Fair warning: this is long, but it's good. Grab a cup of something and settle in!
We hear a lot of good feedback about Grace’s capacity to adapt and change. These compliments feel good to hear, but we can’t take credit for it. The ability to adapt to change is part of our church’s DNA. Grace Church has been navigating change for over a century, so we’d be foolish to take credit for it.
On May 1, 1895, nineteen immigrants banded together in a home at the intersection of 7th and Holland to meet and worship in their native tongue. These immigrants didn’t legally incorporate as a church but they referred to themselves as the Swedish Baptist Church.
In 1906, those Swedes made their first major change. The house no longer met their needs, so they tore it down and built a new church building on the same lot where they could better serve the needs of the Swedes who continued to immigrate to the area.
By 1939, the founders of the church had passed on and the Swedish population had adapted to their surrounding English-speaking culture. The congregation found themselves facing a dilemma. They could either preserve their rich cultural identity or they could continue impacting the community. But they couldn’t do both. The congregation changed their name to Grace Baptist Church and began held their services in English. They embraced a hard change and possibly disappointed a few people along the way. But the change was faithful to the mission of the church.
The ‘50’s brought more change and upheaval. The economy was booming and Americans could afford to build a home and move to the suburbs. The families Grace Church was called to reach were quickly leaving the neighborhood. So in 1959, the members of the church made a risky move and bought two acres of undeveloped, rural land on the corner of 38th and Colonial Avenue with the expectation that the farmland would eventually become a booming community. It was a risky change and ultimately the right one.
The ‘70s marked the beginning of steady growth for Grace Church. In 1974, Pastor Cornell Haan led the congregation to innovate new initiatives that new the needs of families. New Christians were being added to the church regularly. Pastor Al Detter assumed leadership in 1978 and the church underwent more changes. The congregation grew from 250 people to the 1,100 people who call Grace Church their home today.
During those years, the congregation embraced several more changes. The building on 38th went through multiple expansions. A second service was added. A church was planted. The congregation had developed a reputation in the community for its large choirs and traditional music but realized that it must sacrifice a piece of its religious heritage and reputation if it was going to continue reaching the unchurched. So the congregation made the change of learning how to worship with modern music. The church learned that it had to organize and govern itself differently as a big church; otherwise it would lose its ability to make fast decisions. The church adapted and found a way to govern itself differently-- without sacrificing its commitment to be a congregational church. In 1978, Grace had two staff members. Today, the staff and pastoral team have grown to fifteen people.
The growth in attendance and ministry opportunities of the 2000’s forced the church to change its location one more time. The congregation had outgrown the parking lots and classroom. Grace was landlocked and was unable to receive new visitors. The church took a deep breath and purchased a 41 acre parcel of Grubb Road and built a 45,000 square foot facility. This was another risky move as wars in the Middle East were driving up the cost of building materials. But the church acted boldly and embraced a change that would allow us to better be a resource of healing and hope for generations to come.
In 2011, Grace embraced a new changed and became a multisite church. On Easter, Grace Harborcreek opened allowing us to provide a complementary voice to the existing churches already committed to reaching the eastern Erie County. This is just one of a handful of changes the church is undergoing.
So, yes, we’re constantly changing how we do business so we can present the unchanging gospel to our neighbors. We don’t want to be the first generation in Grace’s long history to be unwilling to sacrifice our comfort for those who haven’t met Jesus yet.