New Church Begins with Alpha

Date Posted: 
Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Toby Gruppen describes worship at LifeQuest, an RCA church plant in Holland, Michigan, as laid back and casual. “We sit around round tables; it’s very much like a coffee shop feel,” says Gruppen, who pastors the congregation. “It’s very interactive—people have no problem participating during the message time, asking questions. Usually I will wrap up after a teaching time by asking, ‘What have you heard?’ ‘What are you going to do about it?’ People share their own experiences or ask questions. I like the community feel.”

Worship begins at 10:30, but people gather an hour before the service each week for a time of corporate prayer, and stick around after the service ends. “After the ‘Amen,’ people don’t rush and take off; they linger and there’s more conversation,” says Gruppen. “That’s a good feeling.”

LifeQuest’s roots go back to 2008, when Mary Ann Wierks began an Alpha program at Christ Memorial Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan, where she was pastor of outreach. Wierks and others leading the Alpha program soon realized that they could reach a far greater number of people by expanding the program to the north side of Holland; many of those attending the program had family and friends there.

They found a home at Request Foods, a food processing plant. Request offered space in a break room to hold the Alpha program. At that point, Wierks contacted Gruppen, then a seminary student, who had expressed interest in leading Alpha.

Gruppen led the Alpha program at Request Foods for about a year. The group grew and even began offering a food distribution program. Eventually, Gruppen had a core group of people ready to take the next step and begin gathering for worship.

The fledgling congregation relocated to an office suite when Request Foods expanded and needed to reclaim its space; they stayed there until 2013, when the opportunity arose to move into another manufacturing space. Doug Buma, president of Holland Awning Group and a member of Christ Memorial, offered LifeQuest nearly 6,000 square feet of unused office space in the plant. In exchange, Gruppen serves as chaplain to the plant’s more than 250 employees.

“80 percent of their employees come from an Asian background, and there are more than 10 different languages spoken,” says Gruppen. As chaplain, his main job is building relationships and just being a listening ear for employees. He also hopes to build connections between the plant’s employees and the congregation.

“One of the bigger questions that [LifeQuest is] looking at is: are we just trying to build a church or are we trying to be the kingdom in this community and bring transformation to this community?” he says.

One of LifeQuest’s answers to that question is Sending Sundays. On the last Sunday of each month, the congregation worships through acts of service, often addressing needs that Gruppen hears about in his role as chaplain at the plant. They’ve built decks, winterized mobile homes, and done other home projects. Through the service projects, several employees have connected more deeply with the congregation. “It’s been huge to bridging that [cultural] gap,” says Gruppen. “They realize, ‘Wow, these people are here to bless us and help us.’”

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