Encounter church moves into former fitness center


This past Sunday, Encounter Church held the grand opening service for its new building, located at the intersection of 44th and Kalamazoo.

Dirk VanEyk, lead pastor at Encounter, planted the church in October 2010. It has since grown to over 300 regular worshippers, including 60 to 100 college students each week.

Two years ago, VanEyk and Brian VanSoelen, pastor of worship and community life, found an old fitness center for sale near where the church usually met. The Encounter leadership team decided to buy the fitness center and renovate it to use as a church space.

Along with worship and weekly programming, the new facility will be used for community outreach, so Encounter leaders chose to keep the racquetball court from the old fitness center.

Until recently, Encounter’s congregation worshiped at Endeavor Elementary School. Because Encounter only had a week-to-week contract with Endeavor, the location of the services was always at risk of change.

VanEyk and VanSoelen started Encounter Church along with other groups from different churches who, according to Van Eyk, “wanted to do things differently.”

When Encounter began, around 30 people worshiped in Endeavor’s cafeteria. As Encounter expanded, VanEyk felt that the church needed a bigger and more permanent space.

Van Eyk wanted to attract people who were not necessarily churchgoers. “We started [the church] … to reach people that weren’t like us at all.” VanEyk said.

Encounter Church’s mission is to “make disciples,” according to VanEyk. VanEyk and VanSoelen wanted to reach people who “were un-churched or under-churched.” VanEyk reflected on who began attending the church.

“It turned out to be a lot of de-churched people … quite a few people who quit in college,” VanEyk said. “The people who came [to Encounter] were very similar to myself and Bryan [VanSoelen] … They were almost all young families or people who would be having kids soon, mostly people in their 20s and 30s.”

The area Encounter serves has a large population of young families and not enough churches, VanEyk said.

VanEyk said that he and VanSoelen found the best way to keep people from leaving church is to reach them when they are in college. The church planting team made a conscious effort to reach out to specific campuses, including Grand Valley and Calvin. The number of college students attending Encounter Church fluctuates from 60 to 100.

Van Eyk also emphasized Encounter’s goal to train young leaders.

“Encounter is a place to cultivate leaders. It is place to train people who will be leading in churches in the future and allowing them to lead now,” Van Eyk said.

Shane Brandsen, junior at Calvin and an resident assistent in Beets-Veenstra, is one of the leaders being cultivated at Encounter. Brandsen assists in worship almost every week, playing guitar and singing.

Brandsen heard about Encounter from his sister, who knew Pastor VanSoelen. Both Brandsen’s sister and VanSoelen encouraged Brandsen to get involved. As a result, Brandsen has been participating in Encounter’s worship since the church began.

“Shane is an awesome guy,” VanEyk said. “He is one of the leaders who has grown along with the church.”

Brandsen enjoys connecting with other college students at Encounter and also appreciates the opportunity to lead in worship.

Brandsen says that Encounter encourages its college students to become more involved beyond just attending church on Sundays.

“We are not treated as college students that have nothing to offer,” Brandsen said. “Pastors Dirk and Bryan encourage us to find a way to get involved.”

“Encounter is a place to not only receive a gift from God, but a place to give back and become a part of the church,” Brandsen said.