Traverse City has seen several new churches open in recent years and, though national church attendance figures are headed down, local church leaders say their Sunday numbers appear to be bucking that trend.
“It’s been pretty easy for us,” says Executive Pastor Rick Stewart of New Hope Community Church in Williamsburg. “People that come stick. We have a great sense of unity and consistency” among the congregation, which now numbers around 1,500 members.
Located two miles north of the Grand Traverse Resort in a sparsely populated area, he says the church has to work hard and draws people from some distance away, including Elk Rapids and Kalkaska.
He adds church leaders are especially encouraged as New Hope is coming off of a transitional period with a new senior pastor.
Pastor Bob Zagore has led Trinity Lutheran Church in Traverse City since 2001.
“Our average Sunday attendance is within a few people of where it was ten years ago, around 500 over the last decade,” says Zagore. “We’re not growing, but have been very stable since I’ve been here.”
One thing the 1,800-member congregation has experienced is “a turnover of young families” as they have left the area in search of more stable employment options, Zagore says. “However one advantage we do have, that many other churches don’t, is a school.”
In terms of growth across the church community, his general impression is that most of the growth in newer churches is from people leaving one church and going to another, rather than new people attending for the first time.
At Bay Pointe Community Church in Traverse City, Lead Pastor Nick Twomey says the church saw a “big spike” when the church moved into its building on Secor Raod in 2007 through 2009.
“Attendance then flattened out in 2010-13 – averaging around 1,350-1,400 for those years – and holding true at that level today,” says Twomey.
“We’re a much more mobile society so attendance is affected more than in previous generations,” adds Twomey. “Data shows that most people are only in their home church two times per month.”
Twomey also notes a “big move over the past 10 years away from larger churches to smaller, more organic church settings.”
In the case of Traverse City’s Faith Reformed Church, a decrease in the number of worship sites has affected its numbers.
“The average annual attendance over the last decade is about two-thirds of what it once was,” says Rev. Dave Anderson, administrative pastor at Faith Reformed Church in Traverse City. In the past year, however, it has started an upward trend, Anderson adds.
While the church saw 1,000 attendees a week at its peak in 2006 – with three different campuses and six services weekly – now it’s more in the neighborhood of 550 for its two weekly services and just one campus, says Anderson.
At St. Francis in Traverse City, Father Polycarp Mblarawa says numbers keep growing every Sunday since he first came to the parish a year ago. “Our Sunday attendance is quite encouraging,” he says. “Sometimes there are not enough seats.”