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Posted on Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 6:13 a.m.

New churches planted to reach special niches, new members

By Janet Miller


Pastor Sung Kim conducts a Sunday service at Grace Ann Arbor Church. Grace Ann Arbor, which caters to young professionals, is the rebirth of University Reform Church, which closed its doors and sold its building a year ago.

Mark Bialek | For

A number of new churches are taking root in the Ann Arbor area.

Using new technologies and working to attract a new generation of church-goers, these churches are shedding the labels of a denomination and turning to marketing tools usually reserved for the retail and political sectors: Lawn signs, mailers, professional music, social networking and the lure of good coffee.

Some are forgoing the bricks and mortar of a church building with a more nomadic existence, and meeting in storefronts and hotel ballrooms.

There has been a number of local church plantings - the term used by evangelical Christians to start new churches, said Chris Blackstone, member of the new Grace Ann Arbor Church.


Pastor Sung Kim conducts a Sunday service at Grace Ann Arbor Church.

Mark Bialek | For

The increase in new churches is in contrast to the previous years when few new churches opened in the Ann Arbor area, Blackstone said. Blackstone was part of Grace Ann Arbor’s founding and hopes to plant a church of his own in 2011.

Some of these new churches, like Grace Ann Arbor, have niches. While they are open to all worshippers, they are targeting young professionals. Others, such as 2/42 Community Church, are reaching out to the unserved public.

Grace Ann Arbor is a replant, said Pastor Sung Kim, who moved to Ann Arbor four years ago as pastor at University Reformed Church. But the congregation was dwindling and something had to give.

“Like any business, what we were trying to accomplish and what we were actually doing weren’t aligned,” he said. “Our name didn’t refer to what we were doing.”

The church wasn’t catering to university undergraduates and the Reformed label didn’t seem inclusive at a time when denominations seem less important, he said.

“Instead of looking a church that was Reformed or Baptist of Methodist, people are looking for a place where they fit in, where the people are friendly,” Kim said.

University Reformed closed last fall, the church building was sold and plans for a new church were developed.


Carla Luchies of Ann Arbor (center) smiles at Kim Williams, also of Ann Arbor, during a Sunday service at Grace Ann Arbor Church. Grace Ann Arbor caters to young professionals.

Mark Bialek | For

“It was a similar process to a business where we restructured, rebranded and came under new management,” Kim said.

They opened last month as Grace Ann Arbor, holding services and classes inside rented space of the Boardwalk Creative Center on Boardwalk Drive, in the same plaza as Zap Zone. They have about 120 members and remain affiliated with the Reformed Church.

Kim said their congregation includes all generations, but caters to young professionals.

“There are a couple of big churches that focus on undergraduates and big churches that attract families and youth,” he said.

Grace Ann Arbor wanted to appeal to people who are in what Kim calls “quarter-life crisis” - young professionals who are facing questions about career, finance, marriage and family. About 85 percent of the congregation is in theirs 20s and 30s.

“At University Reformed, we were becoming that, but our name wasn’t aligned with that,” he said.

Grace Ann Arbor is using tools of the young generation it serves, including social networking.

“Social media plays a role,” Kim said “But each Sunday, we become a community. We tell people you can have 500 friends on Facebook, but not one real friend. Here, you have a friend in God and you are friends with real people.”

It’s important for Grace Ann Arbor to remain small, Kim said, and they may eventually open other church locations that serve other niches, such as the elderly or social fringe.

“We want to remain highly relational and keep it at 150 members. Rather than a church of 1,500 we’d rather have 10 churches of 150 … We’d rather be like Zingerman’s than Walmart,” he said.

Not all church plants want to stay small.

The new 2/42 Community Church, which meets in the Four Points Sheraton hotel in Ann Arbor, was planted last March by the 2/42 Community Church in Brighton, which meets inside Brighton High School, said David Dummitt, lead pastor.


The Grace Ann Arbor Church band warms up before a Sunday service.

Mark Bialek | For

“We’re like Chase Bank - one church, two locations,” he said.

The Brighton location began more than four years ago and had close to 1,100 members and the Ann Arbor church has about 300 members. 
 The non-denominational 2/42 Community Church, which takes its name from Acts: 2:42-47 in the Bible, was seeded by other churches and in turn is planting other churches, Dummitt said. “The idea is to pay it forward. In the last 4.5 years, we’ve helped three other churches get started.”

The church isn’t after a demographic niche, he said, although its leaders are in their 20s and 30s. Instead, the church is looking for people who have turned away from church or who have never had a relationship with a one. And they are staying away from identifying with a denomination, he said.

“I don’t think a lot of people can tell you the difference between a Methodist and a Baptist. For a lot of de-churched or un-churched people, that doesn’t speak to their lives.”

The 2/42 Community Church has also used new technology to reach out, including mailers that promise “really, really good coffee,” professional music and a wide-screen display for multi-media at the services, Dummitt said.

“We’re pretty conservative in our theology, but pretty progressive in our methodology.”

Janet Miller is a freelance writer who writes regularly for


Sung Kim

Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 2:18 p.m.

lol...of course you are, mirunner26.1 but i know talk is cheap. so I'd love to have you visit us and let me know if we really are welcoming. Just to let you know, we already have people who are single parents, divorced, unemployed, retired etc. who call Grace Ann Arbor home...


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 12:54 p.m.

It's a great idea to want to reach out to those "young professionals" in their 20s and 30s but there is a huge underserved population of those in their 40s and 50s single either by choice or through divorce or loss of a spouse who get lost in the church. Pastor Kim, are we welcome to your church? Or are you targeting 20-30s only? It seems a lot of churches remember the college and post college age but forget about the older group. We seem to get lost in the Protestant evangelical and traditional churches as well as the Catholic ones... just trying to find a place to fit into God's kingdom.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 12:24 p.m.

Another additional and exciting church plant in the Ann Arbor area is Northridge Church's Saline church plant. It meets at Saline High School in the auditorium on Sundays at 9:15 and 11:15. The services are contemporary and feature the teaching of Northridge Church's senior pastor, Brad Powell, via satelitte. This church plant started in September and is proving to be very effective in growing relationships for its attendees with God and with each other.

Max Peters

Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 11:45 a.m.

This is actually pretty sad. At the Last Supper Christ prayed that we might all be one. Here we're celebrating further fractioning of the Church. There are literally tens of thousands of Protestant denominations whose theology is determined by their pastors. When you follow sola fide and sola scriptura, everyone is their own pope. There was only one Church founded by Christ on the Rock of Peter with the promise that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Unless you think hell has prevailed, why the division? Within the Catholic Church there is tons of diversity in worship just compare A2's Christ the King and St. Thomas parishes. Perhaps we should try to get God to conform to us less, and conform to him more.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 10:06 a.m.

This comment is directed toward Freemind42. If you view this news article as an advertisement then you must feel that the majority of the news is simply advertisements. The story about the Big Boy on Zeeb Rd. reopening must have been an advertisement for that restaurant. A story about a new library parking lot must be an advertisement trying to get people to go check out some books. The sports section is advertising all sorts of teams. The list goes on. If everything you deemed an advertisement was taken out of the newspaper the only news would be about crime and taxes. Regardless of your religious views, one should see this as a story about something positive happening in our area. We can certainly use more positive "news"!

Sung Kim

Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 9:48 a.m.

hey aareader, of course we wouldn't turn people away! We want to remain "small" not to exclude, but to include - it's an intentional strategy based on sociological observations and organizational principles(read Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlingham). Besides, our current location has an auditorium capacity of only 165 people, so we're looking to offer two services soon!


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 9:14 a.m.

Are they stating that if they get bigger than 150 members they will turn potential member 151 away or tell then to go to one of their other churches in a different location?


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 8:24 a.m.

nice advertisement for a church. now on to real news...

Sung Kim

Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 8:16 a.m.

Great article, Janet! Grace Ann Arbor is planning on starting a second worship service at our current location soon, and then start other locations near North Campus, Central Campus, the West Side, and Ypsi in the coming years. We want each location to have the relational dynamic of a "smaller" church where people can find good friends while maintaining a level of excellence in ministry like you might find at a "larger" church.


Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 7:38 a.m.

Churches often get caught in tradition and it's great to see that area churches are realizing that the old methodologies may not work as well with younger generations. As they say, different strokes for different folks.

Chris Blackstone

Thu, Oct 15, 2009 : 5:53 a.m.

Small correction to the article - I (the Chris Blackstone quote in the article) am looking to plant a church in Ann Arbor probably in 2011, not 2010. Additional information can be found on my blog