Assessing the health of established churches in the Classis of Delaware-Raritan strengthens their ministry.

By Rob MacKay

“The future for the status quo church is anything but promising. But how do we change the outlook?” That’s what Phil Pratt is asking, along with the Classis of Delaware-Raritan.

The classis has planted two churches recently: one is thriving as a plant, and the other has just been organized into an official RCA church. But the classis, which spans central New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, is also home to congregations that are more than 300 years old. And the Classis of Delaware-Raritan isn’t about to give up hope on those congregations.

“We refuse to believe the often-prescribed analysis that any congregation over 30 years old is as good as dead,” says Pratt, copastor of Stanton Reformed Church in New Jersey and a member of the Classis Vitality Team. “This doesn’t feel like covenantal ministry in long-standing relationship with a community. We celebrate the faithful ministries of our congregations that range beyond 300 years, having touched generations of members and neighbors in the same communities with the love of Christ.”

As a result, the classis has committed itself to find ways to transform its churches so that they continue to have strong ministries in their communities.

One way the classis is doing that is by using the Congregational Assessment Tool (CAT), which offers insight into the experiences, perceptions, and aspirations of a congregation. It measures satisfaction and energy levels, identifies factors for improving the culture, uncovers potential resources, and helps a congregation discern future direction. It’s administered by Holy Cow! Consulting, an Ohio-based consulting firm.

“[The CAT] is an internal self-assessment that illumines for us the ways that the Spirit is using these institutions of ours, and the things that might be getting in the way of the Spirit,” says Pratt.

In most cases, Holy Cow! collects and analyzes the responses. But for the churches in Delaware-Raritan Classis, the firm trained Bill Borror as a consultant. Borror is pastor of Community Reformed Church in Feasterville, Pennsylvania, and now also works for the classis, interpreting the CAT results and helping pastors and consistories take the next steps to respond to the findings.

An assessment like the CAT isn’t useful only to unhealthy or struggling churches.

“The tool actually is equally beneficial for struggling churches and churches that are doing well,” says Borror. “The insights are … valuable for healthy churches to help them discern priorities.”

A dozen churches in the classis have taken the assessment, and the classis plans to eventually have all 32 of its churches use it.

United Reformed Church in Somerville, New Jersey, is one of the 12 that have taken the CAT and received results. Paul Janssen, United Reformed’s pastor, wasn’t surprised to see that congregants wanted to attract more young families, but he also learned that many people want to partner with other local agencies to perform good works in the community.

“It’s the beginning of a discussion,” he says, adding that he hopes to use the insights as the foundation for a five-year plan.

Says Pratt: “We’re working toward increased congregational vitality and viability, and the journey there will involve learning, listening, transforming, and trust. The CAT helps with the first two. The rest will come with the guidance of the Spirit and the faithfulness of the church.”