2016 Strategic Plan (part 2)

We’re taking time each week to write in more detail about our 2016 Strategic Plan (i.e. where we are going to focus our energy and resources in the next year).  If you didn’t catch the first post in this series, we encourage you to do so here.

Action 2: Offering lavish hospitality and care

In the last six months, we’ve taken good steps to be more hospitable, but we believe there’s more to do. Why is hospitality so important to us?  There are two reasons.  One has to do with our theology.  The other has to do with the gift of family.

First, some theology.  Hospitality matters to us because it matters to God.  We believe that it is a central part of God’s character.  The Scriptures reveal to us in Jesus a God that welcomes sinners, pursues those who are lost, strikes up a conversation with the untouchable and invites the denier and deserter to his table.  God is lavishly hospitable.  We are to be as well.

Second, let’s consider family.  We know that the first step in belonging to a community is experiencing hospitality.  Before deep relationships can form, we must know that we are welcome — that there’s room for us — that there’s a desire among those who already belong to include us.

In this next year we will continue to grow in our ability to extend lavish hospitality and care by:

  • Creating a more welcoming environment on Sunday morning
    • We want to build on the growth we’ve experienced in the last six months by making Sunday morning even more friendly to those who are new.  This will mean things like better signage, reworking our information table and training our hospitality volunteers.  But in the end, this action unquestionably hinges on the people of the Branch extending hospitality in ways big and small: simply saying ‘hi’ to someone they don’t recognize, extending an invitation to a Branch event, having someone new over for lunch, etc.
  • Developing clear steps anyone can take to become more connected.
    • We want to make sure we have clear ways for anyone who is new-ish to the Branch to build relationships and start to sense the gift of community that the Branch has to offer.  This will mean — among other things — regularly scheduled lunches for those new to the Branch and developing a process for following up with those who are visiting.
  • Creating a process that helps us respond wisely to the needs of those at the Branch and in the community.
    • Identifying clear steps to take when those from inside and outside of the Branch community — especially when those needs have a financial element to them — approach us for help.  The Stewards will take the lead in creating this.

If you are at the Branch today it is almost certainly because you experienced hospitality and care along the way.  May we all extend that gift to those that join us in the next year.

2016 Strategic Plan (part 1)

Over the last six months we’ve been doing our best to pay attention to God’s leading.  Both corporately and individually we have been listening for God’s voice and working to notice where God is at work.  The result of that discernment is our 2016 Strategic Plan.  While this plan is not a once and for all roadmap, it will serve as a framework for where we will focus our energy and efforts in the next year.

This post, and the three to follow, will give details about the four actions we believe God is asking us to take in 2016.  If you’d prefer to listen to this info, click here.

Action 1: Joining in God’s redemptive work

From the beginning, the Branch has held this hope: that we would be a people actively participating in what God is doing.  So while this is not a new initiative, we do believe that God is asking us to take these specific, concrete steps this year:

  • Encouraging the continued formation of Missional Communities, who share rhythms of life and unite around a common purpose. As their name suggests, Missional Communities (MCs) are groups of 20-40 people who share life regularly in order to pursue a specific mission together.  MCs are something like an extended family — a place to both belong and find purpose.  God is stirring in the hearts of a number of people at the Branch about forming new Missional Communities (that would likely look quite differently than the MCs that have existed up until this point).  We will update everyone as this continues to unfold.  Until then, you are always welcome to join the Madison MC on Thursday evenings.
  • Pursuing opportunities to address racial reconciliation by partnering with other churches that are different than us and/or are further down the road on this journey.  We are located in a part of the city where the racial and ethnic divides are clear.  But so is the call to embody God’s reconciling and uniting love.  In this intersection, a number of people have been hearing God call them to act — to take steps that would create in them the capacity to love more fully and act more justly.  As we’ve been hearing this call, we’ve been invited to join others from the community at Hope Reformed Church (Burton and Kzoo Ave.) throughout 2016.  Hope is beginning to lay the groundwork for starting a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural church service in 2017.  This groundwork will be laid by (1) sharing regular meals with those in the community who want to further racial reconciliation and (2) growing in character and capacity through training.  Anyone at the Branch with a desire to participate in this is more than invited to do so.  More information can be found here.
  • Reinvesting locally by offering CREATE (a week long art camp) in the summer of 2016.  Creativity has been a core value since our inception.  We believe that the more we understand and practice our creativity (of all kinds), the more we understand our creative God and become the people we are meant to be.  For five years (2008-2012) we offered a week long art camp for children in the community.  It was good and meaningful work. But in 2013 we decided that it was time to hit the pause button.  Our people needed to rest.  Vision needed to be rekindled.  And so we also took 2014 and 2015 off.  Then, in the midst of that abiding, a new word was spoken to a group of people at the Branch.  They felt a calling to lead the charge to offer CREATE again.  And so, we’re already working on the details for offering the camp this summer.  If you would like to be involved, even if you’re not sure how, or you’d just like to learn more, email admin@thebranchonline.org
  • Partnering with the Alger Heights Collaborative to empower and serve neighbors in SE Grand Rapids.  Three years ago, a collaborative began in Alger Heights/Garfield Park with the purpose of connecting the resources and skills of the people of these neighborhoods to its needs.  This collaborative is made up of one business association, five churches and two neighborhood associations.  The Branch has been a part of this collaborative from the beginning, but we want to take steps this year to become more integrated in its work.  A representative from the Branch has joined the leadership team and has will be keeping us informed of how we can do that in the coming year.  You can get an overview of the Collaborative here.
  • Discerning what relationship(s) God wants us to develop in order to be a part of God’s global work.  While a good portion of the work we feel called to is in the Grand Rapids metro area, we also believe that we’re being asked to consider how we can be a part of the renewal that is happening around the globe.  We’ll be forming a team of people to help us determine what partnerships are best for us to form in 2016.

A common thread in all of these steps is that the people of the Branch are leading us.  These actions were not thought up in a board room.  These are not one person’s dreams.  Instead, it is the consummation of months of a community talking, dreaming, listening.  We give thanks for this.  

Next week, we’ll look at the action of offering lavish hospitality and care.  Click here to read.

Grieving with the Hettich Family

On Christmas weekend we learned that a dear friend and part of our community lost a long and brave battle with postpartum depression (PPD). Sasha leaves behind husband Cody, 3 year old daughter Ember, and 5 month old son Gus.  We are heartbroken by this loss.

Cody has courageously shared their story [click here].  We stand with him in honoring Sasha’s memory and talking openly about depression and PPD.

A memorial service for Sasha will be Saturday, January 9, at Ada Bible Church in Cascade.  Visitation will be at 10am, with the service beginning at 11am.

If you would like to support the Hettich family, you can do so financially through the go-fund-me page [click here].  There is also a meal train [click here] (need more information about either of these? Email admin@thebranchonline.org).

We will be walking closely with Cody in the coming weeks, attentive to how the Branch can continue to support him and his children.

Finally, we hold to the promise that when we are in the darkest of valleys we are not abandoned or left on our own.  God is with us.  We cling to the hope and strength of this promise together.

James: faith here and now

Faith isn’t just about the future.  It’s not something we have in order to punch a ticket to heaven.  In fact, Jesus is clear: faith is about the here and now – a gift meant to impact every aspect of today.

With that in mind, we turn to James — an ancient and relevant book with deep insight about how faith gets practiced in the ordinary stuff of life. Join us as we explore this book together.

January 3 – Trial and Joy

January 10 – Blessings and Curses

January 17 – Word and Deed

January 24 – False and True Wisdom

January 31 – Judgement and Mercy

February 7 – Self-Reliance and Prayer

Christmas Eve – 5pm

Tonight we celebrate the unlikely story of God coming to dwell with us from 5-6pm.  Together we’ll mark this unending, unconquerable gift of Light through song and candle lighting.  Our kids are also leading the way in giving their gifts through drama, choir, and dance.  Bring the family — bring your neighbor — bring the kids.  We hope to see you!

Eat Rice and Beans

Link. Love. Lose.  Changing the world takes nothing less.

But living this way requires courage and practice.  To help all of us grow, we’re inviting you to change your diet this week and eat beans and rice.  Click here to watch a short video explaining more.

You can also read more about our denomination’s effort to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe by clicking here.

Kids Games at the KROC

Welcome to Kids Games!

We are joining with several community organizations to put on Kids’ Games.  It’s a fantastic way to reach youth in our community in a positive way.

The week of June 15-19, 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm, we will join Alger Park CRC, Seymour CRC, St. Luke AME, Tabernacle Church, Alger Middle School, Garfield Park Neighborhood Association, and the KROC Center, to host Kids’ Games at the KROC Center.

Because we are able to host this at the KROC, we feel participation will be very high.  Enrollment is capped at 300 entering K-4th graders as we do have limited space and want to provide adequate volunteer support.

There are many volunteers needed to make this run smoothly, so the kids have a wonderful week of learning and feeling God in their lives in a fun and safe environment.  Opportunities for volunteering include:

  • Small Group Leaders – 6 leaders / grade week long commitment,  18yrs +
  • Small Group Helper – 6 helpers / grade week long commitment, 12 yrs+
  • Registration Helper – 15 people, June 15 only
  • Bible Drama Helper – 15 people
  • Experiential Sport/Game Leader – 2 people week long commitment, 18yrs+
  • Experiential Sport/Games Helper – 4 people week long commitment, 12 yrs+
  • Educational Segment Leader – 2 people week long commitment,  18 yrs+
  • Educational Segment Helper – 4 people week long commitment, 12 yrs+
  • Security Team – 10 people / night
  • Snack Helper – 10 people/ night
  • Track Leader – week long commitment, 18 yrs+
  • Track Helpers – week long commitment, 12 yrs+

Tracks are multi-age activities offered for the last 45 minutes of each night.  Kids split from their small groups into their chosen track.


Volunteering will look a bit different because we are collaborating with the KROC Center.  All volunteers will need to register with the KROC (Salvation Army Volunteers ), have a background check and take the on-line “Safe from Harm” training.  Once these are complete, you will be directed to the signup genius to choose your volunteer opportunities.  If you are not able to do this on-line, please contact Julie Thomas (616 245-4115).

This opportunity will be like nothing else you do this summer.  Touching lives in our community, through God’s love, can be a beautiful and powerful thing.  We hope you will join us for a life changing week!


Ready to sign up your own kids to participate in KidsGames?  Click here.

General Information

Want more general information about the program? Check out their website http://kidsgamesregistration.com.

Create a Profile

Creating a profile on our website is simple and quick, and we’ll never give away your information.

That said, you may still be wondering why you should consider creating a profile?  Well….doing gives you access to all kinds of information about the life of the Branch.  You can join discussion groups, share ideas, receive updates, comment on posts and participate in conversations.  And here’s the best part: we’ll send you an email every day or every week (you decide on how often) that will summarize all of the activity on a particular topic or group.

For example, if you serve in our preschool room in BranchKids, you can join the Preschool group.  Once you’ve done this, anything that is posted in that group (be it a ‘lesson-learned’ or a funny story someone wants to share) will be sent directly to your email.  Of course, you can always log into the website to share your ideas and funny stories too.   But if you’re simply looking to stay updated, all the info is brought right to your inbox.

If you’re looking for a good place to start, join the “Branch-wide Info” group.  This is where we’ll be sharing all general information about the Branch.

Oh…and it may be helpful to note that some groups on the site are not public.  That’s because the information shared in that group might be personal and not ready to be broadcast across the entire internet (anyone on planet earth can create a profile).  But that doesn’t mean you can’t request an invite. Private groups are not exclusive — just a little more careful about who is able to see their information.

What is a Missional Community?

Branch MCsbranch-circle

>What is an MC?

Who is in an MC?

What about kids and MCs?

What does an MC do?

It’s a family.

At the Branch, Missional Communities (MCs) are ‘extended family’ like groups (20-50 people) that meet regularly in order to encourage and equip each other to live the kind of life Jesus lived.  When thinking about this, we often use the language of UP, IN and OUT.

UP is about our relationship to God — our identity as children of the King.  Jesus modeled an intimacy with the Father that we want to experience.  And so just as Jesus spent time with the spiritual disciplines (prayer and fasting to name two), so too will MCs spend time doing those things that bring them closer to the heart of the Father.

IN is about our relationship with each other. Jesus was always investing himself in his disciples.  They got away on retreats – ate meals together – prayed – went to synagogue – all of it building community and trust.   MCs will encourage and empower each other in ways that are ‘organized’ (every Monday night meals) and in ways that are more ‘organic’ (let’s head to the beach this Saturday and hang out).

OUT is about our relationship to the world that God so desperately loves.  We see Jesus having compassion for those others ignored and announcing the Good News to them.  Everywhere he went, heaven came to earth.   MCs follow Jesus’ lead by uniting around a common, specific mission and working to discern and proclaim the Good News in that context.