A group of international students in the Grand Rapids area seems to be shattering the notion that it is hard to keep young adults in church. With hearts on fire for Jesus, as many as 70 (or more) young adults come together every Sunday night to worship at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids.
The Barna Group, a research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture, conducted a poll in 2019 that found 64% of young adults ages 18–29 who were regular churchgoers have left the church. Likely, during the pandemic that number has increased. This is a demographic the church has struggled to connect with, but on Sunday nights at Immanuel, the connection to God is strong.
It started as a group of 3 or 4 young adults. The growth happened fast, according to Samson Lusamba, as they invited a few of their friends. Now the small group has turned into a worship service with the name Lighthouse. “We started building a community not knowing that God was about to do something amazing,” said Lusamba, who attends Lighthouse.
Rev. Mark Bowditch, Immanuel Lutheran Church Outreach Director, has seen how this has grown in such a short time and gives a lot of credit to Abi Zewde. Zewde came to the United States from Pakistan and works as Social Media Manager at Immanuel. She has also taken on the role of Lighthouse Leader. “Abi definitely wants to communicate who Christ is, share His grace and what He’s done in her life,” said Rev. Bowditch.
Zewde understands the temptations young adults face in today’s world. She admits to being tempted by the world in college, but now wants people her age to know about Jesus and she does it with an amazing passion. “I’ve seen tangible work in my life and God has done it for me,” Zewde said. “Why not for them?”
Lighthouse meets at 7 p.m. on Sundays and goes until 10 p.m.—and many nights even longer. It starts with worship music to set the tone for the rest of the night. After that, one of the leaders will share a message from the Bible to the large group. Then, Lighthouse breaks into small groups to pray and share what these young adults are facing in their lives. It wraps up with more praise music and a lot of love flowing through Immanuel.
One of the great things that has happened with the growth of Lighthouse is the diversity you see. There are people of all races and backgrounds. “I feel like it’s a representation of what heaven is going to look like,” said Lusamba. “People of all different ages and races coming together to worship God. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Zewde believes the growth of Lighthouse has not peaked and looks forward to what’s next. “This is something that the Lord is doing. My vision is to really trust God in wherever he leads it. Even if it’s outside of Grand Rapids that’s where I want it to be,” Said Zewde. “For us to take this out and expand it into the world, I think that’s my vision.”
Lighthouse recently received a Start New Explorer grant from the Michigan District, LCMS. To find out more about the Start New Explorer opportunities, visit us at https://michigandistrict.org/ministries/start-a-ministry/startnew-explorer/.
Photos and video by Jeff Heisner/Michigan District, LCMS