That's a question the pastors and elders from Redemption Church in Grandville heard over again when they were mulling the prospect of opening a house of worship in Southeast Grand Rapids.
Actually, some of the comments were downright bleak when area ministers learned the location of its Grand Rapids church plant.
A graveyard for churches?
"We were told by different pastors that this is a graveyard for churches, if you want to plant a church," says Matthew Thompson, campus pastor for Redemption Church in Grand Rapids. "A lot of people asked if we really needed another church in this area because it seemed like there's a church on every corner."
But, Thompson quickly adds, they were not dissuaded.
What they learned is Southeast Grand Rapids is one of the most liberal and diverse regions of the city. Eighty-five percent of the 125,000 people who live within a three-mile radius of the Grand Rapids church are unsaved, meaning they have not accepted Christ as their savior. That's around 82,000 people.
Moreover, and this is key, the people there don't really care about church but they want the church to care for them.
The three Cs
Knowing this convinced Redemption Church this location would not be a graveyard. They would avert the naysayers' predictions by following the three Cs: care, connect and communication.
"Jesus conquered the grave," says Thompson. "Though it may be thought as the graveyard for churches, that's where the mission for connecting people to Jesus is and it's where we want to be. My role here in Grand Rapids is to care for people coming to Grand Rapids, help them connect with people in small groups, and connect as a first time visitor, and then also to communicate our mission, our values, and teachings."
Skin in the game
The Grandville congregation put some skin in the game by agreeing to purchase the Grand Rapids church building at 1535 Cambridge Dr. SE even though their Grandville campus continues to rent space at Tri-unity Elementary School.
"Even though they're a set-up-and-tear-down at their own building, they bought us a building here (in Grand Rapids)," says Thompson. "They bought us a building so we could have a presence in the community because of what we've seen in the urban context."
In other words, a bricks-and-mortar location means the church is here for the long haul.
How long are you going to be here?
"People ask, 'How long are you going to be here and how long before you're gone,?'" says Thompson. "Having a location was something that was important for us as we were praying about this area. We have place right here in the city. We're praying it's a place where people can come and meet Jesus."
Before holding its first service Easter Sunday in 2019, leaders immersed themselves in community outreach, including Laundry Love nights that offered to pay to wash people's clothes at a local Laundromat and meet and greets at an area park.
Today, the church averages 120 people who attend. At press time, there have been 11 salvations and many baptisms that bring to the fore Redemption Church's heartbeat: connecting people to Jesus for changed lives.
It's about Jesus' kingdom
Redemption is a nondenominational church that has a relationship with Send Network, the Southern Baptist Convention's church planting wing. Send Network instructs congregations how to immerse themselves in a community by learning its rhythms and culture. The goal is to have a church plant grow organically out of the evangelism efforts of the planter and their core team.
"This whole thing is not about Redemption Church but the kingdom of Jesus," says Thompson. "We have a building but our building can't house 82,000 people, so we need to plant like-minded churches."