Denominations Collaborate To Equip Churches for Renewal
Many congregations in the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) and the Reformed Church in America (RCA) have expressed a need for renewal. As congregations examine dwindling attendance, stagnant practices, or faith that seems to stay in the pews, they might look to various renewal programs for help in becoming a healthier church.
The options for consideration are broad, including but not limited to Church Renewal Lab, Churches Learning Change (formerly called Ridder Church Renewal), Go Local, Healthy Church, and Congregational Vitality Pathway. So much variety, however, can make choosing a challenge as churches try to decide how best to move forward.
“The issue we’ve had in this multi-approach space is that it isn’t always clear to churches what may be the best avenue for renewal that they need to employ,” says Colin Watson, director of ministries and administration for the CRCNA. Each renewal program, he said, offers its own strengths and is best suited for certain congregations in certain contexts. “There came this question—a wondering—about whether we couldn’t create a better system by which we can enable churches to discern a best or most appropriate avenue for them for their context and their point in ministry,” he adds.
The answer is yes. Enter the Reformed Partnership for Congregational Renewal (RPCR), a collaborative effort between the CRCNA and RCA to focus on equipping and supporting congregations as they journey through renewal. The RPCR is considered a “third space” for the denominations; as of January, it became a separate legal entity, with neither denomination holding ownership.
“Our two denominations take renewal extremely seriously,” says Watson, who currently serves as a codirector of the RPCR. “It is our desire that every church effectively take a look at how we can do church better, to reach out to communities, [and ask] how we can be even better equipped to do everything God has asked us to do.
The RPCR is not an additional avenue for church renewal but a facilitator for churches as they consider what is best for their congregation.
“We’re assisting congregations as they discern where God is at work in their context and what their next faithful step is,” says Jill Ver Steeg, RCA chief ministry officer and a codirector of the RPCR. “There needs to be a clear understanding of the discipleship, leadership, and missional engagement processes that exist in both denominations.”
“The overall focus is not wedded to any one process,” adds Watson. “[The RPCR] will be wedded to ensuring that congregations get the best resource possible for their context and life cycle.”
Since September, when the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation awarded a $1.72 million dollar grant to fund and support this third space, the RPCR has been discussing process and next steps. An advisory team and implementation team have joined the co-directors in this planning work as together they determine what the discernment process will look like.
The team has ideas, says Watson, but the RPCR is inviting churches and partners into gatherings and discussions to do some fine-tuning before moving forward with an official process. They see 2019 as a year of intentional building that will include gatherings, developing processes, and coordinating renewal ministries. Pilot groups in both Canada and the United States are on the horizon in the next few months.
“We want to provide [churches] with a single entryway if they say, ‘I’m not sure what renewal will look like for me, but I want to explore it.’ In that entryway, we want to design a prayerful discernment process where they will be exposed to a number of possible assessments or renewal processes,” says Watson. “Out of that, they’ll make a selection. That could be a current partner [of the RPCR] or something else. Or maybe all they really need is coaching in leadership or transformation.
“We recognize that every church is unique—some churches are emerging churches, some are legacy churches, some are brand new immigrant churches. There’s all sorts of uniqueness out there, and we want to make sure that what we’re providing is contextualized to their particular need.”
Moving forward also entails the hiring of an executive director. Ver Steeg and Watson are serving as codirectors until the right person is found. Even with a permanent director, the two will remain involved with the RPCR—perhaps less hands-on, says Watson, but “ensuring that this effort has everything it needs.”
“[We want] churches to engage this discernment process, to find the leverage points that exist in their context and to lean into what God is already doing in their midst,” says Ver Steeg. “As churches engage in learning change, they will take risks, practicing what they’re learning and getting laser-focused on their mission and vision.”
“It’s really the gospel,” adds Watson. “God tells us to go make disciples. In order to do that well and effectively, we need to ensure that churches are led well, structured well, and have the resources they need to do that internally. … Wherever we are, we can always do better.”