We hear a lot of good feedback about Grace’s capacity to adapt and change, 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, far before any of us were around.
Grace Church started unofficially on May 1, 1895, when nineteen immigrants gathered in a home at the intersection of 7th and Holland to meet and worship in their native tongue. They referred to themselves as the Swedish Baptist Church.
In 1906, those Swedes made their first major change. They tore down the house and built a church building on the now-empty lot where they could better serve the needs of the Swedes who continued to immigrate to the area. By 1939, the congregation found themselves facing a dilemma. They could either preserve their rich cultural identity or they could continue impacting the community. They decided that reaching out to others was too important, so they changed their name to Grace Baptist Church and began to hold their services in English.
The 1950’s brought more change. In 1959, the members of the church made another risky move and bought two acres of undeveloped, rural land in Millcreek. That farmland at 38th and Colonial would eventually become a booming community. It was a risky change and ultimately the right one.
The 1970s marked the beginning of steady growth for Grace Church. In 1974, Pastor Cornell Haan led the congregation to innovate new initiatives that knew 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 nearly 2000 people who call Grace Church their home today.
During those years, the congregation embraced several more changes. The facility went through multiple expansions, new services were added, a church was planted, modern music was embraced, and the church learned that it had to organize and govern itself differently as it grew. In 1978, Grace had two staff members. Today, the pastoral and ministry staff has grown to nearly 90 people including volunteer staff leaders.
Growth in the 2000’s forced Grace to change its location one more time. Grace purchased a 41 acre parcel on Grubb Road and built a 45,000 square foot facility in 2007. This was another risky move, but the church acted boldly and embraced a change that would allow us to be a better resource of hope and healing for generations to come. Then in the fall of 2010 Sr. Pastor Al Detter sensed God’s calling him to transition into a supporting role while promoting Pastor Derek Sanford in the Lead Pastor position. This sacrificial decision was yet another example of the “mission first” philosophy that has marked our history.
This leadership transition opened the door for Grace to embrace a new change and develop a multi-site strategy – one church in multiple locations. And on Easter 2011, Grace Harborcreek opened its doors meeting at Harborcreek High School. After a year of meeting at the school, Grace was gifted a church building in Harborcreek to be our permanent home! God did an amazing thing and used the generosity and selflessness of a handful of people to bless hundreds more.
Then, in the fall of 2014, Grace opened another location in the West County in Girard High school – Grace Girard was born. That same year, we committed to launching Grace Online, an online worship experience, so that we could expand our reach to the ends of the earth.
Oh, and remember that first church on Holland Street? In late 2017, Erie Insurance Group gifted that historic building back to Grace! We are excited to renovate the building and explore how God wants us to use it!
We’re constantly changing how we do church so we can continue to present the unchanging gospel to our neighbors. The scriptures demand it and so does our history.