While Millennials often identify as “NONES,” young families make up 60% of Valley Church in Allendale, a congregation that welcomed 14 babies in 2019 with 7 on the way.
Senior Content Editor, Michigan Conference
At Valley Church in Allendale, the New Year Baby is more than a metaphor for the turn of the calendar page. Babies’ First Christmas, celebrated during worship on December 8, was an opportunity for the congregation to rejoice with young families in their midst.
Says Pastor Matt Bistayi, “Christmas is about a baby being born. It’s about new life. So, we gave a special Christmas ornament to the 14 babies born in 2019.” He notes that seven more babies are on the way. “We prayed over the families and had a blessing.”
Nothing short of a miracle during an era when four out of ten Millennials say, “None,” when asked about their religious affiliation. And what’s happening at Valley Church is no Abraham-and-Sarah, geriatric parenting situation. For this is a congregation blessed with 20-somethings. In fact, 60% of those active at Valley Church are under 45 years of age.
Valley Church was started in 2010 with the leadership of Matt Bisatyi. Now, nine years later, Matt says, “We have a lot of young families excited about being part of what God is doing here. They are growing their families and want to be part of God’s family to do that.”
So, what’s the secret formula that is attracting young people to Valley Church? The answer is both simple and profound. “It’s about who we are,” asserts Pastor Bistayi. “Valley is open, authentic, a real community. We are a safe place for these families to be connected. Families attract families.” He adds that there is a strong kids ministry in addition to that environment for families to be themselves. “We love kids and families at Valley.” Learn more about the “Valley Vibe” on their website.
“The congregation is totally pumped to see new life right in front of their eyes. They are super supportive and rally behind these young couples,” Matt reports. “When a baby is in church for the first time, everybody wants to hold the baby, and that’s awesome!” There’s also a “Go Group’ for brand new parents that provides additional supportive community, learning, and fellowship.
One thing that is not responsible for Valley being in a family way is their facilities. In fact, Valley meets in rented space and that limits how they can accommodate all the congregation’s needs. “Where are we going to put them all!?! Is our biggest challenge right now,” exclaimed Bistayi. In the short-term, Valley leaders are shifting spaces and resources, moving kids to different areas in order to make the nursery larger. Not easy when they are also expanding ministry with older children, as well.
In the long-term, leaders are “two years into a visioning campaign, getting serious about the future and a home space of our own.” Bistayi estimates that the congregation is two to four years out from building better and safer space to meet the needs of growing families and a growing church. “We are hoping and praying to go where God is sending us,” he says.
How would he respond to someone who says, “I wish we had all those babies!!” Bistayi’s response is three-fold. First, “Just be who you are. For us that means loving people and being the kind of church that says it’s okay to have fun about your faith.” Second, ”Be aware that this blessing poses a serious challenge regarding space, especially for a young church full of young families with young budgets.” And finally, “Consider becoming an angel investor who believes in what’s happening out here in Allendale and is willing to walk alongside us.”
Since its beginning in 2010, Valley Church has been, “Helping Others live For God, for People, for a Change.” A small nucleus of folks has grown to 200 active participants with an average worship attendance of 170, including those 14 babies. As The Michigan Conference faces into a new decade, Valley Church is a source of encouragement, a lively example of what can happen when the focus is centered on love.
Why do young adults mark “None”? Research suggests several reasons, including their perception that organized religion is not relevant and often divisive. Perhaps that’s why young people are attracted to this statement on the homepage of Valley Church: “There are an endless number of things that divide us in the world, and we’re convinced that God and the church shouldn’t be one of them.”