Alumni Profile • Alvin VanderGriend '58
Made into a man of prayer

Alvin VanderGriendSitting in the balcony of First Christian Reformed Church in Lynden, Wash., a 10-year-old Alvin VanderGriend ’58 thought to himself that if he were ever to become a pastor he would stress three things: prayer, evangelism and Bible study.

Sixty years later, he looks back and remembers that thought as “a seed the Lord planted that bore fruit beyond my wildest imaginings.”

As a young pastor, VanderGriend began his ministry in a small Christian Reformed church in Atwood, Mich. “I was preaching on I John 5:14-15 and coming to grips with the idea expressed there that ‘if we ask anything according to God’s will we have what we have asked of him,’” VanderGriend said. “So I began to ask God daily for three things I knew to be his will: ‘Lord, make me a man of prayer; make me a man of the Word; and help me share my faith.'"

He discovered God was listening and, step by step, was granting those requests.

In 1966, VanderGriend moved to South Holland, Ill., to pastor Peace CRC. When the church bought property in a growing neighborhood, he and an evangelism team persistently asked God to help them reach the community. The result was the first “Story Hour” program for neighborhood preschoolers, soon followed by the first “Coffee Break” program for their mothers. VanderGriend developed the strategy and Peace CRC’s Neva Evanhouse wrote the Bible study materials that became the Coffee Break program used by more than 1,000 churches from more than 50 denominations in the United States and Canada.

VanderGriend moved to Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1974 to pastor Alger Park CRC, then, in 1982, to become the director of evangelism resources for the CRC’s Home Missions division. Others in that division confirmed VanderGriend’s conviction that prayer is foundational to ministry and asked him to try and mobilize more prayer in the denomination. In the process, he discovered a lot of wrong thinking on prayer: “We saw prayer as a five-times-a-day practice accomplished with perfunctory phrases in five minutes,” he said. That began his search for a better understanding and deeper experience of prayer for himself and others.

In 1989, VanderGriend co-founded, with Henry Blackaby, the national Denominational Prayer Leaders’ Network. Seven years later he teamed up with Calvin classmate John DeVries to develop a prayer-care-share evangelism strategy called HOPE (Houses of Prayer Everywhere) Ministries. That led, in 2001, to his position as prayer facilitator for The Mission American Coalition and point person for the national Lighthouse of Prayer movement.

Though retired from that post since 2004, VanderGriend is as much an apostle for prayer as ever. Along the way he has learned that prayer is not simply “a casual way to keep in touch with God,” but “the conversational part of the most important love relationship in our lives.” His devotional book, Love to Pray, has sold more than 50,000 copies and, together with companion materials, is used by churches around the country in their “40 Days of Prayer” initiatives. VanderGriend also leads a team of trainers who offer “Learning to Love to Pray” seminars to churches.

“I’m very encouraged,” VanderGriend said. “I think that we’re moving toward a revival of prayer, which is leading to a revival of the church and, beyond that, to a revival of the church’s evangelistic mission. For me, this seems to be the capstone of the Lord’s working in my life and of the ministry to which he’s called me.”