Southwest Michigan Classis has planted church after church. Here’s how it maintains that momentum.

Twin Lakes Reformed Church had been in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for 145 years when, in 2017, they began to consider closing their doors due to a shrinking congregation.

But rather than shutter the building for good, Twin Lakes contacted the pastors of another church, The Bridge, located in nearby Portage, to discuss the possibility of passing on their facility as a legacy gift.

The Bridge, as it turned out, was already planning a church plant in the area, so they accepted Twin Lakes’s gift as a new home for the burgeoning plant. This was not a first; when The Bridge itself was just a new congregation, it had assumed the facilities of another church that had recently closed its doors. What’s more, another of The Bridge’s church plants, Voyage Church, assumed the facilities of Fourth Reformed Church in Kalamazoo in 2013.

“I think that’s pretty significant, that churches are planting in the soil that another church has been growing in in the past,” says Philip Rose, who serves as a church planter for The Bridge. He’s been overseeing the launch of The Living Well, The Bridge’s newest church plant. “So we’re very intentional in Kalamazoo and Southwest Michigan Classis right now of looking for those kinds of opportunities. No church wants to say that they’re dying, but the possibility of new life coming into a place—a fresh start, if you will—is something that we’re trying to get into our culture, into our awareness.”

Twin Lakes celebrated the completion of its ministry on Easter of this year, after which the new church plant assumed the facilities. A post from Twin Lakes Reformed Church on the Southwest Michigan Classis website reads, “For nearly a century and a half, this vibrant congregation faithfully worshiped and served God producing waves of kingdom impact. That season of ministry will conclude on Easter Sunday of this year as the Twin Lakes Congregation gathers officially for one last time of worship….BUT, God’s kingdom activity will continue as a new church plant begins to germinate and eventually sprouts to new life in that location.”

Multiplying for generations

The Living Well is the newest church plant in a lineage of growth. Its parent church, The Bridge, was planted eight years ago by Centerpoint Church (RCA) in Kalamazoo. With each church it plants, Centerpoint is committed to multiplying into new generations of church communities. Over the course of nearly 15 years, Centerpoint Church has been a part of eight church plants in West Michigan and beyond.

“Our model is taking our best staff people and encouraging them to do what we call hive-planting,” says Jeff Porte, Centerpoint’s lead pastor. “You take a group of people from the mother church and their offerings, and you go and start a new congregation. And that’s worked really well for us.”

Centerpoint Church, which has served in Kalamazoo since 1889 (formerly as Third Reformed Church), planted its first church, The River, in September 2004. Since then, The River has planted the Urban Apostolic Network Church, a collegiate body of churches located in five sites across Michigan: Benton Harbor, Detroit, two sites on the north side of Kalamazoo, and one on the south side. Additionally, Centerpoint has planted Northpoint Church in Plainwell, Michigan; New Community Church in Lawton, Michigan; Centerpoint City Church, a second location of Centerpoint in Kalamazoo; and The Bridge in Portage, Michigan. The Bridge has in turn planted Voyage Church and The Living Well.

Saying goodbye and filling the void

As Centerpoint has continued to nurture new church plants, sending members to start congregations has created new challenges—and opportunities—for church leaders.

“The thing about church planting is that it creates a controlled crisis,” says Porte. “It’s forced the congregation to have to raise up new leaders. I remember when we planted The River, our worship arts leader was very upset with me. He’s like, ‘You expect me to have great worship on Sundays, and now you’ve given [away] our best people? Who am I supposed to draw from?’ I heard him out, and said, ‘Well, you’re just going to have to raise up new leaders.’ And that’s exactly what he’s done. Now he’s become one of the biggest proponents of church planting, because he’s seen what it can do in expanding the kingdom.”

To encourage the continual cultivation of leaders within their congregation, Jason Olson, pastor of multiplication at Centerpoint, led the development of the Leadership Training Center.

Through a four-course curriculum, Centerpoint’s Leadership Training Center equips emerging leaders for ministry from within the congregation. Guided by the Church Leadership Center in Grand Rapids, the Leadership Training Center’s courses in preaching, spiritual formation, church planting, and leadership were designed around Centerpoint’s strengths as a church. At the completion of their training, students become commissioned pastors equipped to serve a specific ministry need—the hope is as future leaders of church plants.

“We’ve got to be producing leaders intentionally, not accidentally,” says Olson. “And so this is one of the ways that we’re trying to be intentional about developing and creating leaders for ministry. … My hope is that we create this leadership pipeline, or a training ground for people to learn how to do ministry, how to live like Jesus among people who may or may not know God or have a relationship with Christ, and then pray about being sent somewhere to lead a church or to lead a ministry.”

Obeying the Great Commission

As they’ve continued in their “hive model” of church planting, Centerpoint has had to grapple with the inherent risks that come with growing and sustaining a new church and sending leaders to serve there—as well as other challenges.

“In [our denomination], there has been excitement over church planting, and there has been resistance over church planting,” says Nate Bull, teaching pastor at Centerpoint and pastor at the Urban Apostolic Network Church. “In the past couple years, I would say there’s been resistance more than ever. … But I’ve seen none of that at Centerpoint. And I can really see God’s blessing on that. [Centerpoint’s] refusal to quit church planting just because it’s hard has actually brought the blessing of the Lord. Because I can’t remember church planting ever being easy, but that can’t deter people from really obeying the mandate to go and make disciples.”

Reflecting on the vision for their church planting mission, Porte agrees.

“Where we see God at work is [in] the risk to do something like this when it doesn’t make any logical sense, that we’re going to give great leaders and energy toward doing another work when there are plenty of things to do right at home base,” says Porte. “But it is our vision, and we’ve learned that we just have to trust that God will honor that generosity. And we’ve always gotten more than we gave when we made these kinds of moves. I think it keeps our church agile and trusting and moving away from complacency.”