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Building Relationships in Flat Rock

Grace Church Michigan bridges gap by reaching young adults seeking God.
Ryan P. Nissley didn’t see himself as a church planter. A licensed minister, he had been youth and worship pastor for 18 years at New Hope Assembly in Taylor, Michigan, where his father, Philip, is senior pastor. Ryan’s wife, Shayna, started going to New Hope when Ryan attended Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri.

In 2015, Ryan became concerned about the number of young people drifting from faith after leaving home to attend college. Some returned to church years later, often with questions or regrets after missing valuable years of discipleship. Nissley wondered if God wanted to use his youth pastor experience to bridge that gap for young adults and families.

Shayna agreed, and Nissley, who studied at Master’s Commission as well as the Carlson Institute at North Central University — in addition to CBC — completed ordination requirements. Today, Nissley, 39, is lead pastor of Grace Church Michigan, meeting at Flat Rock Community Center, 15 minutes from Taylor in the downriver area of metro Detroit.

The Nissleys attended a Church Multiplication Network Launch event plus a ministry conference at River Valley Church, a Minnesota megachurch where former youth group member Ryan Williams is worship leader. Grace Church opened in November 2017, with support and funding from CMN and AGTrust.

Now averaging 170 in attendance on Sundays, Grace Church recently celebrated its first anniversary, becoming one of the fastest congregations to pay back CMN matching funds to become a “champion church.”

“We want to connect with those who aren’t currently going to church,” Nissley says. “We’re asking what the needs are.”

Early on, the church started connect groups emphasizing relationships and prayer. A prayer group meets each Wednesday at the Nissley home.

“Kids and youth have been a priority from day one,” says Nissley. His son Caleb, now 16, plays on the church worship team and leads worship for the youth group, which averages 40 in attendance. Daughter Cayla is 13. The church is bridging that young adult gap, with most attendees under 40 years old, although an increasing number of older adults now enjoy the church’s energetic vibe as well.

Jim D. Wiegand, church planting director for the AG Michigan District, says establishing measurable goals has been a key factor in Grace Church attracting newcomers.

“While church planting has its own challenges, a church planter has the advantage of not having to keep programs just because they are sacred to longtime members,” Weigand says. “Ryan has been willing to tweak things that aren’t working well.”

In addition to networking through CMN and River Valley Church, the Nissleys built a solid volunteer base prior to launch. Weigand recalls visiting a volunteer team meeting before a Sunday service.

“There wasn’t any feeling of people being roped into doing things,” Weigand recalls. “Ryan’s approach is to help people discover their ministry calling and release them to do it.”

Grace Church Michigan paid off its Church Multiplication loan in record time. Renting has given unique opportunities to see God at work. People using the community center’s gym started slipping into the service, sitting in the back at first and then gradually getting involved.

But for 2019, the church is looking for its own building.

“We need space for ministry to happen after services, without rushing,” Nissley says.

Cynthia J Thomas

Cynthia J. Thomas worked for Assemblies of God U.S. Missions for six years before becoming primary caregiver for her father, a World War II veteran. She has served as a counselor for victims of domestic violence and women facing crisis pregnancies. Cindy and her husband, Phil, a schoolteacher, volunteer in youth outreach and have three adult children and one granddaughter.