Deacons Organizing Regionally: VIS in Greater Grand Rapids
January 22, 2019
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Volunteers in Service, or VIS as it is known, is a great example of churches working together to live out their diaconal mandate. Its history goes back to a time in when many Classes in the CRCNA still had formal Deacon Conferences. As momentum to maintain these conferences began to wane, the search for alternative models began. In 1985 World Renew, Classis Thornapple Valley, and the Grandville Deacons Conferences partnered together to hire a part time program coordinator for a new ministry assisting deacons in the greater Grand Rapids area. This ministry was called Volunteers in Service (VIS) and became organized in 1986. Within 2 years the other three surrounding Grand Rapids area Classis Deacons Conferences ( East, North and South) also joined this partnership with VIS.
Volunteers In Service was founded initially to be a support ministry for Grand Rapids area Christian Reformed deacons. Many churches had leadership who were desirous of connecting with neighbors by loving and serving them. However, deacons did not have a system in place that could identify people in the community who would benefit from a church volunteer connection.
VIS began its work by developing partnerships with social service agencies in Kent County who were able to identify people who were falling through the cracks because of limited services available to them. VIS soon became aware of the amount of lonely, isolated people who had little to no support systems in their life. In 1987, VIS began the Supportive Friendship Program where a church volunteer would build a relationship with a person who was referred, by regularly visiting with them.
Not long after the friendship program began, agencies began to identify other needs that church volunteers could assist with and two years later, VIS began the Service Project Ministry. This ministry offered people help with minor home repairs, yard work, painting and other miscellaneous household chores.
Over the last 10 years, VIS has seen significant growth in a more proactive approach by the Christian community. Small groups from churches (i.e. couples, retirees, men’s or women’s groups and youth groups), along with student groups from Christian Schools and Summer SERVE (a summer serving program through Dynamic Youth Ministries which includes youth from USA and Canada) contacted VIS asking for serving opportunities.
As deacons, who served as the main link, became more involved with their community, VIS realized the need to expand services to include training and resources. In 1995 VIS offered the first annual deacon training, and in the fall of 1998 VIS organized the first Leadership Training Event (LTE). This event was for all ministry leaders and offered a variety of workshops on topics that would equip them to carry out their work in the church. This annual event continued for nearly two decades!
Over the past 32 years, VIS has been committed to a listening posture with deacons. Training topics offered each year are based on what deacons identify as challenges they face. Today VIS partners with over 100 agencies and churches which include all Christian denominations. VIS also receives nearly 600 referrals in a year and is able to meet 79% of those needs. VIS is grateful for the local church partnerships and their growing desire to reach into the community and connect relationally.
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