Reaching the Cities
By Dean Van Farowe
…should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals? —Jonah 4:11
The Great Lakes Region is one of eight regions in the RCA. It has 182 Reformed churches and new plants. About 75 of these churches, and most of our region’s RCA members, are located in five West Michigan counties: Allegan, Kalamazoo, Kent, Muskegon, and Ottawa. These counties have 1.4 million people.
Compare that to the Lake Erie Classis, with fewer than 20 churches spread across 400 miles. Within its borders are the metro areas of Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, which together are home to roughly 10 million people, more than 5 million of whom are unclaimed for Christ.
So on the one hand, people- and resource-heavy West Michigan classes, and on the other, people- and resource-light Lake Erie Classis; yet Lake Erie is where far greater numbers of unclaimed people live and where “great cities” abound.
In 2013, synod executives Art Wiers, Rick Veenstra, and Doug McClintic began to prayerfully consider what God’s will would be to live out the Great Commission in these large metro areas. Through much prayer and discussion with the region’s leaders and consistories, and study of biblical texts like Jonah, they were led to recommend a historic merger to the 2014 Assembly of the Synod of the Great Lakes: a merger of South Grand Rapids Classis and Lake Erie Classis, for the purpose of starting and strengthening churches by developing leaders who will lead ministry among these 5 million people who are without Christ.
South Grand Rapids Classis has a recent history of engaging her cities—including Wyoming, Michigan—with humble attention to their needs and carefully executed church planting. For example, the classis brought Wyoming RCA and Christian Reformed church leaders together for a visit to the leaders of the city, asking, “What do you need?” The city leaders asked for 1,100 mentors (one each for 10 percent of the student population). South Grand Rapids leaders set off to find them, bringing together church, business, school, and police and fire department leaders to seek mentors among them. As of spring 2014, they had brought together 500 mentors for the city’s children. In addition, their church planting efforts have already started seven churches, six with commissioned pastors. They hope to plant a total of eight RCA churches, while also supporting the work of RCA and CRC churches that were already ministering in Wyoming.
Lake Erie Classis has three strong regional teams in metro Detroit (eight churches), Cleveland (four churches), and Columbus (four churches). Its pastors have engaged these areas over the long haul: the majority of Lake Erie pastors have been serving in their current churches for more than a decade. There has been a great steadiness of purpose and prayer, and slow but steady growth in many of these congregations. Yet there is no doubt that additional resources for leadership development and church planting would yield fruit for God’s kingdom. With this in mind, the majority of Lake Erie leaders and consistories endorsed the merger with South Grand Rapids Classis.
At its annual assembly in May, the Synod of the Great Lakes voted to approve the merger. Lake Erie Classis will be disbanded, and its leaders and churches joined to the strong existing structures of South Grand Rapids Classis. Then as relationships are built and prayers are prayed, the two classes, as the new Great Lakes City Classis, will turn their hearts together toward the metro areas that God is concerned for.
Dean Van Farowe is pastor of Calvary Reformed Church in Cleveland, Ohio. He is vice president of the Synod of the Great Lakes.