Tribes Church: The Fruition of a Dream

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Damon and Newman 1Dawn Scott Damon is co-founder and co-pastor of Tribes Church and Julian Newman is its co-founder and lead pastor. The newly shampooed carpets and freshly painted hallways are conspicuous indicators Tribes Church in Rockford is crackling with a new mission that came about when the former St. Stephen Lutheran Church congregation opted to birth a legacy church.

Tribes Church’s first worship service was Oct. 12, which drew 253 adults and children.

“It is the fruition of a dream,” said Dawn Scott Damon, co-founder and co-pastor of Tribes Church. Tribes Church’s pastoral team includes co-founder and lead pastor, Julian Newman.

“God’s grace was on everything,” added Damon. “Nothing went wrong, which was just a miracle.”

The 13,627-square foot Tribes Church, at 6070 Kuttshill Ave. NE, is formerly St. Stephen Lutheran Church, which was later renamed three years ago Rockpointe Lutheran Church before it was repurposed as the Wesleyan affiliated Tribes Church.

Tribes Church is a multi-cultural church based in part on a dream Newman received from God 16 years ago to break the barriers of race, generation and class to redeem Greater Grand Rapids with Christ’s love.

Even when Newman moved back to Sacramento to become a pastor of a church, he sensed God was keeping Grand Rapids in his heart.

“I felt like the mission we had at Grand Rapids First wasn’t finished,” said Newman. “And I felt like I wanted to be a part of finishing that, of launching a marketplace church of artists, entrepreneurship and mission-minded people who want to change the world in Jesus’ name.”

He doesn’t try to over explain himself why the Lord continued to keep Grand Rapids before him even while he lived on the West Coast.

“There’s a certain affinity I have here,” he said. “I’m not sure why, but you just know it. There is a favor God has given me in this area of the world and I know it is Jesus.”

Newman gave the church its new moniker, Tribes Church, because it is based on Revelation 7 which, in part, declares a great throng of worshipers too numerous to count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.

“Tribes represents all of us,” said Newman. “Scripture tells us Jesus is the unifier, the catalyst. Tribes are circles of people unified around an idea. As Christians, we’re all one family.”

Both Damon and Newman are former associate pastors of Grand Rapids First Church in Wyoming. Their pastorates there in time ended after the church’s Senior Pastor Scott Hagan resigned in 2005 and relocated back to California to launch a new church.

Meanwhile, the St. Stephen’s congregation, which was associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and its council board realized its membership was aging and attendance was dwindling to around 160-200.

A decision was made to whittle the church’s options down to four: Become an independent church; close the church and sell its property; join the North American Lutheran Church or launch a legacy church that did not belong to the ELCA, which is now Tribes Church. The ELCA has released ownership of the church and its property to Tribes Church.

“Churches are seeing vitality in life by passing their church on rather than seeing another of the 3,000 churches that yearly close down,” said Damon. “The congregation and church council decided why not give a legacy gift?”

Damon and Newman stayed connected following their years at Grand Rapids First. Damon worked for a time as a church growth consultant for Newman. At the same time, Damon and her husband of three years, Paul Damon, were in the embryonic stages of launching a multicultural church in downtown Grand Rapids.

Paul Damon also was a member of St. Stephen’s council board, which along with the congregation, elected to birth into existence a legacy church.

Then in 2013, Dawn Damon and Newman got together to discern if God was moving them into a new season of ministry together, which eventually became Tribes Church, which has an emphasis of believers going into the marketplace, their sphere of influence, and act as a conduit of God’s direction for others.

“We’re trying to establish a Jesus community, the love of God, to remove the blocks of men,” said Newman. “We release the Kingdom of God in sacred places, Sunday worship. Most people encounter followers of Jesus in the marketplace, and when they do, the Kingdom of God is in that space.”

“A new church plant is a huge way to bring new people to Christ,” said Damon, adding that according to a George Barna poll, nearly six in 10 (59 percent) of Americans who grew up in Christian churches either walk away from their faith or from the institutional church, while the unchurched population has increased in the last decade from 44-52 percent.

Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
About:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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