Sunshine Community Church was begun as an outreach chapel near Sunshine Sanitorium and sponsored by Mayfair CRC. It officially organized in 1971. A number of members left when Rev. Vander Meer resigned his pastorate in 1991, left the Christian Reformed denomination, and began New Community Church.
- Sunshine Gospel Hall, 1923-31
- Belmont Mission, 1931-49
- Sunshine Back to God Chapel, 1949-71
- Sunshine Ministries
- Sunshine Community
- 1219 Bradford St. NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505 (1923-49)
- 918 Benjamin Ave. NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505 (1949-79)
- 3295 East Beltline NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505 (1979-89)
- 3300 East Beltline NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525 (built 1988)
- 3019 Coit Ave NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49505 (2019-)
- Edwin Visscher, evangelist, 1961-65
- Lewis R. Vander Meer, 1972-91
- Herman J. Teitsma, 1979-82
- Timothy John Berends, 1986-87
- Matthew Heard, 1993-98
- Thomas E. Mayo Jr., 1995-99
- John W. Wilczewski, 1997-98
- David S. Huizenga, 1997-2011
- Brian P. Bosscher, 2000-2007
Sunshine may have been the largest congregation in the history of the Christian Reformed denomination; it was definitely the largest in metropolitan Grand Rapids. While some congregations reached memberships of 2,000 early in the 20th century, that was mostly children (up to 75%). By 1986, Sunshine passed the 2,000 mark, and in 1989 it had over 2,000 professing members. Growth was a solid mix of baptisms (17% since 1987), transfers (38% from CR, 37% from other), and evangelism (8%).
Sunshine was one man's dream. Sunshine Chapel had failed twice before Lew Vander Meer took over in 1969. Within two years, it became an organized congregation.
A building that seats 2,500, an extremely high growth rate, 40% youth ratio, very high birth rate, and extremely low death rate would have predicted continued growth for Sunshine. With three Sunday morning worship services, the "80-percent rule" gives us about 8,400 potential worshipers on Sunday. Since some members don't come every week, growth to 8,000 or even 10,000 might have been possible.
However, everything changed when Lew Vander Meer had a falling out with his council and resigned his pastorate. A core group followed Lew and founded a new congregation, New Community Church, which has the potential to grow as Sunshine did.
Like Sunshine, New Community is not a neighborhood church. Sunshine Ministry Center gave up the neighborhood façade when it moved to the East Beltline in 1979. It draws members not only from Grand Rapids, but from many of communities as well. The same is true of New Community with locations in Grand Rapids and Hudsonville.
The 1992 Yearbook indicated the initial damage of Lew's departure: 242 members left for other denominations (primarily New Community Church), 250 were dropped from the membership role, and 125 left for other Christian Reformed congregations. Still, 186 joined Sunshine from other congregations and 13 were received through evangelism that year.
The 1993 Yearbook reflects another 244 members lost to other denominations and 58 leaving for other Christian Reformed congregations. To partially offset this, 62 people transferred in, 21 were received through evangelism, and 47 children were baptized. Despite two years without a pastor, it looked like Sunshine could stabilize.
Sunshine took its time selecting a new pastor, and they cannot be blamed. When a growing congregation loses its founding pastor, there is a time of reorientation. At this point (early 2013), Sunshine is once again without a pastor.
Currently (late 2018), Sunshine has left it's focus of a "destination-programming church" on the East Beltline and returned to it's humble roots of neighborhood outreach; the congregation is close, healthy, and strong after many years of division and has been focusing on and training in outreach. Pastor Joshua Blunt is in his 5th year at the church and the property has been sold. The congregation (after about a 2 year process) voted to sell it and buy another property in the Creston neighborhood.
The focus on neighborhood outreach has changed the way that congregants from Sunshine do ministry. Rather than expecting people to come to the church building, congregants are now taking the initiative to serve and reach out to families and individuals around them. The people are the church.
As of August, 2018, Sunshine is not yet operating from the newly purchased property, but rather is building a versatile worship space there now and hopes to begin worshiping on location soon. The big building on the East Beltline is currently not in use for worship anymore as the congregation has been worshiping at Cornerstone University at Christ Chapel for the past 2 years during the moving process. Sunshine plans to begin worshipping at the new location in early 2019.
Green (lower) line shows membership in families; blue (middle), professing members; red (top), total members; and magenta (thin), non-professing members. Note large drop in membership following departure of Rev. Vander Meer, who then founded New Community Church.
Red line shows nonprofessing members as a percentage of total membership.
Five Year Growth Rate
Red line shows five year growth rate. A five year growth rate between 10% and -10% is considered stable; greater than 10% indicates a growing congregation; one below -10% indicates a church in decline. This makes no allowance for daughter churches. Note range of scale: due to incredible growth rates, use of normal scale is impractical.
Data source: Yearbooks of the Christian Reformed Church. Dates are year prior to publication date since data is gathered at the end of one year and published in the next.