by Tom Bradley
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – In the early 1900s a church planting movement went across the small, but growing city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Eventually a church was started, and a facility built in the densely packed working-class neighborhood on the northwest side of the city called Fair Haven. In a central place in the auditorium, they placed a beautiful stained-glass window with a Bible at its center to visualize their commitment to bring Jesus to the neighborhood and city.
A number of years later, as is common in many American cities, the urban northwest side changed, and the church struggled to adjust. Fair Haven became a congregation in decline. Then a new freeway, I-131, was slated to divide the growing city, and Fair Haven was square in its path. Relocation now had to happen, but where?
With the opportunity to have a fresh start, Fair Haven decided to move out of the city. A new facility was built, extra loans were made, but unfortunately the congregation continued to shrink. Eventually, to pay back the loans the congregation deeded the building back to the association, and a small remnant continued to meet there.
Back on the urban West Side, the city sunk into a period of economic and cultural decline. Houses became slumlord apartments, and parks were a combination of rusty playground equipment, trash and broken glass. Schools overwhelmed and underfunded, struggled in a neighborhood saturated with drugs, alcohol, violence and brokenness.
Westwood and church planting and CrossWinds
In 1991 Merri and I felt like God was calling us to plant a church on the northwest side of Grand Rapids, called Westwood. We struggled to find a place to meet, and eventually wound up at a YMCA. After a few years, the association told us about a facility they could make available to us to use, and eventually buy. A small congregation met there called Fair Haven Baptist Church. Within a few years our church plant continued to grow, and Fair Haven dwindled and eventually disbanded. Westwood, a growing church plant, was now a vital part of a thriving, church planting movement helping to start many churches in West Michigan.
Then our young youth pastor felt called to plant as well, called back to the urban neighborhood he grew up in. Some of the members went with him and in the joyful parting a new church was born in the city. For many years it struggled. It was not a three-year, self-sustaining start. It was blood, sweat, and tears. For years they clawed to get a foothold in the broken neighborhood. When temporary denominational funding dried up, Westwood continued supporting them, and Merri and I marveled, as we watched them love their neighbors. Many times, it came close to closing. But they never quit. They kept trying, and they saw the miraculous hand of God transforming lives in the darkest places of the city. They called themselves CrossWinds, they planted a second congregation, and a movement was growing.
Over the years by the sacrificial example of CrossWinds, Merri and I began to see the need for church planting in the city. So, our ministry started drifting to the urban West Side. It started with a backyard bible club that morphed into a summer soccer program. Neighborhood kids, with nothing to do showed up. We met families, the schools pitched in, and a summer league developed. People were available, hungry, and looking for anything that would help their families, and the Church became present in the middle of the brokenness. It was like lighting a candle in the darkness.
As the needs and the opportunities became more apparent, I started talking with the CrossWinds team about planting a church in the Urban West Side. I would be happy to help facilitate, encourage, and possibly participate in some way to help get it started. But I really wanted to see it happen. After a couple of years, the CrossWinds team came up with a strategy for planting a church on the Urban West Side… it was me, they said, and I knew it.
So, Merri and I moved from the quiet suburbs to the always-noisy West Side. We’re living next to drug dealers, 100 yards from a free health clinic, and loving it. We can walk to the place our church meets in the downtown West Side in a few minutes, while passing neighbors we know and love, and speak Jesus to on a regular basis.
When we came, we brought back something with us. The stained-glass window with the Bible in the middle. It was important to a group of people nearly 100 years ago who believed they could make a difference in the city. We still believe that today.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom and Merri Bradley planted CrossWinds West Side in Grand Rapids, Michigan three years ago. If you would like to learn more or receive their newsletter feel free to contact them at email@example.com.