Next Stop "Unchurched" Portland

Jason De Vries and his wife MishaelaJune 8, 2009 -- When Portland, Oregon native Jason De Vries and his wife Mishaela were considering sites for their new ministry, they knew their hometown would make the perfect location. Not because of its stunning natural beauty or proximity to family. But because of its residents’ need for Jesus.

Portland, which has a population of about 2.2 million in the metro area, is one of the most unchurched cities in America. A study from 2000 estimates that only 25 percent of Portland residents claim affiliation with any kind of religion. Established churches in the area often struggle in reaching local residents because of certain negative stereotypes against Christians.

With establishing a new Christian ministry in Portland in mind, Jason and Mishaela moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan in July, 2007 so that Jason could attend Calvin Theological Seminary, from which he recently graduated with an M. Div. degree.

He is almost finished with his Christian Reformed Home Missions-funded internship at Monroe Community Church, a Home Missions church plant in downtown Grand Rapids. There he has learned the ropes of church leadership and refined skills for outreach ministry.

The couple plan to return west to Oregon sometime in July. They are optimistic that their ministry will succeed.

Despite its unchurched reputation, Portland holds promise: communities there are very strong and vibrant. Neighbors seek out neighbors for friendship and support. Portland is third in the nation for its high volunteer rates.

The culture emphasizes creative arts and individual expression, and it promotes stewardship of the earth by encouraging organic, fair-trade foods and clean energy. Because of these things, Jason DeVries explains, people living in Portland already “resonate with the concept of reconciliation.”

Most importantly, however, residents are familiar with and respect Jesus, regardless of their connection with the church. “People are ready for the gospel, says Jason DeVries.

The couple’s long-term vision for ministry in Portland is two-fold. First, break down the stereotypes of Christians through an active, but not aggressive, presence; consistently demonstrating love and respect. Their ministry will utilize the thriving communities already present in order to build a network of relationships.

Second, Jason and Mishaela envision future partnerships with other churches and Home Missions to expand the presence of the CRC in the Pacific Northwest.

Jason says they will offer what he refers to as “incarnational ministry,” that is, ministry that involves all members of a church living out the gospel and working to bring about the Kingdom alongside of others in concrete ways.

—Betsy Vandenberg, Christian Reformed Home Missions