOOKS

The focus area of this study is congregations of classes Grand Rapids East, North, and South within the limits of Grand Rapids and Grand Rapids Township. Three congregations (Brookside, Millbrook, and East Paris) are within the city limits but no longer part of Grand Rapids East. The first two will be examined here, while study of the East Paris congregation will be left for a future study.

FoundationsEdit

What is the church? Until we answer this question, we cannot evaluate the health of local congregations.

There are two common views of the church, the secular and the Christian. The secular view sees the church as a man-made social structure, perhaps one which modern man has outgrown. In one view the church is grouped with "third-sector human service organizations;" in another it is seen as a support system for those who can't make it on their own.

Scripture presents the church as the community of the redeemed, a people called out by God to do his work in the world. The Heidelberg Catechism describes the church in Q&A 54:

What do you believe concerning "the holy catholic church"?
I believe that the Son of God through his Spirit and Word, out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, protects, and preserves for himself a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith.

The church finds its foundation in Jesus Christ - first in the promise of a Redeemer; then in his life, death, and resurrection. While this gives the church a historical aspect, it does not make the church a human historical construction. The church, the very people of God, finds origin historically in the Word become flesh.

We must further distinguish between three aspects of the church: the kingdom of God at all times and in all places; the visible church manifested in individuals, con gregations, denominations, and parachurch ministries; and the local congregation. While each manifestation of the church is larger than the following one, the latter contain both believers and those who have not yet submitted themselves to God's will.

While membership in the kingdom (through baptism or profession of faith) is through the working of the Holy Spirit, our membership in the local church be comes a matter of personal choice once we are grown. That is, once we reach matu rity, we decide whether to remain allied with our current congregation or seek one which challenges and nourishes us in different ways. This has become more true over the decades as congregations have become increasingly diverse and society has grown more mobile.

Because of this, the local church becomes mostly a voluntary association, and no church, classis, or denomination is a closed system. A closed system is a scientific ideal in which all factors can be known and analyzed, a box which admits no input. Even a church which never transferred a member and grew or declined based on births and deaths would not be a closed system - God is always active among his people.

Transfers take place in great number. A large portion are due to relocation, some times across state lines, other times to a new neighborhood in the same metropoli tan area. Further, transfers take place not only within denominations, but between them as well. Added to this are evangelism (bringing in the unchurched) and rever sions (erasure, excommunication, lapse, or resignation).

From a church growth perspective, growth comes through birth and baptism, membership transfers, and evangelism. Decline comes through death, membership transfers, and reversions. Of these, only membership transfer is a two-way street.

It is perhaps impossible to measure the health of a church, for that would have to consider not only whether membership is growing, but also the spiritual vitality of the membership, the diversity of ministries present, and support for outside min istries. However, it may be possible to determine indicators of congregational health based on, among other things, membership statistics.

The specific focus of this paper is to examine congregational statistics for health indicators, covering Christian Reformed churches in Grand Rapids.

MethodsEdit

This research is based primarily on data provided in the annual yearbooks of the Christian Reformed Church. Additionally, a survey was mailed to all congregations in the focus group.

Data in the yearbooks includes families, professing members, total members, baptisms, and professions of faith for all years covered. Additionally, data on deaths, evangelism, and membership transfers are published beginning in 1987. Additional data comes from the surveys.

Of the 38 churches surveyed, 18 forms were returned. Thirteen of these contained at least one year's worth of data; eleven had at least two year's information. Of churches providing data, four (Alger Park, Boston Square, Grace, and Seymour) covered over ten years. The overall average was seven years.

The survey asked whether congregations had been involved in Key '73, I Found It , the John Guest evangelical crusade, and Coffee Break. It also asked whether they had an evangelism committee. Of churches reporting their involvement, 69% were involved in Key '73, 17% in I Found It, 50% in the John Guest crusade, and 59% in Coffee Break. Most churches have an evangelism committee; only 12% said they do not have an evangelism committee.

This indicates that our churches are concerned for evangelism and are more likely to participate in denominational programs (Key '73, Coffee Break), followed by local programs (John Guest), and show little interest in national ecumenical programs (I Found It).

Since data is so sketchy prior to 1987, finding a correlation between evangelism programs and church growth is unlikely. A follow-up survey might generate the required data. Based on the available data, ongoing trends of growth or decline over ride the effect of short term evangelism programs.

The only turnaround from decline to growth which coincides with an evangelism program was at East Leonard CRC which reversed a decline trend in 1973. Whether this was due to involvement in Key '73 or a change of pastor cannot be determined with the statistics at hand.

EvangelismEdit

Of the congregations surveyed, evangelism statistics range from none to very good. Since 1987, Gold Ave. has grown 22% through evangelism, Oakdale Park 15%, and Neland Ave. 10%. The following congregations have also had significant growth (over 2% of the congregation) through evangelism since 1987: Alger Park, 24 members (2.2%); Brookside, 37 (3.0%); Creston, 5 (2.2%); Grace, 22 (4.9%); Hillcrest, 7 (5.8%); Madison Square, 38 (7.2%); Shawnee Park, 19 (3.0%); Sherman St., 18 (5.0%); Sunshine, 161 (4.3%); Twelfth St., 12 (3.1%); and Westview, 22 (2.6%).

Of these congregations, Alger and Brookside show mixed growth signs, and the rest are showing growth. Whether evangelism is the cause or effect of a healthy church, these statistics are encouraging.

In examining the components of growth or decline, we must determine where new members are coming from and where members are going to. On the growth side, 45.6% in the target area comes from CR transfers, 19.5% from other denominations, 27.0% through birth, and 7.9% via evangelism. Of the decline, not counting reversions, 58.9% transfer to other CR congregations, 25.0% transfer to other denominations, and 16.1% have died. This indicates a strong denominational loyalty among those transferring membership, with over 70% remaining Christian Reformed.

In the next chapter, we will examine the growth and decline patterns of the Grand Rapids congregations.

Congregational OverviewsEdit

Following are brief overviews of the congregations covered by this survey. Members lists professing members first, then total membership. Youth ratio is the percentage of total members who have not made profession of faith. Birth rate, death rate, evangelism rate, and transfer rate are averages since 1988; each is calculated on the prior year's total membership. Pastors listed are those serving congregations, 1970 to present. The transfer rate includes only those leaving the congregation, whether through transfer, reversion, or death. Growth rate indicates the five-year growth rate.

For comparison, average youth ratios for Grand Rapids were: 37% in 1970, 33% in 1980, and 34% in 1990. The denominational ratios are 46% in 1970, 40% in 1980, and 37% in 1990. The current birth rate for the denomination is 2.8%, the death rate is 0.5%. Locally, the birth rate is 2.7% and the death rate is 0.6%, indicating that the Grand Rapids area has a slightly older membership mix than the denomination at large.

Data not used or rarely used in these summaries:

  • Professing members. Whenever possible, rates are measured for total membership.
  • Local transfer rates. Even though this was the primary focus of the author's survey, insufficient data was received to draw meaningful conclusions.
  • Rate of profession of faith. This varies too widely from year to year and has little, if any, noticable correlation to church growth.
  • Transfer rates and evangelism. The quantity of data (1987 to present) is too little to draw meaningful conclusions.

Church size projections for the year 2000 are guesses based on past performance. The disclaimer that applies to stocks, bonds, and mutual funds applies here as well: past performance is no guarantee of future return. There is no way to factor in changing demographics, church re-visioning, or the working of the Holy Spirit. These figures are based on statistics and are not intended to make judgments, since the author has limited knowledge of these churches.

Further, a correlation can often be seen between the arrival or departure of a minister and a change in the church growth pattern. Since there are so many factors involved in church growth (changing neighborhoods, recasting of vision, etc.), the reader is cautioned against trying to read cause and effect into circumstances which may only coincide.

Congregations are listed in chronological order of organization or joining the CRC, with the exception of three "emerging" churches (the official euphemism for unorganized).

First, GR East, organized 1857Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     431/679     37%      -23.6
          1980     394/649     39%       +4.0
          1990     357/547     35%       -1.8
          1997     272/476     43%      -15.1
Pastors: M. Beelen (1961-70), C. Terpstra (1970-82), D. J. Klop (1973-80), R. E. Alexander (1981-84), D. G. Box (1983-84), M. Greidanus (1985- )

First CRC was the first Christian Reformed congregation, founded by those who left Second Reformed Church in 1857. First must have given birth to several daughter churches over the decades. During the early 20th century, while Beckwith Hills, Eastern Avenue, Alpine Avenue, LaGrave, Fifth Avenue, West Leonard, Oakdale Park, Grandville Avenue, Broadway, and Dennis Avenue 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 60s. Eastern Avenue, Sherman Street, and First are geographically close and saw their neighborhoods change from predominantly white to mostly minority during the 60s. 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 church in the danger category. If trends continue, the congregation will have 450-475 members as it enters the 21st century. However, a slight increase in membership for 1991 may indicate a turn for the better.

Eastern Avenue, GR East, organized 1879Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     633/922     31%      -14.9
          1980     468/674     31%       +7.8
          1990     445/687     35%       -8.9
          1997     349/524     33%      -18.4
Pastors: J. R. Kok (1967-72), N. Vanderzee (1972-76), P. J. Niewiek (1972-75), G. D. Negen (1977-86), V. Geurkink (1977-82), L. VanderZee (1983-90), R. Bouma (1987- ), R. Berkenbosch (1992- )

Eastern Avenue was the second Christian Reformed congregation organized in Grand Rapids. Membership passed the 2,000 mark by 1910, despite launching a daughter church on Sherman Street (1907). However, the large membership was torn apart in the mid-20s when H. Hoeksema and about 3/4 of the congregation split over the issue of common grace. Thus was born the Protestant Reformed Church, a rift partially healed in 1961 (First PRC sees itself as the "true" Eastern Avenue and traces its founding to 1879, not 1925. Also, see Faith CRC, below).

Eastern continued to grow until 1957. The congregation reached a low 19% youth ratio in 1974, just before a new period of growth began, accompanied by a change in the pastorate. (Since the preceding and following years have significantly higher youth ratios, I question the accuracy of the Yearbook data in this instance.)

Membership peaked at 496 professing members in 1985 and 755 total members in 1986, coinciding with another pastoral change. Since 1987, membership has fluctuated between 687 and 720 members, making any growth prediction extremely dangerous. Since 1990 saw another pastoral change, that adds one more factor of uncertainly.

Eastern has a solid and increasing youth ratio. This coupled with average birth and death rates gives a promise of growth. Combined with a 2% DGR, Eastern can be expected to grow slightly during the 90s, likely having 700 members at the close of the decade.

Alpine Avenue, GR North, organized 1881, merged into Westend 1991Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     613/956     36%     -19/-13%
          1980     495/707     30%     -26/-11%
          1990     365/532     31%     -25/-17%
Pastors: J.H. Bergsma (1966-1990)

Alpine Avenue and Highland Hills have recently completed a merger and become Westend CRC. It will be most interesting to see what happens as two churches declining at 23-25% per decade are joined together. The combined size of the new congregation was 1,031 members in 1991. Forty-two Alpine members elected to transfer membership in 1991, with perhaps half of these going to West Leonard, which received 22 CR transfers that year.

Alpine has been declining steadily since the early 50s, although it had a period of relative stability from 1974-77. The youth ratio is slightly low and declining. The birth rate is half the average and the death rate is triple the average. All of these are danger signs for a congregation.

Highland Hill has had several peaks and dips in its 41 year history. It grew steadily until the late 60s, then declined slowly until the mid-70s. Growth resumed in 1978 coinciding with a change of pastor. This growth peaked in 1981, with a decline of 13% by 1984. Membership increased in 1985 and 1986, but has dropped 24% since then.

Highland Hills has a very solid youth ratio, with birth and death rates quite close to the average. None of these are danger signs, yet the congregation has been losing members almost every year since 1981.

As the two churches merged, both were without pastors. If the creation of Westend is combined with a re-visioning coordinated by members of both congregations, the new group should have the strength and vision to become a growing church. Success may depend more on the strength of those overseeing the merger than on the leadership of the next pastor. Without a strong sense of congregational unity, success may be unattainable.

Based on the declines of both congregations, we can anticipate a congregation of 850 members in 2000. With a merger, though, anything can happen.

Beckwith Hills, GR North, organized 1873-1882Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     344/562     39%    +3.5/-3.3%
          1980     315/430     27%     -23/+3.6%
          1990     311/442     30%    +2.8/-7.9%
          1995     252/338     25%     -30/-24
Pastors: O.W. Duistermar (1970-74), J. Joldersma (1976-87), B. Mensink (1989- )

Beckwith Hills (originally Legrand Street, later Coldbrook) was the second Christian Reformed congregation in Grand Rapids. In 1963, the church moved from a location slightly south of Leonard and just east of the Grand River (now Schaafsma Heating Co.), to their current location in northeast Grand Rapids. While Coldbrook was one of the 1,000 member Christian Reformed churches of the early 20th century, it had less than 500 members when it moved.

Membership continued to decline slowly, reaching a low point of 413 members in 1976. As is often the case, a turnaround occurred at the same time a new pastor was installed. Growth continued until 1985, when Beckwith Hills had 480 members. The congregation lost members through 1989 and another turn-around is taking place under a new pastor.

Beckwith Hill's youth ratio is slightly low, and the birth and death rates are near average. There are no statistical trouble signs here. Based on the current DGR, Beckwith Hills will have 450 members in 2000. If a turnaround is taking place, a membership of over 500 is more likely.

LaGrave Avenue, GR South, organized 1887Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     998/1525    35%     +26/+9.2%
          1980     833/1223    32%     -20/-3.6%
          1990     782/1060    26%     -13/-7.5%
          1995     856/1110    23%    -3.1/+4.7%
Pastors: J.D. Eppinga (1954-87), W.S. Gritter (1968-71), P.D. Winkle (1973-76), J. Steigenga (1978- ), S. Mast (1990- )

Formerly Fourth CRC, LaGrave was the first English-language congregation in the denomination. With its location near downtown Grand Rapids, it has not been a neighborhood church for decades, yet it continues to draw members from the entire metropolitan area.

Membership peaked in the late 60s and declined slowly through 1989. Since 1986, the youth ratio has dropped dangerously, from 31% to 26%. The birth rate has remained low and the death rate indicates a congregation with many older members. However, the last two years have seen increases in membership, which is very encouraging.

Since LaGrave has almost no neighbors to draw on, growth cannot be expected unless it offers something to attract new members from the city and suburbs or plans for downtown residences take off, providing a downtown neighborhood for LaGrAvenue Based on the current rate of decline, LaGrave will have slightly over 900 members at century's end, but growth may be at hand.

West Leonard, GR North, organized 1889Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     345/560     38%    -8.5/-23%
          1980     305/436     30%     -22/-12%
          1990     336/508     34%     +17/+1.6%
          1995     454/704     36%     +41/+39%*
            * bulk of growth through merger with Twelfth Avenue in 1994.
Pastors: A.A. Mulder (1965-70), E.J. Knott (1971-78), D.J. Deters (1979-83), H.J. Weidenaar (1984-88), A. Koppendrayer (1989- )

West Leonard is part of the trio described above. Although its membership record has been troubled, it seems to be a healthy congregation.

West Leonard peaked at over 800 members around 1910, declining to the 500 range circa 1950, growing to 619 at the end of that decade, dropping to 414 in 1979, increasing to 512 in 1984, and now seems fairly stable, fluctuating between 467 and 501 members between 1985 and 1989. The last three years have shown some growth and it seems a turnaround has taken place once again, although these figures might reflect transfers due to the merger of Alpine Avenue with Highland Hills.

With a high youth ratio (38% for 1991), high birth rate, slightly high death rate, and three years of growth, the future looks promising for West Leonard. Based on DGR, perhaps the best indicator for this congregation, West Leonard should have 550 to 600 members at the close of the decade.

Oakdale Park, GR East, organized 1890Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     639/1004    36%       -3.4
          1980     440/574     23%      -18.7
          1990     404/591     32%       +5.7
          1997     346/510     32%      -15.1
Pastors: C. Bolt (1966-71), W. Heynen (1971-73), H.G. VandenEinde (1974-78), W. VandenBosch (1979- )

Oakdale Park was the eighth Christian Reformed congregation in Grand Rapids, founded in what was then suburban Grand Rapids. Membership was in the 1,500 range during the 1930s, dropped drastically during WW II, grew until 1953, then began a long decline. The decline ended in 1986, when the church had only 550 members. The church has grown 15% since then, to 631 members in 1991.

Oakdale Park is in a neighborhood similar to Neland Avenue (below). Like Neland, the youth ratio dropped below 25% from 1978 to 1982, and it has been on the increase ever since. While the death rate is high, the high birth rate, good youth ratio, and current growth trend bode well for Oakdale Park, especially in light of the successful evangelism taking place - 15% of Oakdale's members have joined through evangelism since 1987!

Based on the 1991 DGR, Oakdale would have 640 members in 2000. But examining the growth since 1986, a membership of 750 to 800 is very possible. This church could be an example for others to follow.

Grandville Avenue, GR South, organized 1891Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     693/1005    31%     -22/-13%
          1980     435/583     25%     -42/-25%
          1990     285/364     22%     -38/-26%
          1993     253/332     24%     -36/-18%
Pastors: J.D. Hellinga (1968-72), A.E. Pontier (1973-81), R. Praamsma (1982-90), W. Townsend (1991- )

Grandville Avenue has been on a long-term decline since 1929, when it had almost 2,000 members. This section of Grandville Avenue used to be the center of a strong Dutch community. Over time, it has become increasingly Hispanic and the congregation seems increasingly out of fit with its environment.

While Grandville Avenue might have been ideally placed at the turn of the century, it now has factories and bottling plants to the south and west and a residential neighborhood to the north and east. Not far east is the expressway, which acts as a barrier.

The youth ratio at Grandville Avenue has been 21-22% since 1986. The birth rate is quite low and the death rate very high. Unless the church can re-vision with its new pastor, it could drop to 200 members by decade end. Data for 1991 may indicate an end to the decline.

If neither Grandville Avenue nor Bethel (below) can turn around their declines soon, they should consider a merger. This would help forge a common vision for action and may provide a last chance to end decades of decline and restore the church to its community.

Mayfair, GR North, organized 1893Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     614/931     34%     +17/+8.5%
          1980     400/590     32%     -37/-16%
          1990     323/438     26%     -26/-16%
          1995     278/360     23%     -31/-18%
Pastors: M.R. Doornbos (1969-74), W. Witte (1976- ), P. Verhulst (1992- )

Founded as Dennis Avenue CRC, Mayfair moved to northeast Grand Rapids in the early 1950s. The congregation passed the 1,000 mark before 1920, dropping below 900 in 1936. Membership again peaked at 931 members in 1970, before beginning another long, downhill slide.

Mayfair looks like a church in trouble: long term membership decline, a very low youth ratio, a poor birth rate, and a high death rate. Based on these factors, growth will only come about by reinventing the congregation. Otherwise the church will shrink to about 325 members in 2000.

Westview, GR North, organized 1893Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     416/626     34%     +34/+14%
          1980     401/595     33%    -5.0/+9.6%
          1990     563/848     34%     +43/+32%
          1995     579/839     31%     +31/-1.1%
Pastors: P.L. Vermaire (1963-73), W.F. VanderHoven (1974-82), C. Steenstra (1983- )

Founded as Broadway CRC in 1893, Westview relocated to the outskirts of Grand Rapids in 1961. The congregation had been located in a red brick building on Broadway NW just south of Leonard and west of the river (now an independent pentecostal church).

Broadway's membership peaked at over 900 members around 1920, then went into decline. By 1960, membership had dropped to 466 members and the interstate was going to take out half of the neighborhood. The congregation re-visioned , looked at the city, and decided to plant a church at the other end of Leonard.

It worked. Membership climbed to 626 in 1970, then a brief decline set in. Membership dropped to 543 in 1975, then began an unabated rise, coinciding with a change of pastor. Today Westview is a strong, growing congregation. Twenty-five members have joined through evangelism since 1987, 2.6% of the total membership.

With an average youth ratio, birth rate, and death ratio, growth continues and we may soon have a very large congregation on the western edge of Grand Rapids. Based on DGR, look for 1,200 members as we enter the 21st century.

Burton Heights, GR South, organized 1905Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     686/972     29%     -14/-9.6%
          1980     522/716     27%     -26/-17%
          1990     370/535     31%     -25/-19%
          1995     290/410     29%     -38/-23%
Pastors: A. Brink (1958-78), R.S. Greenway (1978-82), D. MacLeod (1985- )

Burton Heights grew steadily from its founding in 1905 until the late 30s, when it peaked at over 1,200 members. Membership was remarkably stable until the early 60s. This was followed by a long, steady decline which didn't end until 1978, when a new pastor arrived. During this time, the neighborhood surrounding the church became one of the most racially and ethnically diverse in the city. Membership dropped again in 1982, and has been declining since then.

One way this congregation has broadened its base is by hosting two ethnic congregations, one Hispanic (Truth, Hope, and Love), the other Vietnamese. However, this is not reflected in Burton's membership statistics.

Burton Heights was a church in danger in 1978. The birth rate was less than 1.5%, the youth ratio had dropped to 23%, and growth was only a memory from decades earlier. This is one of a handful of congregations which survived and recovered from a youth ratio below 25%.

Today the youth ratio is slightly below average, the birth ratio is low, and the death rate is twice the average. Unless the new directions take hold, this congregation will have about 375 members in 2000.

Sherman Street, GR East, organized 1907Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     397/557     29%      -32.8
          1980     246/339     27%      -21.5
          1990     257/363     29%      +11.0
          1997     100/449     31%      +12.5
Pastors: I.J. Apol (1967-71), W.L. DeJong (1979-79), H.E. Botts (1980-87), M. Vermaire (1984- )

Sherman Street was birthed by Eastern Avenue in 1907. The congregation passed the 1,000 mark by 1920, and remained very large (900+) until the 60s. That was the decade of transition for this neighborhood, one which took its toll on Sherman Street. By 1970, membership had dropped to 907. The decline continued, reaching a low of 324 in 1984. Since then, coinciding with a pastoral change, Sherman Street has been gaining many new members.

While the youth ratio and birth rate are low and the death rate is high, something is happening in that old church on Sherman SE The addition of 21 members through evangelism since 1987 is very encouraging. The 1991 DGR points to a 15% growth or 420 members in 2000. Recent growth may point to a greater harvest.

Bethel, GR South, organized 1913Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     634/1099    42%     +10/+6.0%
          1980     388/568     32%     -48/-27%
          1990     278/407     32%     -28/-23%
          1993     237/357     34%     -36/-14%
Pastors: W.D. Buursma (1963-73), N.R. Prins (1974-79), R.B. Lanning (1982-87), R. Buining (1987- )

Bethel was the third congregation near Grandville Avenue south of Franklin Street. The first, Fifth Avenue (later Franklin Street) was founded in 1887 and merged with Rogers Heights in 1966. The second, Grandville Avenue, was founded in 1891 and is covered above.

Bethel peaked at 1,099 members in 1970, then began a long, steady decline. The church suffers from poor geographic visibility and a changing neighborhood. Many families had left by the late 80s, dropping the youth ratio to a low 28% in 1987.

Statistics show the decline may be slowing but not turning around. The youth ratio is increasing, which is often a sign of returning health. Although the birth rate is slightly low and the death rate very high, a relatively new pastor and increasing youth ratio are encouraging signs.

Based on the DGR, Bethel will have less than 300 members in 2000. However, it seems the decline has slowed. If a turnaround doesn't take place soon, Bethel should consider merging with Grandville Avenue and forging a new presence in that once-Dutch neighborhood.

Creston, GR North, organized 1915Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     302/400     25%     -26/-13%
          1980     205/260     21%     -35/-12%
          1990     147/223     34%     -14/-14%
          1995     111/172     35%     -12/-23%
Pastors: J.W. Uitvlugt (1965-71), J. Dykstra (1972-82), D.A. Kamper (1974-78), D. VanBeek (1983- )

Creston grew steadily until 1925, when it stabilized at about 580 members. A decade of decline began in 1936, and membership hovered around the 500 mark through 1963. Then came a long period of decline, which ended in 1985. The church grew 14% from 1985 to 1991, in part due to the highest birth rate in a long time.

Creston's future looked bleak between 1971 and 1980, with a youth ratio of 19 to 21% - dangerously low. This represents the longest period with a low youth ratio and the lowest youth ratio of any surviving congregation. Providentially, things seem to have turned around. The current youth ratio of 34% is average, and it has been increasing since 1978. This coupled with a high birth rate overshadows the high death rate.

Based on the decade growth rate, Creston would drop below 200 members by 2000. With the recent growth signs, especially successful evangelism, a turn-around seems established and 275 to 300 members seems more likely. Only time will tell.

Neland Avenue, GR East, organized 1915Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     681/989     31%       -4.5
          1980     375/482     22%      -20.9
          1990     345/502     31%      +11.3
          1997     347/527     34%       -1.1
Pastors: S. VanDyken (1964-70), T.E. Hofman (1972-81), R.J. Hamstra (1983-86), C. Kammeraad (1982- ), D. Kelderman (1988- )

Neland was a consistently large church from the 1920s to the early 70s with 800-1000 members. But a rapid decline set in after S. VanDyken left in 1970. At this time the neighborhood was becoming increasingly integrated as both blacks and whites moved south, blacks across Franklin and whites across Boston. It is likely that several members followed VanDyken to his new pastorate at East Congregational, since it is not that far from Neland Avenue. 1971-72 saw the steepest decline in the church's history, costing the body 30% of its members.

Membership dropped from 989 in 1970 to a low of 451 in 1985, before growth resumed. The youth ratios dropped below 25% in 1972, remaining there until 1983. Its rise to the current 32% and the increase in membership are signs of an intentional move to fit the neighborhood in both mission and worship.

While the youth ratio is average, the birth rate is slightly low, and the death rate is high, the increase in membership, youth ratio, and birth rate are all positive signs for Neland. Ten percent of its current membership was received through evangelism since 1987, surely an encouraging sign for any congregation! Based on decade growth rates and recent trends, the congregation could have 600 members by 2000.

Twelfth Street, GR North, organized 1917Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     411/612     33%     -19/-4.8%
          1980     275/406     32%     -34/-22%
          1990     254/385     34%    -5.2/+8.5%
          1994     192/259     26%     -27/-29%
Pastors: G.F. VanOyen (1964-70), J.W. Dykstra (1972-85), H. Entingh (1987- )

Twelfth Street was one of a trio of Christian Reformed congregations located near Leonard and Alpine NW. With Alpine and West Leonard, we had three churches within blocks of each other, something uncommon even in southeast Grand Rapids.

This leads to some interesting situations. One could easily transfer membership to another neighborhood church without changing neighborhoods. While this is less a concern today than in the era of neighborhood churches, it is an interesting factor in this particular system.

Of the three congregations, Alpine (1881) overshadowed West Leonard (1889) and Twelfth Street (1917) for decades. In 1920, Alpine had 1,100 members, West Leonard 800, and Twelfth Street 466. By 1950 Alpine had grown to 1,424, West Leonard had dropped to 529, and Twelfth Street had 750 members. Alpine was still the largest in 1970, with 956 members, followed by Twelfth Street at 612 and West Leonard at 560. By 1980, Alpine had dropped to 707, Twelfth Street to 406, and West Leonard to 436. Data for 1990 put Alpine at 532 members, Twelfth Street at 385, and West Leonard at 516.

Examining the youth ratio, Alpine typically had the lowest ratio, followed by Twelfth Street, then West Leonard. Of the three congregations, Alpine had seen a long, sustained decline, while the other two are growing slowly.

Of the three, only Twelfth Street is not on a main thoroughfare, and it has typically been the smallest of the trio. While its membership passed 750 in the 60s, it dropped to 349 in 1984, before beginning a slow climb. Twelfth Street has an average but increasing youth ratio, average birth rate, and slightly high death rate.

The -5% decade growth rate points to a congregation of 365 members in 8 years, but the increase since 1984 points to growth. The addition of 3% of its total membership by evangelism since 1987 is promising. A membership of 450 is likely for the end of the decade.

East Leonard, GR North, organized 1925Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     337/618     45%    -9.8/-8.3%
          1980     362/529     32%     -14/+2.7%
          1990     309/472     35%     -11/-3.3%
          1995     336/485     31%    -0.6/+2.8%
Pastors: W. Haverkamp (1966-73), H.A. Ouwinga (1974-81), P.J. Kok (1982-87), T. Slachter (1989- )

East Leonard reached its maximum size (about 700 members) in 1963, then declined until the mid-70s. While the congregation fell in total size in from 1974 to 1976, the number of professing members increased. The congregation was involved in Key '73, which may have had some influence here, and also received a new pastor in 1974.

East Leonard continued to grow, peaking at 564 members in 1979. It then dropped to 454 members in 1987, and seems to be rebounding under a new pastor. The DGR points to a membership of 425 members in 2000, but a higher number is more likely based on the last three years, perhaps as high as 525.

Fuller Avenue, GR East, organized 1925Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     638/980     35%      -12.8
          1980     541/791     32%      -21.1
          1990     458/722     37%      -13.0
          1997     350/504     31%      -25.3
Pastors: W.F. VanderHoven (1962-70), G.L. Dahnke (1971-74), L.A. Koning 1976-86), A. VanderHart (1988- )

Fuller Avenue has been a church with its ups and downs. Membership peaked about 1950 with over 1,100 members, again near 1960 with 1,100, and then again in 1974 with 1,010 members. The decline of the 70s ended with 793 members in 1983, keeping Fuller as one of our larger congregations. In the same period, the youth ratio had ebbed to 30% (1977-79), but began to rise again.

Fuller's most recent peak was in 1985, with 830 members. The congregation has lost 14% of its members since then. The youth ratio has continued to increase since 1979 and is a high 37% today. The birth rate is average and the death rate slightly high.

With a continuing decline, Fuller seems to have lost fit with its neighbors. There is a high level of transfer to other congregations, indicating either moves or local reaffiliations. The DGR of -9% would leave Fuller with 650 members at decade end.

Seymour, GR East, organized 1939Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     681/1038    34%       -2.1
          1980     615/892     31%       -3.0
          1990     704/1037    32%       +5.4
          1997     661/929     29%       -6.0
Pastors: J.A. DeKruyter (1964-75), H. Admiraal (1973-92), H. Guikema (1985-89), C. Cornelisse (1989-92), A. Arkema (1992- )

Seymour was a fast start congregation, reaching 1,000 members in its first decade. It remained there until 1973, when a time of decline set in. Membership dropped to 885 in 1977, then began to climb again, which it has been doing ever since.

Seymour has a large sanctuary and a very visible location on Alger just east of Eastern. The youth ratio and birth rate are average, although the death rate is somewhat high. The congregation has consistently peaked at under 1,200 members, perhaps due to limited worship space and the "80-percent rule." If so, the present growth may require an additional morning worship service or launching another congregation. Looking at Seymour's strong growth patterns, expect 1,200 members in 2000.

Boston Square, GR East, organized 1942Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     495/815     39%      -11.3
          1980     417/585     29%      -10.4
          1990     278/390     29%      -19.4
          1997     218/303     28%      -19.2
Pastors: M. Goote (1962-72), W.M. Gebben (1974-85), A. Luke (1987-95)

Boston Square was a rising star, breaking the 1,000 member mark within 15 years. But decline had set in by 1970 and has never let up. Participating in Key '73 had no statistical effect on the congregation. Boston Square found itself in a changing neighborhood and out of step with its environment. (There was a small membership increase in 1978, probably due to the failure of neighboring Faith CRC.)

Boston Square has a low birth rate, high death rate, and low youth ratio (down to 28% for 1991). None of these bodes well for the congregation. Unless a re-visioning takes place, Boston Square could go the way of Faith CRC (below). Looking at current growth rates, Boston Square will have about 250 members at the end of the decade.

Calvin, GR East, organized 1949Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     862/1418    39%       -0.8
          1980     901/1324    32%       -7.2
          1990     826/1123    26%      -10.4
          1997     602/781     23%      -20.2
Pastors: C. Boomsma (1948-83), W.J. Boer (1970-73), J. Heerema (1974-80), J. Boot (1984-92), H. Kiekover (1985- ), E. Laarman (1985-92)

Calvin is one of the more educated congregations in the city, partially due to its proximity to the original Calvin College campus during the church's formative years. For a short time, it was the largest congregation in the area, passing a slowly declining LaGrave in the mid-70s before being eclipsed by Sunshine in 1984.

Calvin continued to grow after the college moved to Knollcrest, reaching its zenith of 1,454 members in 1976. However, Calvin is becoming an old congregation, as shown by a very low birth rate, quite high death rate, and very low (and declining) youth ratio.

Unless the congregation refocuses, Calvin will be down to 950 members in 2000.

Highland Hills, GR North, organized 1950, merged into Westend 1991Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     407/703     42%    +0.9/+3.5%
          1980     501/760     34%    +8.1/+20%
          1990     373/586     36%     -23/-22%
Pastors: M.R. Doornbos (1968-77), J.F. DeVries (1977-83), K.J. Nydam (1981-84), J. Hoffman Jr . (1984-89)

Highland Hills had several peaks and dips in its 41 year history. It grew steadily until the late 60s, then declined slowly until the mid-70s. Growth resumed in 1978 coinciding with a change of pastor. This growth peaked in 1981, with a decline of 13% by 1984. Membership increased in 1985 and 1986, but has dropped 24% since then.

Highland Hills has a very solid youth ratio, with birth and death rates quite close to the average. None of these are danger signs, yet the congregation has been losing members almost continuously since 1981.

As the Alpine Ave. and HIghland Hills churches merged, both were without pastors. If the creation of Westend is combined with a re-visioning coordinated by members of both congregations, the new group should have the strength and vision to become a growing church. Success may depend more on the strength of those overseeing the merger than on the leadership of the next pastor. Without a strong sense of congregational unity, growth may be unattainable.

Plymouth Heights, GR East, organized 1951Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     663/1099    40%       +2.8
          1980     731/1037    30%       +8.7
          1990     752/1117    33%       -2.6
          1997     624/944     34%      -11.7
Pastors: W.M. VanDyk (1964-86), L.A. Koning (1973-76), R. Klimp (1977-80), P. VanElderen Jr. (1988- ), R. Palsrok (1989- )

Plymouth Heights was a suburban congregation when founded, but now finds itself in a stable city neighborhood. Membership passed the 1,000 point by 1959 and dropped below 1,000 in 1973 due to "white flight" as an "inner city" high school relocated in their neighborhood. A low of 932 members in 1974 was followed by a period of renewed growth, reaching 1155 members in 1986 (professing membership had peaked in 1984).

While not dangerous, the youth ratio at Plymouth Heights was at or below 30% from 1977 to 1987, but it now matches the average. The death rate is average and the birth rate slightly low. None of these statistics project promise or danger for the congregation, although the increasing youth ratio is helpful.

The DGR indicates growth to 1,175 member, but doesn't take into account recent history. Based on fairly consistent recent trends, membership at Plymouth Heights will probably drop to 1,000 by the end of the century.

Alger Park, GR South, organized 1952Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     553/885     38%    +4.0/-12%
          1980     600/875     31%    -1.1/+18%
          1990     759/1099    31%     +26/+5.4%
          1995     641/907     29%     -13/-17%
Pastors: G. Gritter (1965-73), A.J. VanderGriend (1974-82), G.R. Erffmeyer (1982-88), E. DeVries (1987- ), L. Fryling (1989-92)

Alger Park had its first membership peak during the 1960s, followed by a decline which ended in 1974. While the congregation was involved in Key '73, membership continued its decline that year. The 1974 turnaround coincides with a change in pastor, as is often the case. Membership continued to increase, reaching a new peak in 1988. Over the last three years, Alger Park has lost 5% of it membership, much of it through transfer to other local CR congregations.

Alger Park exhibits a healthy birth rate, an average death rate, and a slightly low youth ratio. Since the youth ratio is increasing, these statistics do not indicate a threat to the church's health. The current decline might be due to space limitations and the 80-percent rule.

Looking at past performance, Alger Park may turn around the current decline. The good evangelism response is encouraging. Based on the current decade growth rate (DGR), the church would have 1,350 members in 2000. However, the 1991 five-year growth rate is -0.5%, so any prediction is unwise.

Riverside, GR North, organized 1953Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     160/332     52%     +13/+4.1%
          1980     281/417     33%     +26/-13%
          1990     237/335     29%     -20/-10%
          1995     186/260     28%     -30/-22%
Pastors: L. Greenway (1969-77), H.G. VandenEinde (1979-87), M. Palsrok (1989- )

Riverside is a north-end congregation possibly past its prime. The church grew to 482 members in 1975, then began a long decline which may have come to an end in 1989. But whether Riverside will remain stable, grow, or decline is unpredicatble from recent data.

Riverside's youth ratio is low, the birth rate 30% below average, and the death rate 30% above average. Unless the church is charting a new course under its new pastor, it will drop to 275 members or less by century end.

Millbrook, Thornapple Valley, organized 1954Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     436/811     46%     +17/+12%
          1980     467/704     34%     -13/+7.3%
          1990     442/694     36%    -1.4/-4.1%
          1995     366/562     28%     -22/-19%
Pastors: H. VanderArk (1969-74), J.E. DeVries (1976-92)

Millbrook is a suburban church, located well south of 28th Street but still within the city limits. Despite an out-of-the-way location off a mjor road, it grew quickly, peaking in 1970. After a brief dip, the congregation grew until it peaked again in 1983 with 738 members. Since then membership has dropped 9%, which is not encouraging.

Millbrook still has a high youth ratio, which has always been one of its strengths. The birth rate is excellent, and the death rate is low. Other than a slight membership loss, Millbrook looks healthy. It will perhaps be slightly smaller when the decade ends, but don't count it out. Millbrook should be around for a long time.

Brookside, Thornapple Valley, organized 1959Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     286/546     48%    +112/+28%
          1980     615/1001    39%     +83/+21%
          1990     729/1201    39%     +20/+9.9%
          1995     691/1131    39%    +3.5/-5.8%
Pastors: R.A. Hertel (1969-77), B.A. Averill (1975-77), D. VanderVeen (1978-92), B. Becksvoort (1985- )R. Vance (1986- )

Brookside has been a church on the grow since it was founded in 1959. The congregation has a beautiful, very visible building in a suburban setting at a busy intersection. Although the growth rate slowed over time, growth was continuous until 1989, when it reached 1,217 members. Brookside was one of two local congregations with three ministers until D. VanderVeen's departure.

Brookside seems poised for continued success, with a very high youth ratio, a strong birth rate, and a very low death rate. Since there was no change in ministry staff from 1986 until 1992, the membership decline (of less than 20 members in 1990) could well be the "80-percent rule" taking its toll.

Brookside has seen success in evangelism - 3% of the total congregation joined through evangelism since 1987. This encouraging sign points to continued growth. Whatever the temporary problem, if Brookside overcomes it, membership will probably reach 1,450 members at the close of the century.

Faith, GR East, organized 1944, joined CRC 1961, disbanded 1978Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     308/486     37%       +14%
          1978     149/165     10%       -70%
Pastors: J. Julien (1968-75), G.H. Stoutmeyer (1975-78)

Faith CRC had the misfortune of being the first Christian Reformed congregation in Grand Rapids to disband. The congregation was founded in 1944 as Southeast Protestant Reformed church, and joined our denomination with many other PR congregations in 1961. This partially healed a break going back to 1925, except that (as is so often the case), only some PR congregations affiliated with the CRC. The Protestant Reformed Churches continue to this day.

Faith church grew rapidly after it joined the CRC. Due to a visible location in a strong neighborhood, the congregation grew from 408 to 523 members in 1962. (It would be interesting to know where the new members came from, other CR congregations or PR members making the switch.) Continued growth took place until 1968, when the congregation had 564 members. During this time, the neighborhood was becoming increasingly integrated, but less so than areas to the north.

Then came a change of pastors and a drop to 486 members in 1969. The decline continued and the church seemed to lose heart. In 1975 the congregation had 281 members and called G.H. Stoutmeyer out of retirement to pastor it. By this time, a return to health looked unlikely. The youth ratio had dropped from 40% in the 60s to 26%, well below the 32-35% of nearby Boston Square, Fuller Avenue, and Oakdale Park. By 1977 membership had dropped to 165 and the youth ratio was only 10%. The church then disbanded.

The rise and fall of Faith CRC would make a fascinating study, especially since the nearby congregations survived the same period and are still with us. How did the congregation become so far out of sync with its environment that growth was impossible and merger was not an option? What church growth lessons can we learn from the failure of a particular congregation?

Shawnee Park, GR East, organized 1961Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     432/833     48%      +31.6
          1980     455/769     41%       -5.4
          1990     453/634     29%       -4.7
          1997     431/608     29%      -14.1
Pastors: L. Veltkamp (1962-74), D. VanderWall (1975-81), K.D. VanDeGriend (1983-89), R. Kok (1990- )

Shawnee Park is a subdivision/neighborhood congregation. It shares a parking lot with Grand Rapids Christian High, so it is unlikely they will run out of parking space. The church has also recently launched Time Out, a contemporary worship service.

Shawnee has had a rocky growth history, peaking in 1972 at 837 members, then declining to 794 in 1974. With a change of pastor, it peaked at 860 in 1977, but then went into decline again. Membership data shows the drop ended in 1988, and a growth trend has been firmly established.

Shawnee Park not only has a low youth ratio, it has been declining since 1975. Part of the reason may be that their beautiful church is hidden from any main roads, tying them very much to a neighborhood which has seen its children grow and leave home.

Looking at the recent membership increase, Time Out seems to be working for Shawnee Park. An emphasis on evangelism, which has added 51 members since 1987, is certainly helping the congregation refocus for growth. A new program and a new pastor provide solid growth opportunities. Based strictly on DGR, Shawnee would drop to 525 members by 2000, but a period of growth has begun and 700 members or more is possible for decade end.

Grace, GR East, organized 1962Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     103/191     46%       n.a.
          1980     185/322     43%      +63.5
          1990     260/440     41%      +12.8
          1997     270/376     28%       -6.7
Pastors: P.W. Brink (1971-74), R. VanHarn (1976- ),V. Anderson (1987-1989)

Grace CRC is another success story. Begun as a chapel on Buckley Street in the inner city, it organized in 1962 and has grown steadily since then. While growth is not as fast as during its first two decades, it shows no sign of ending. The congregation seems "stuck" at about 450 members since 1989, that may be a space problem.

The youth ratio and birth rate are very high, and the death rate is extremely low, indicating a very healthy congregation. Additionally, almost 5% of the members have joined through evangelism since 1987. While there was a large number of transfers out in 1990, Grace recovered and grew again in 1991. Based on DGR and adequate space, Grace CRC could have 575 to 600 members in 2000.

Woodlawn, GR East, organized 1968Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     200/369     46%       n.a.
          1980     272/461     41%       +4.3
          1990     492/699     30%      +20.3
          1997     352/456     23%      -15.6
Pastors: W.K. Stob (1969-70), D.M. Stravers (1971-79), J. Timmer (1980- )

Woodlawn was one of three congregations established in the 60s (Shawnee Park in 1961 and Grace in 1962 are the others). Woodlawn targeted an area without a Christian Reformed congregation and held worship services in the Calvin College Fine Arts Center until the new chapel was built. Except for East Paris, Woodlawn is the only Christian Reformed congregation in Grand Rapids east of Shawnee Park and Plymouth Heights. (Halfway between Plymouth and the East Beltline might be a perfect place for the next southeast church launch.)

In addition to offering a "student service" for students at Calvin College, Woodlawn has a strong, growing congregation. From 264 members in 1968, they have grown steadily to 699 in 1990. While the birth and death rates are very low and the youth ratio is a little below average, the congregation is strategically placed and should continue to grow to the capacity of the college chapel.

It will be interesting to see what develops when Church of the Servant, another rapidly growing congregation, becomes Woodlawn's neighbor in late 1993.

Based on 23 years of growth, a membership of 1,000 or more is likely for Woodlawn.

Madison Square, GR East, organized 1970Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970      58/99      41%      +26.9
          1980     102/182     44%      +25.5
          1990     358/530     32%      +36.6
          1995     620/982     37%      +45.3
Pastors: V. Geurkink (1968-74), V.C. Patterson (1974-77), D.J. Sieplinga (1977-82), D. Venegas (1981-97), D. Beelen (1982- )

Madison Square is an example of a chapel grown to success. Except for a brief period (1975-77, when disbanding was considered) growth has been consistent and the evangelism rate is one of the highest in the area. Madison Square is the second fastest growing CRC in the city, surpassed only by Sunshine. While only one of the 20 largest congregations today, it could be second largest by 2000.

Madison Square recently completed a larger sanctuary, which should allow it to double its size yet again, perhaps also increasing the rate of growth. With its high birth rate, low death rate, average youth ratio, and growth history, Madison Square could have 1,500 members in 2000 - unless it runs out of space. There is discussion of launching a daughter congregation in Eastown.

Sunshine Community, GR North, organized 1971Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     158/248     36%    -2.2/-23.5%
          1980     581/916     37%    +940/+75%
          1990    2238/3735    40%    +308/+88%
          1995    1527/2619    42%     +32/-30%
Pastors: L. VanderMeer (1969-91), H.J. Teitsma (1979-82), T.J. Berends (1986-87)

Sunshine was the first Christian Reformed congregation to make megachurch a household word. While some churches reached memberships of 2,000 early in the century, that was mostly children (up to 75%). By 1986 Sunshine passed the 2,000 mark, and in 1989 had over 2,000 professing members. Growth is a solid mix of baptisms (17% since 1987), transfers (S38% from CR, 37% from other), and evangelism (8%).

Like Christ's Community, Sunshine was one man's dream. Sunshine Chapel had failed twice before Lew VanderMeer took over in 1969. Within two years, it was an organized congregation. It has sustained an average DGR of 300% since then, with its only decline (17%) in 1976. Since I have no detailed statistics from that period, I don't know whether that was a cleansing of the membership roles or a mass exodus.

A DGR over 300%, a 40% youth ratio, a very high birth rate, and an extremely low death rate, would have predicted continued growth for Sunshine. At the current rate, that would mean 15,200 members when the decade ends. That's bigger than some denominations and every Christian Reformed classis!

With a building that seats 3,500 and three morning services, the "80-percent rule" gives us about 8,400 potential worshipers on Sunday. Since some members don't come every week, growth to 8,000 or even 10,000 might be possible.

But there's a new factor. Lew VanderMeer had a falling out with his council and resigned his pastorate. A core group followed Lew and founded a new congregation, New Community, which has the potential to grow as Sunshine did.

Like Sunshine, New Community is not a neighborhood church. Sunshine Ministry Center gave up the neighborhood façade when it moved to the East Beltline in 1979. It draws members not only from Grand Rapids, but from many of the outlying communities. The same will undoubtedly be true of New Community with locations in Grand Rapids and Grandville.

It will be interesting to discover how much Lew's departure changes Sunshine. How many members followed him? How many joined Sunshine anyway? Does the congregation sufficiently own the Sunshine vision to sustain growth in the years ahead?

The 1992 Yearbook indicated the initial damage: 242 members left for other denominations (primarily New Community), 250 were dropped from the membership log, and 125 left for other Christian Reformed congregations. Still, 186 joined Sunshine from other congregations and 13 were received through evangelism.

The 1993 Yearbook reflects another 244 members lost to other denominations, and 58 leaving for other CR congregations. To partially offset this, 62 people transferred in, 21 were received through evangelism, and 47 children were baptized. Despite two years without a pastor, Sunshine may have finally stabilized.

Sunshine is moving very cautiously in selecting a new pastor, and they cannot be blamed. When a growing congregation loses its founding pastor, there is a time of mourning and reorientation. I expect Sunshine to institute a team ministry, but finding the right senior pastor is a crucial first step.

Church of the Servant, GR East, organized 1973Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1970     100/153     35%       n.a.
          1980     188/319     41%      +39.9
          1990     331/584     43%      +30.4
          1995     421/721     42%       +2.6
Pastors: J. Vriend (1974-82), J. Roeda (1983- )

Church of the Servant (COS) has its own success story. The congregation grew out of a late-60s group disillusioned with their churches. When they decided to organize as a Christian Reformed congregation, they set forth a vision: the new church would be politically and socially active, would not expend much time and effort in a building, would use the gifts of all members regardless of gender or age, would find a celebrative, liturgical style of worship, and would be built up of households.

COS has grown consistently, although the rate of growth has been hampered by space limitations - the "80-percent rule." The congregation has moved frequently as it outgrew rented worship space. Now that larger spaces cannot be found, the space problem has been reduced by offering two morning worship services. A church building is being constructed on Burton between the East Beltline and East Paris, with a sanctuary seating about 600. This will probably initiate a period of more rapid growth.

All the vital signs are positive: a very high youth ratio and birth rate, plus an extremely low death rate (common for "first-generation" congregations). Church of the Servant has the third highest growth rate in the area with a 1991 DGR of 88%. If growth continues at the present rate, COS will have 1,100 members in 2000.

Christ's Community, GR East, organized 1976, disbanded 1989Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1976     114/172     34%       n.a.
          1980      76/109     30%       -37%
          1988      61/101     40%       -54%
Pastors: G. Beerens (1978-87), D. Deppe (1978-81), J. Lucas (1985-89)

Christ's Community was the second CR congregation in Grand Rapids to disband. It was founded on one man's vision. Gene Beerens created a household-based, charismatic, inner-city, mission-oriented congregation. The growth curve peaked early, in 1979, while the congregation met in Congress School (near Lake Dr. and Diamond). Many members lived in church-owned houses - modern-day urban communes. When possible, paychecks of those living in community were made out to the church rather than the individual. The church also owned several businesses, including a gas station on Fulton Street, which employed members of the congregation.

Many who found the emphasis on community, benevolence, and spiritual gifts attractive were taken aback at Gene's control over so many aspects of their lives. The exodus began in 1980, when 73 members (31% of the congregation) left. Within a year, Dean Deppe, the church's second pastor, also left.

The decline didn't end when Gene resigned his pastorate, since that also cost the church its primary visionary. With its focus lost, it was only a matter of time before the church folded.

Westend, GR North, organized 1991Edit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1991     654/1031    37%       n.a.
          1995     696/898     33%       n.a.
Pastors: H. Admiraal (1992- )

Alpine Avenue and Highland Hills have recently completed a merger and become Westend CRC. It will be most interesting to see what happens as two churches declining at 23-25% per decade are joined together. The combined size of the new congregation was 1,031 members in 1991. Forty-two Alpine members elected to transfer membership in 1991, with perhaps half of these going to West Leonard, which received 22 CR transfers that year.

Based on the declines of both congregations, we can anticipate a congregation of 850 members in 2000. With a merger and a successful pastor, anything can happen.

Coit Community, GR North, emergingEdit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1980      34/59      42%       n.a.
          1990      45/88      49%     +49/-21%
          1995      31/57      46%     -49/-35%
Pastors: P.J. Kooreman (1977-85, 88-90), L. Haas (1986-87), H. Perez (1991- )

Coit Community was listed as an "emerging" congregation in the 1993 Yearbook. The congregation was planted in the late 70s and grew steadily to a maximum size of 112 members in 1984. As of 1990, the group was down to 88 members and a new evangelist began his work in 1991.

The youth ratio has been very high, ranging from 40-51%, and the birth rate is good, a bit below average. The death rate is average. Statistics on a congregation this small are heavily influenced by single events: these numbers reflect four baptisms in 1987 and two deaths.

In light of the congregations ups and downs, tt would be unwise to make growth predictions at this point.

Gold Avenue, GR North, emergingEdit

Pastors: P. Doot (1965-74), M.D. Knierim (1975-86), W. Ridley (1982-91), . Offringa (1992- )

Broadway/Westview CRC has maintained a mission to this area of West Fulton for decades and Gold Avenue seems on the verge of organizing as a congregation. With a 25% DGR, Gold Avenue could become a strong church. Despite its small size, 23 people have joined through evangelism in the last five years, giving Gold Avenue the highest evangelism rate in the area. The youth ratio is good, the birth rate is high, and the death rate is also high. Caution must be taken when evaluating statistics for small congregations, but the future looks promising for Gold Avenue

Based on the last decade, growth to 130 members is expected by 2000. A great deal will depend on the congregation's leadership as it organizes.

Hillcrest Community, GR South, emergingEdit

                              Youth     Growth
          Year     Members    Ratio     Rates
          1980      55/86      36%       n.a.
          1990      73/120     39%       +40%
          1995        /          %
Pastors: G. VanderLugt (1966-75), L. Toering (1976- )

Hillcrest Community has been meeting since the early 40s and is on the verge of organizing as a congregation. The congregation has shown slow but steady growth and looks to have a promising future. While the death rate is slightly high and the birth rate is half the average, the 39% youth ratio, two-decade growth trend, and high evangelism rate point to a membership of 160-175 by 2000.

ConclusionsEdit

Two congregations disbanded during the survey period; others have merged. Most "missions" remain unorganized, but are listed as "emerging." Sunshine and Madison Square have remarkable growth rates, especially compared to the rest of the denomination. These two congregations, along with Church of the Servant, are the fastest growing CR churches in the city. All three have organized since 1970.

Additionally, the three congregations organized in the 60s are all growing well, although at a lower rate. Of the six fastest growing churches, only one organized before 1960, Westview. Since Westview re-visioned and relocated in the early 60s, its place on this list is not surprising.

For the most part, churches established before 1960 maintain themselves. There are signs of a turn around for some congregations (Neland, Sherman Street, Oakdale Park), and signs of decline in traditionally strong churches (Alger Park, Plymouth Heights). Also, some churches are in a long-term decline (Grandville Avenue, Bethel, LaGrave, Boston Square).

There is a correlation between church growth and the proportion of non-professing members in a congregation.This is to be expected since most CR churches grow through Christian nurture more than evangelism. Youth ratio as a growth indicator shows a moderate correlation. While a significantly higher than average youth ratio leads to growth most of the time, and a significantly lower one (below 25%) usually leads to decline, the predictive value drops dramatically as we approach (±5%) the average.

There is some correlation between youth ratio and professions of faith. Since this is widely regarded as a sign of passage, profession of faith often occurs between the ages of 16 and 20. Taking the average as 18, we would expect 5.5% of non-professing members to take this step each year. Statistics 1976-90 follow:

76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90
5.3% 6.4% 5.7% 5.7% 6.1% 6.5% 4.9% 4.4% 4.8% 3.9% 4.9% 3.6% 3.3% 3.7% 4.5%

Reasons for this variation include fluctuations in the birth rate, delayed professions (some waiting until their 20s), and the slow, steady move of families to the suburbs. It would be enlightening to correlate these figures with statistics for suburban congregations, but that is beyond the scope of the present paper. There does not seem to be a significant correlation between the rate of profession and church growth.

It is wonderful to see many "inner city" congregations turn decline into growth. While Madison Square and Grace show new congregations thriving in old neighborhoods, seeing new growth in established churches in older neighborhoods (Oakdale Park, Neland Avenue, Sherman Street, Creston, and Twelfth Street) is a blessing.

Overall, the prospects for local congregations are encouraging. While a handful have not emerged from long term decline, the majority look healthy. As God continues to bless the work of his people, the dream of numerical growth in every congregation may become reality.

One thing which might help congregations would be a restructuring and re-visioning of the local classes. This will be the topic of chapter 4.

Restructuring the Local ClassesEdit

Note: this section has not been changed. An updated version is in the following section.

As discussed in the first section of this paper, for historical reasons the classis structure of the Grand Rapids area is geographically disjointed, due to several classical splits. While Grand Rapids North and Grand Rapids East seem well grouped geographically (especially since Thornapple Valley was established), Grand Rapids South makes less sense geographi cally, running from downtown Grand Rapids to Wayland.

A restructuring on geographic lines, instead of simply dividing current classes, should be designed to create more equally sized classes, which today range from 5,200 (Thornapple Valley) to 9,900 (GR North), from 12 congregations (Thornapple) to 22 (GR North). The five local classes have a total of 90 congregations and 43,750 members. This averages to 18 congregations and 8,750 members per classis.

The current denominational average is 20.5 congregations and 6,750 members per classis.The local classes average 12% fewer congregations but 23% more members. In the 1993 Yearbook the number of congregations per classis ranges from 8 to 33. Based on these figures, we could work for five classes of about 18 congregations or seven classes of about 6,250 members. As a compromise, we will aim for six classes averaging fifteen churches and 7,300 members.

The current breakdown of classes is listed below (1992 membership):

TABLE 1Edit

Grand Rapids East

Grand Rapids North

Grand Rapids South

  1. Boston Square (375)
  2. Calvin (979)
  3. Church of the Servant (703)
  4. Eastern Ave. (642)
  5. First (563)
  6. Fuller Ave. (675)
  7. Grace (403)
  8. Madison Square (676)
  9. Neland Ave. (533)
  10. Oakdale Park (601)
  11. Plymouth Hts. (1,069)
  12. Seymour (988)
  13. Shawnee Park (708)
  14. Sherman St. (399)
  15. Woodlawn (699)*
  1. Belding (256)
  2. Cedar Springs (151)
  3. Comstock Park (213)
  4. Coopersville, Little Farms (91)
  5. Beckwith Hills (474)
  6. Coit Comm. (40)
  7. Creston (208)
  8. East Leonard (512)
  9. Gold Ave. (91)
  10. Korean (140)
  11. Mayfair (419)
  12. Riverside (327)
  13. Sunshine (2,667)
  14. Twelfth St. (350)
  15. Walker (387)
  16. West Leonard (523)
  17. Westend (1,031)
  18. Westview (827)
  19. Grant (373)
  20. Howard City (170)
  21. Rockford (485)
  22. Sparta (191)
  1. Covenant (802)
  2. Cutlerville East (568)
  3. Cutlerville First (520)
  4. Hillside Comm. (776)
  5. Pinegate Comm. (26)
  6. Providence (638)
  7. Alger Park (1,009)
  8. Bethel (381)
  9. Burton Hts. (478)
  10. Community (183)
  11. Discovery (90)
  12. Faith, Hope & Love (40)
  13. Godwin Hts. (235)
  14. Grandville Ave. (343)
  15. Hillcrest Comm. (120)
  16. Ideal Park (278)
  17. Immanuel (352)
  18. Kelloggsville (917)
  19. LaGrave Ave. (1,117)
  20. Vietnamese (83)
  21. Moline (452)
  22. Wayland (290)

Grandville

Thornapple Valley

  1. Byron Ctr. First (775)
  2. Friendship (560)
  3. Heritage (703)
  4. Pathway (65)
  5. Byron Ctr. Second (630)
  6. Dorr (347)
  7. Fellowship (628)
  8. Hanley (425)
  9. Hope (659)
  10. Ivanrest (838)
  11. South Grandville (682)
  12. Beverly (44)
  13. Calvary (682)
  14. Lee St. (523)
  15. Rogers Hts. (592)
  16. Spanish (106)
  17. 36th St. (270)
  18. W. 44th St. (204)
  19. Wyoming Park (347)
  1. Ada (688)
  2. Alto (315)
  3. Caledonia (639)
  4. Brookside (1,206)
  5. Cascade (324)
  6. East Paris (326)
  7. Millbrook (659)
  8. Princeton (463)
  9. Ionia (46)
  10. Lake Odessa (100)
  11. Lowell (275)
  12. Middleville (150)

As already shown (TABLE 1), classis Thornapple Valley is significantly smaller than the other four Grand Rapids classes. The first step should be to add a few more churches to this classis. I suggest moving Woodlawn and Church of the Servant to classis Thornapple Valley, which would now have 14 congregations and 6,600 members.

Next, a Wyoming classis makes sense. The Wyoming congregations are now split between Grand Rapids South and Grandville. Classis Wyoming would contain both Wyoming and southwest Grand Rapids congregations (Bethel, Grandville Ave., and Hillcrest Community), totaling 17 congregations and 6,600 members.

Classis Grand Rapids South would add Seymour CRC to partially offset the loss of the Wyoming congregations. LaGrave would be moved to Grand Rapids East, which makes much more sense for a downtown church. This would give a classis of 14 congregations and 6,750 members.

Grand Rapids North is geographically and numerically large and so placed that splitting off congregations is difficult. By moving Mayfair, Coit Community, and Gold Ave. to Grand Rapids East, North would have 18 congregations and 9,200 members, while East would have 16 congregations and 9,300 members. I would rename the latter classis Grand Rapids Central since it now covers downtown and stands between Grand Rapids North and South.

Finally, the remainder of classis Grandville (primarily Grandville and Byron Center) would have 11 congregations and 6,300 members.

The end result of this proposal would be one new classis (Wyoming), minor adjustments to three (GR North, East, and Thornapple Valley), and major adjustments to two (GR South and Grandville). We end up with classes which are geographically smaller, closer to the denominational average in membership, and have a closer to average number of congregations.

TABLE 2Edit

ClassisEdit

Current
Congr.
Edit

MembersEdit

Proposed
Congr.
Edit

MembersEdit

GR East (Central)Edit

15 9,854 16 9,290

GR NorthEdit

22 9,626 18 9,236

GR SouthEdit

22 9,698 14 6,760

GrandvilleEdit

19 9,080 11 6,312

Thornapple ValleyEdit

12 5,191 14 6,593

WyomingEdit

17 6,583

The smallest of the new classes has 1,100 more members than Thornapple Valley has today, and the largest, GR North, is 400 smaller than it is today. Except for Grandville, the classes are within three congregations of our target of 15. The range from smallest to largest classis is 7 congregations and less than 3,000 members, instead of 10 congrega tions and over 5,000 members. The only classis larger than it is today would be Thornapple Valley, which is currently much smaller than the others.

The new breakdown of the classes would be as follows:

TABLE 3Edit

Grand Rapids Central

Grand Rapids North

Grand Rapids South

  1. Boston Square (375)
  2. Calvin (979)
  3. Coit Comm. (40)
  4. Eastern Ave. (642)
  5. First (563)
  6. Fuller Ave. (675)
  7. Gold Ave. (91)
  8. Grace (403)
  9. LaGrave Ave. (1,117)
  10. Madison Square (676)
  11. Mayfair (419)
  12. Neland Ave. (533)
  13. Oakdale Park (601)
  14. Plymouth Hts. (1,069)
  15. Shawnee Park (708)
  16. Sherman St. (399)
  1. Belding (256)
  2. Cedar Springs (151)
  3. Comstock Park (213)
  4. Coopersville, Little Farms (91)
  5. Beckwith Hills (474)
  6. Creston (208)
  7. East Leonard (512)
  8. Riverside (327)
  9. Sunshine (2,667)
  10. Twelfth St. (350)
  11. Walker (387)
  12. West Leonard (523)
  13. Westend (1,031)
  14. Westview (827)
  15. Grant (373)
  16. Howard City (170)
  17. Rockford (485)
  18. Sparta (191)
  1. Covenant (802)
  2. Cutlerville East (568)
  3. Cutlerville First (520)
  4. Hillside Comm. (776)
  5. Pinegate Comm. (26)
  6. Providence (638)
  7. Alger Park (1,009)
  8. Burton Hts. (478)
  9. Discovery (90)
  10. Faith, Hope & Love (40)
  11. Seymour (988)
  12. Vietnamese (83)
  13. Moline (452)
  14. Wayland (290)

Grandville

Thornapple Valley

Wyoming

  1. Byron Ctr. First (775)
  2. Byron Ctr. Friendship (560)
  3. Byron Ctr. Heritage (703)
  4. Byron Ctr. Pathway (65)
  5. Byron Ctr. Second (630)
  6. Dorr (347)
  7. Fellowship (628)
  8. Hanley (425)
  9. Hope (659)
  10. Ivanrest (838)
  11. South Grandville (682)
  1. Ada (688)
  2. Alto (315)
  3. Caledonia (639)
  4. Brookside (1,206)
  5. Cascade (324)
  6. East Paris (326)
  7. Church of the Servant (703)
  8. Millbrook (659)
  9. Princeton (463)
  10. Woodlawn (699)
  11. Ionia (46)
  12. Lake Odessa (100)
  13. Lowell (275)
  14. Middleville (150)
  1. Bethel (381)
  2. Grandville Ave. (343)
  3. Hillcrest Comm. (120)
  4. Beverly (44)
  5. Calvary (682)
  6. Community (183)
  7. Godwin Hts. (235)
  8. Ideal Park (278)
  9. Immanuel (352)
  10. Kelloggsville (917)
  11. Korean (140)
  12. Lee St. (523)
  13. Rogers Hts. (592)
  14. Spanish (106)
  15. 36th St. (270)
  16. West 44th St. (204)
  17. Wyoming Park (347)

At the same time, classes should work to redefine the role of classis. Perhaps each could hire a part-time church growth specialist (maybe a seminarian or someone with an M.A. in church growth) to work with congregations in finding and developing a better fit with their environment. This person could do demographic research, take surveys, and help declining congregations re-vision. Cost could be divided between the classical budget and congregations using these services.

Additionally, each classis could have regular meetings or retreats for ministry staff from the whole classis, Perhaps offering an annual brainstorming session for church musicians, liturgists, youth workers, evangelists, education coordinators, etc. Classes should work to promote growth by helping to plant new churches, coordinate evangelism programs and training, and spin off new churches from congregations bursting at the seams.

With a classical growth coordinator, it might be possible to develop specific ministries targeting the whole area, such as a crusade or concerted evangelism program coupled with long term planning and follow up. Two or more classes might choose to cooperate in ministering to areas such as Heartside. The possibilities are limited only by the imagination, and since each coordinator will work directly for the classis, the problems sometimes encountered with an independent board and limited oversight could be eliminated. (Perhaps much of the work once done by GRAM would continue under such a system, but specifically as classical and inter-classical ministries.)

This proposal doesn't solve the problem of large classes, but it does reduce the size differences locally. Any such reorganization would have to be done by consulting local classes and congregations, so it could take some time before a more geographic grouping of classes arises. Further, the creation of a new classis would require synodical approval.

Alternately, except for classis Wyoming, congregations could petition to transfer to another classis based on geographic proximity. Creation of classis Wyoming is overdue and would require the cooperation of Grand Rapids South, Grandville, and synod.

Restructuring the Local Classes (Updated)Edit

Note: this is revised from the original using Yearbook 1997 data. As discussed in the first section of this paper, for historical reasons the classis structure of the Grand Rapids area is geographically disjointed, due to several classical splits. While Grand Rapids North and Grand Rapids East seem well grouped geographically (especially since Thornapple Valley was established), Grand Rapids South makes less sense geographically, running from downtown Grand Rapids to Wayland.

A restructuring on geographic lines, instead of simply dividing current classes, should be designed to create more equally sized classes, which today range from 4,800 (Thornapple Valley) to 10,075 (GR North), from 11 congregations (Thornapple) to 21 (GR North4). The five local classes have a total of 84 congregations and 42,540 members. This averages to 17 congregations and 8,508 members per classis.

The current denominational average is 21 congregations and 6,082 members per classis.The local classes average 19% fewer congregations but 40% more members. In the 1997 Yearbook the number of congregations per classis ranges from 11 to 34. Based on these figures, we could work for five classes of about 17 congregations or seven classes of about 6,077 members. As a compromise, we will aim for six classes averaging 14 churches and 7,090 members.

The current breakdown of classes is follows (1996 membership):

TABLE 1Edit

Grand Rapids East (9,155)

Grand Rapids North (10,075)

Grand Rapids South (9,448)

  1. Boston Square (324)
  2. Calvin (768)
  3. Church of the Servant (673)
  4. Eastern Ave. (544)
  5. First (479)
  6. Fuller Ave. (512)
  7. Grace (374)
  8. Madison Square (921)
  9. Neland Ave. (516)
  10. Oakdale Park (554)
  11. Plymouth Hts. (979)
  12. Seymour (902)
  13. Shawnee Park (643)
  14. Sherman St. (456)
  15. Woodlawn (510)
  1. Belding (300)
  2. Cedar Springs (220)
  3. Comstock Park (183)
  4. Coopersville, Little Farms (144)
  5. Beckwith Hills (328)
  6. Coit Comm. (80)
  7. Creston (163)
  8. East Leonard (485)
  9. Gold Ave. (145)
  10. Mayfair (376)
  11. Riverside (257)
  12. Sunshine (3,133)
  13. Walker (320)
  14. West Leonard (605)
  15. Westend (889)
  16. Westview (832)
  17. Grant (374)
  18. Howard City (253)
  19. Rockford (439)
  20. Sparta (347)
  21. Hahn-In (202)
  1. Covenant (724)
  2. Cutlerville East (561)
  3. Cutlerville First (468)
  4. Hillside Comm. (1,044)
  5. Pinegate Comm. (140)
  6. Providence (564)
  7. Alger Park (891)
  8. Burton Hts. (388)
  9. Hillcrest Comm. (120)
  10. Ideal Park (235)
  11. LaGrave Ave. (1,179)
  12. Roosevelt Park (503)
  13. Discovery (136)
  14. Kelloggsville (897)
  15. Vietnamese (88)
  16. Moline (497)
  17. Wayland (299)
  18. Community (184)
  19. Godwin Hts. (229)
  20. Immanuel (302)

Grandville (9,062)

Thornapple Valley (4,800)

  1. Byron Ctr. First (692)
  2. Friendship (667)
  3. Heritage (826)
  4. Pathway (224)
  5. Byron Ctr. Second (648)
  6. Dorr (378)
  7. Fellowship (702)
  8. Hanley (380)
  9. Hope (568)
  10. Ivanrest (801)
  11. South Grandville (616)
  12. Calvary (810)
  13. Faith Comm. (472)
  14. Hispana Emanuel (84)
  15. Lee St. (535)
  16. Rogers Hts. (545)
  17. W. 44th St. (114)
  1. Ada (541)
  2. Alto (236)
  3. Caledonia (596)
  4. Brookside (1,097)
  5. Cascade (407)
  6. East Paris (336)
  7. Millbrook (550)
  8. Princeton (492)
  9. Lake Odessa (119)
  10. Lowell (309)
  11. Middleville (117)

Classis Thornapple Valley is significantly smaller than the other four Grand Rapids classes. The first step should be to add a few more churches to this classis. I suggest moving Woodlawn and Church of the Servant to classis Thornapple Valley, which would now have 13 congregations and 5,983 members.

Next, a Wyoming classis makes sense. The Wyoming congregations are now split between Grand Rapids South and Grandville. It's about time the Hahn-In church realigned itself with its geographic area. Classis Wyoming would contain both Wyoming and southwest Grand Rapids congregations (Roosevelt Park and Hillcrest Community), totaling 14 congregations and 5,232 members.

Classis Grand Rapids South would add Seymour CRC to partially offset the loss of the Wyoming congregations. LaGrave would be moved to Grand Rapids East, which makes much more sense for a downtown church. This would give a classis of 13 congregations and 6,704 members.

Grand Rapids North is geographically and numerically large and so placed that splitting off congregations is difficult. By moving Mayfair, Coit Community, and Gold Ave. to Grand Rapids East, North would have 17 congregations and 9,272 members, while East would have 16 congregations and 8,850 members. I suggest renaming the latter classis Grand Rapids Central since it now covers downtown and stands between Grand Rapids North and South.

Finally, the remainder of classis Grandville (primarily Grandville and Byron Center) would have 11 congregations and 6,502 members.

The end result of this proposal would be one new classis (Wyoming), minor adjustments to three (GR North, East, and Thornapple Valley), and major adjustments to two (GR South and Grandville). We end up with classes which are geographically smaller, closer to the denominational average in membership, and have a closer to average number of congregations.

TABLE 2Edit

Classis

Current
Congr.

Members

Proposed
Congr.

Members

GR East (Central)

15 9,155 16 8,850

GR North

21 10,075 17 9,272

GR South

20 9,448 13 6,704

Grandville

17 9,062 11 6,502

Thornapple Valley

11 4,800 13 5,983

Wyoming

14 5,232

The smallest of the new classes has 41 more members than Thornapple Valley has today, and the largest, GR North, is 803 smaller than it is today. All classes are within three congregations of our target of 14. The range from smallest to largest classis is 6 congregations and 4,040 members, instead of 10 congrega tions and 5,275 members. The only classis larger than it is today would be Thornapple Valley, which is currently much smaller than the others.

Because of the disproportionate size of Sunshine, GR North will remain the largest local classis for some time. The second largest, GR Central, contains several churches with declining membership, so it can be expected to drop in size over time. The remaining classes contain a mix of established (and often declining) churches with newer, growing congregations and growing communities. Over time, each can be expected to grow in membership and number of congregations.

The new breakdown of the classes would be as follows:

TABLE 3Edit

Grand Rapids Central (8,850)

Grand Rapids North (9,272)

Grand Rapids South (6,704)

  1. Boston Square (324)
  2. Calvin (768)
  3. Coit Comm. (80)
  4. Eastern Ave. (544)
  5. First (479)
  6. Fuller Ave. (512)
  7. Gold Ave. (145)
  8. Grace (374)
  9. LaGrave Ave. (1,179)
  10. Madison Square (921)
  11. Mayfair (376)
  12. Neland Ave. (516)
  13. Oakdale Park (554)
  14. Plymouth Hts. (979)
  15. Shawnee Park (643)
  16. Sherman St. (456)
  1. Belding (300)
  2. Cedar Springs (220)
  3. Comstock Park (183)
  4. Coopersville, Little Farms (144)
  5. Beckwith Hills (328)
  6. Creston (163)
  7. East Leonard (485)
  8. Riverside (257)
  9. Sunshine (3,133)
  10. Walker (320)
  11. West Leonard (605)
  12. Westend (889)
  13. Westview (832)
  14. Grant (374)
  15. Howard City (253)
  16. Rockford (439)
  17. Sparta (347)
  1. Covenant (724)
  2. Cutlerville East (561)
  3. Cutlerville First (468)
  4. Hillside Comm. (1,044)
  5. Pinegate Comm. (140)
  6. Providence (564)
  7. Alger Park (891)
  8. Burton Hts. (388)
  9. Seymour (902)
  10. Discovery (136)
  11. Vietnamese (88)
  12. Moline (497)
  13. Wayland (299)

Grandville (6,502)

Thornapple Valley (5,983)

Wyoming (5,232)

  1. Byron Ctr. First (692)
  2. Friendship (667)
  3. Heritage (826)
  4. Pathway (224)
  5. Byron Ctr. Second (648)
  6. Dorr (378)
  7. Fellowship (702)
  8. Hanley (380)
  9. Hope (568)
  10. Ivanrest (801)
  11. South Grandville (616)
  1. Ada (541)
  2. Alto (236)
  3. Caledonia (596)
  4. Brookside (1,097)
  5. Cascade (407)
  6. East Paris (336)
  7. Church of the Servant (673)
  8. Millbrook (659)
  9. Princeton (463)
  10. Woodlawn (510)
  11. Lake Odessa (119)
  12. Lowell (309)
  13. Middleville (117)
  1. Hillcrest Comm. (120)
  2. Calvary (810)
  3. Community (184)
  4. Faith Comm. (472)
  5. Hispana Emanuel (84)
  6. Godwin Hts. (229)
  7. Hahn-In (202)
  8. Ideal Park (235)
  9. Immanuel (302)
  10. Kelloggsville (897)
  11. Lee St. (535)
  12. Rogers Hts. (545)
  13. Roosevelt Park (503)
  14. W. 44th St. (114)

Classes should also work to redefine the role of classis. Perhaps each could hire a part-time church growth specialist (maybe a seminarian or someone with an M.A. in church growth) to work with congregations in finding and developing a better fit with their environment. This person could do demographic research, take surveys, and help declining congregations re-vision. Cost could be divided between the classical budget and congregations using these services.

Additionally, each classis could have regular meetings or retreats for ministry staff from the whole classis, Perhaps offering an annual brainstorming session for church musicians, liturgists, youth workers, evangelists, education coordinators, etc. Classes should work to promote growth by helping to plant new churches, coordinate evangelism programs and training, and spin off new churches from congregations bursting at the seams.

With a classical ministry/growth coordinator, it might be possible to develop specific ministries targeting the whole area, such as a crusade or concerted evangelism program coupled with long term planning and follow up. Two or more classes might choose to cooperate in ministering to areas such as Heartside. The possibilities are limited only by the imagination, and since each coordinator will work directly for the classis, the problems sometimes encountered with an independent board and limited oversight could be eliminated.

This proposal doesn't solve the problem of large classes, but it does reduce the size differences locally. Any such reorganization would have to be done by consulting local classes and congregations, so it could take some time before a more geographic grouping of classes arises. Further, the creation of a new classis and transfer between classes would require synodical approval.

Alternately, except for classis Wyoming, congregations could petition to transfer to another classis based on geographic proximity. Creation of classis Wyoming is overdue and would require the cooperation of Grand Rapids South, Grandville, and synod.

UPDATE, September 1997. The Walker CRC has voted to secede from the denomination and affiliate with the United Reformed Churches. The Little Farms CRC in Coopersville has also voted to secede; they will join the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Both congregations were part of Classis Grand Rapids North.

Appendix: MapsEdit

These maps indicate the location and size of Grand Rapids Christian Reformed congregations. Colors are used to make it easier to tell circles apart when they overlap and have no other meaning.

1970
1980
1990
2000

Projections based on 1992 data.

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