Grace on the Move
Years after upheaval in the congregation drove many people away, ministry is thriving again at Grace Reformed Church in Allen Park, Michigan.
The church is located about five miles from Ford Motor Company's world headquarters, just south of metro Detroit, in an area known as Downriver. It's a solidly blue collar community that's still reeling from the severe effects of the recession on the auto industry.
The renewal Grace Church is experiencing has grown out of years of prayer by a core group of leaders who remained at Grace, convinced that God wasn't done using Grace Church. Eventually God led them to send out a letter asking for forgiveness from those who had been wounded by what people had said and done in the past.
"We had to learn to speak the truth in love and take everything to prayer," says Linda Partin, who has served many times as elder. "It was a long process."
Turning around a ministry: Pastor Bruce Hunt shares lessons learned
Instead of beginning a project by looking at the budget, take a leap of faith. God will supply. It comes with uneasiness and a lack of comfort, but God comforts his people.
Be ready to admit that you don't have everything worked out. My wife, Kelly, says Grace is a church of imperfect people striving after a perfect God.
Don't think in terms of programs; think in terms of steps, steps that will bring people closer to Christ. If you do it in steps you may be led in ways you never would have thought of.
Your prayers have to reflect what's going on outside the church. Be outward focused, get out there and rub elbows and have conversations. We go to downtown street fairs to pass out stuff about Grace Church and open the door for conversations.
Above all, pray, "God, use us to reach out to this community, no matter what it takes." Then get out and act!
A renewed vision
Grace's renewed vision for ministry includes developing the consistory as a leadership community. "In the past, the consistory was mostly business," says deacon Alyson Wrase. "Now, we take time to talk about where God is moving at Grace. We spend time in prayer before making decisions. The business is kept to a minimum and you can feel the Spirit move in our meetings." Consistory members are also involved in prayer partnerships for accountability, modeling it for the rest of the congregation.
"We have a Wednesday gathering for leaders to pray for the requests that came in Sunday," adds pastor Bruce Hunt. "Elders gather every Sunday morning to pray for the service. On the second and fourth Sunday of each month we pray for the vision of Grace Church." The church also regularly sends letters to nearby residents, asking people if they have any prayer requests.
"We're starting to see growth in worship attendance, even in summer," says Hunt, who came onboard with Grace in May 2009. He says 100 people attended worship on this year's Fourth of July weekend--the highest attendance on that holiday weekend in over 10 years.
"Our ministry is more outward focused than it ever has been," adds Wrase. "We're thankful for each and every new person who enters the building." A Celebrate Recovery ministry and a community lunch program have been especially effective in connecting people from the community with Grace Church.
People are increasingly using their spiritual gifts to minister in the church and in the wider community, and financial giving is increasing as well. "People are giving more, even though 10 to 15 percent of people are out of a job. That's God at work," says Hunt.
Hunt makes sure people understand that it's okay if they can't afford to give. He recalls a homeless man who nonetheless reached in his pocket and pulled out a handful of pennies to put in the offering plate. "That's a huge God moment. That's the Widow's Mite right there."
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