New churches planted to reach special niches, new members
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.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.â€¨
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.“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.“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. â€¨ 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.”â€¨
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 AnnArbor.com.