Grant planners held listening sessions across both denominations. Here, RCA and CRC leaders met in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to share their needs around congregational renewal.
The day before Richard DeVos died from complications resulting from an infection, his foundation awarded a $1.72 million grant to the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) and the Reformed Church in America (RCA).
This grant was just one of several given by Richard and his wife, Helen, in recent years to encourage the two denominations to work more closely together.
This new $1.72 million grant will be used over five years to establish a “third space”—not entirely within the RCA, and not entirely within the CRC—where churches from either denomination can access resources and support for congregational renewal.
The new third space will encourage churches to engage in prayerful discernment as they identify the right path for their ministries, with the right resources or counsel at the right time. As next steps, they’ll be able to choose from existing programs and processes in both the RCA and CRC, and from options offered through new partnerships.
At its heart, says Jill Ver Steeg, this project is about equipping churches to experience renewal.
“Our hope is that this new third space will help churches assess their current reality in order to take their next faithful step,” she says. “How do you grow in your capacity to participate in what God is doing in your corner of the world? How do you get laser-focused on that? This will help.”
Ver Steeg, chief ministry officer for the RCA, will oversee the project along with Colin Watson, director of ministries and administration for the CRCNA, until a director can be found.
Between them, the denominations already have several existing processes to help with renewal: Ridder: Churches Learning Change, Church Renewal Lab, Healthy Church, and others. In listening sessions last year, planners heard that was a cause of confusion.
“As research before submitting this grant application, the CRCNA, RCA, Calvin Theological Seminary and Western Theological Seminary spent several months doing listening sessions with pastors and church leaders across North America,” said Watson. “What we heard was that most congregations desire revitalization and a new approach for achieving their goals, but there is often a lack of knowledge about, or an inability to easily access or contextualize what is available.”
The listening sessions also recognized that tools already available to RCA congregations might fit the needs of some Christian Reformed churches and vice versa. The new third space will address these concerns by equipping congregations to prayerfully discern what they need and then matching them with the right tools, regardless of the congregation’s denominational affiliation.
“The idea is to be very focused on discerning the unique needs of local churches and to serve them in the best way possible. We’ll also create learning networks, gatherings of leaders with common interests, and other opportunities to bring churches into communities of dialogue and learning,” said Ver Steeg.
The entire project will cost $2.7 million over five years. The $1.7 million grant will help the project get started, with additional funds coming from the denominations in increasing measure over time.
“The work afforded by this grant envisions a time when denominational staff members from both the RCA and the CRCNA engage in constant contact with each other, and present themselves as a collaborative team (without competition) to congregations and leaders when it comes to working on church revitalization and renewal,” said Watson.
In this way, the legacy of Richard and Helen DeVos, who passed away in 2017, will carry on and continue to impact the ministry of both denominations.