The term “church plant” hadn’t come into common use in 1929 when a group of Christian Reformed congregations started the West Fulton Mission to evangelize the west side urban neighborhoods of Grand Rapids, Mich.
Nearly 90 years and several name changes later, the mission is now Gold Avenue Christian Reformed Church. Gold Avenue was recently established as a full-fledged Christian Reformed congregation after more than 50 years of support from sponsoring churches.
“We feel like there’s a call on this church—to people, to ministry, and to plant [new churches]. We couldn’t do that if we hadn’t been planted first,” said Dave Westra, a former missionary to China who accepted a call to become pastor at Gold Avenue in 2010. Westra was joined three years later by a second pastor, Gina Dick. Together they share pastoral duties for the congregation.
On a Sunday afternoon in early December, about 200 people packed the church sanctuary for a two-hour service to mark Gold Avenue’s official establishment. Westra and Dick were formally installed as the congregation’s pastors, as were the first elders and deacons on the newly-established church council.
“It's been a wonderful work of God. It never seemed very likely [that we would get to this point]. We’ve been blessed in so many different ways,” said Ken Adema, an elder who has been coming to Gold Avenue for more than 30 years.
Adema said that at one point, Gold Avenue considered closing its doors; becoming a satellite church of another CRC congregation in Grand Rapids; merging with a nearby Reformed Church in America congregation; or continuing on with no certainty of where they would find a pastor. “We put it to a vote of the congregation, and a huge majority voted to keep on going as we were,” he said.
Laurel Ackerman-Lindholm chaired the group which planned the celebration service. She shared some of the historical highlights. In 1960, Highland Hills CRC in Grand Rapids agreed to provide financial support and volunteers to what was then known as Gold Avenue Back To God Chapel. In 1989, the congregation moved to its present location on Gold Ave. A few years later, Highland Hills and another CRC congregation merged to form Westend CRC, which continued to provide oversight and support.
The congregation has had an active prayer ministry for the last several years, including a regular Thursday night gathering during the summer where about 25 to 30 members go into the nearby neighborhood to offer prayers for the community. Gold Avenue also has a youth ministry program known as Gold Rush for middle school and high school students, as well as a food pantry for residents of the neighborhood who are in need, Ackerman-Lindholm said.