New Community Church began in August of 1991 after Lew Vander Meer had voluntarily resigned from Sunshine Christian Reformed Church that year due to irreconcilable differences. New Community started at the urging of about 50 people from Sunshine who encouraged Vander Meer to begin a new church.
New Community began meeting at the Grand Inn, a hotel on Plainfield Ave. in Grand Rapids. After a few months it moved to the auditorium of Forest Hills Central High School. After several months there, the growing church rented space in the former Eastbrook Mall above Klingman's, a furniture store, where it met from 1992 until about 1996.
At that time New Community rented a church building, the former 36th Street Christian Reformed Church, after that congregation dissolved). During this time the church grew from the original 50 people to about 350.
While meeting at the hotel and the high school, New Community made a formal request to be recognized as a Christian Reformed church plant. They said they would do so only if Vander Meer would step aside as pastor. His departure from Sunshine and resignation from the CRC had left a "bad taste" even though the church leaders were cordial and friendly. The CRC leaders from Classis Grand Rapids North said they would provide a pastor for a period of time and then consider whether to recognize Vander Meer as pastor of the new church. The congregation turned that down and remained independent.
The stay at 36th Street lasted about 2-1/2 years. The congregation found a piece of land on Dean Lake Ave. in northeast Grand Rapids. They had some question about moving, because the work on 36th Street was going well. People from the community joined the church, and New Community seriously wondered if it should stay there. But, the 36th Street building was old and in need of repair; there was no parking; and the church had made initial commitments to build on Dean Lake Ave.
The building was completed, and New Community moved about 1999. The new building was about 27,000 square feet and included a sanctuary seating about 500, classrooms, and offices. Around 2006, the church put on an addition of another 27,000 that includes a full gym, large youth area, more classrooms, a library, and a large fellowship area.
Membership is now (2013) about 1,000 people including children. Worship attendance on a well-attended Sunday is about 800. New Community also has a recovery program every Friday night, and about 300 people from missions and recovery houses, along with private individuals, come for supper, worship, and a large assortment of 12-step groups.
New Community currently has a staff of 14, some full-time and some part-time. It also has a pre-school and day-care with its own staff.
In keeping with its Reformed roots, the church adopted the Heidelberg Catechism and Belgic Confession as their faith standards.
Vander Meer developed a totally different form of church government that has no consistory, elders, or deacons in the traditional sense. (Vander Meer wrote about this in a recently published book, Recovering From Churchism). In essence, the church is staff-run and works on a system of GIFTS rather than traditional offices and positions.
The church has a non-judgmental philosophy and recognizes the legitimacy of all true-church traditions. So, for example, New Community dedicates babies when parents come from that background and baptizes babies when people come from that background.
There is a branch church in Hudsonville that meets only Sunday evenings and rents space in a large church building in the middle of town. About 300 (give or take - depending on how many are in Florida). Most of these people have morning churches and attend in the evening due to their home churches eliminating the evening service. They call this group New Community West.
Vander Meer's son Mark is the Associate Pastor and pastor of the Friday night group. Another full-time pastor is the director of the Friday night Community Recovery and also works in the community with groups involved in jail/prison ministry. Lew Vander Meer is Senior Pastor and does all the Sunday preaching (currently three morning services and the one evening service) and leads Bible studies during the week.
The membership is diverse in age and backgrounds. The Hudsonville group is older - averaging about 70's in age.
New Community has one tradition worship service in the morning and two contemporary. They also have three bands that take turns leading worship.
Several years ago the church began mission work in Bangladesh. About 17 different groups/churches have been established. New Community supports about 7 pastors, a field director, and a recovery/re-hab house that takes in male addicts in Bangladesh. Mark Vander Meerr is also the director of that ministry.