Elim Baptist: A light in the City of Detroit

by Allison Hurtado, staff writer
Elim Baptist Church

For 100 years, Elim Baptist Church has been a steadfast beacon of light in Detroit, Michigan. In 1916 several families began the first meetings with eight people. They continued to grow and incorporated as the First Swedish Church of Detroit on October 22, 1916. They sent their first missionary to Japan in the 1950s and sent another to bring the gospel to Navajo Indians. Elim Baptist has continued to evolve with the neighborhood and the culture.

Pastor Charles Oliver was the first African American pastor installed in 1982, and after his retirement and through his leadership a succession plan was put in place. The deacons with the assistance of Converge MidAmerica, embarked on an 18-month national search for a pastor who could reach the next generation. This led Elim to hire pastor Armand Collins a young, energetic leader to take over the helm of the historic church in August 2015.  

"Rev. Collins has a passion for the word of God and the mission of Jesus has positioned the church to be not only a light house of God's love in urban Detroit but also a gas station that will fill up believers to take the light of Jesus to Detroit and beyond,” said Gary Rohrmayer, executive minister of Converge MidAmerica.

Elim celebrated its centennial on October 23, through multiple events including a banquet dinner, reunion concert and homecoming service for former members, family and friends. Collins says the church is in a stable neighborhood and, over the last year, has seen steady growth in numbers and spiritual formation.

“There’s a renewed interest in Bible studies and Sunday school numbers have climbed,” he said. “We had a youth event that included poets, the gospel message and artists. We had over 350 people, and the church hasn’t been that full in decades.”

The members tell Collins there is a new energy throughout the church and it’s reflected in volunteer hours and Sunday attendance. The church is located in Detroit’s northwest suburbs. Over the last ten years, the city has suffered economically and politically--community-wide. About 36 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Officials are now working to reinvent Detriot. Collins has brought a fresh vision into the church that is crucial to his community’s development.

“I want to return to the old model of being a neighborhood community church,” Collins said. “When you are doing inner-city ministry, you get inner-city problems. We need to meet the needs of the community.”

Some of the current needs are helping people to find jobs, get off drugs and assisting single parents. Elim is beginning specific ministries to bring the gospel to people in these situations. Just as Detroit has seen change, the church has had to adapt and learn how to be sensitive to people who are struggling.

One of the ministries beginning in January is Embrace Debate. One of Collins’ staff members saw a need for people to learn apologetics. Collins says for so long people have been told what to believe, but they don’t know why they believe it. Society has changed and churchgoers will learn how to give a reasonable response when asked questions about Christianity.

“No longer do we take it for granted that everyone believes in the Bible,” Collins said. “We will teach what separates the Bible from other religious texts and talk on topics such as ‘Why is the Bible true?’ These conversations come up on the job and in the lunchroom.”

Rohrmayer sees a church that’s on a path to reengage its community. As Collins pushes forward with his new vision and new ministries in a city that so greatly needs a neighborhood church, Elim will be a place for people to experience what God has for them.

“Elim is a great model for Converge churches who are seeking to pass the church on to the next generation,” Rohrmayer said. “The best is yet to come for Elim the city of Detroit." 

    Point - Fall 2017

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