Walking into Connections Church (Wyoming, MI), you may notice that there is something distinct and unique about the building, the atmosphere, and the people. The building is not a sanctuary with an organ in the front, nor a room filled with pews and Bibles. Rather, there are couches in the middle of a large open space, and a fireplace against the wall. Games are on the outskirts of the room, and a storage closet with some snacks and eating utensils reside in the back of the building. As I walked through the building and talked with the pastor of Connections, Rev. George Grevenstuk, it became clear to me that Connections is a place of warmth, welcome, and acceptance.
Pastor George explains, “The mission of our church is to connect neighbors to God, others, and our community.” One of the ways in which Connections Church does this is by reaching out to those in their community who have special needs.
Their reaching out was something that began with a simple prayer walk. Pastor George shares,
“It was sleeting that night, but the members of Connections decided to go on a prayer walk. It hit me that the church had two fifteen-passenger vans, and we decided that we were going to do a prayer ride instead. I went through the plan with the folks and I said, ‘sometimes you just get a feeling that you need to talk to somebody. You take that risk and you try to help. And sometimes you feel like you did absolutely the right thing. That’s God speaking to you.’”
That night, they noticed a house with a wheelchair ramp. They prayed for the people in the house, and after a few more prayer rides, the church discovered that the people living in this house, as well as many other people in the surrounding houses, had special needs.
As a church that’s focused on serving those in their neighborhood, Pastor George realized that they needed resources to support their neighbors with disabilities. He contacted CLC Network and received the G.L.U.E. Training Manual and DVD, a set of church training materials that takes an individualized approach to including children and adults with disabilities. They watched the training DVD, had workshops with their congregation, and brainstormed ways in which they could best contact people with special needs and put what they learned from the training materials into practice.
Connecting the Community through Block Parties
One of the ways they connect with the people in their community is through block parties. At these parties, people within the community gather together to eat, play games, and develop relationships with one another. After going through the G.LU.E. training, Pastor George wanted to connect to his neighbors with special needs by inviting individuals from a local group home. However, he quickly learned that it would take more than an invitation to help these men and women feel welcomed.
Though the members of the group home would attend block parties, they would quickly leave after finishing their meal. After the group attended a block party one evening, Pastor George reached out to them and thanked them for coming. Upon thanking them, the facilitator looked at him with tears in her eyes and explained that she expected him to ask that they leave and not come back, due to the many reactions that they had experienced in the past. Pastor George explained that having them leave was the very last thing he desired, and he invited them to attend their church and block parties as often as they wanted. Ever since then, the members of this group home have been attending services at Connections Church.
Today, about one-third of the people at Connections have disabilities. The other two-thirds of the members are people who come from broken families and homes. Pastor George explains,
“It’s simple. It’s about our mission… To connect neighbors with God, others, and our community. And it’s about love. And for some reason, people never get tired of it.”
Jacki Sikkema has a background in Special Education and currently serves in the Church Services Division at CLC Network.