More Heartland churches than ever are participating in Ridder: Churches Learning Change.

By Tim Poppen

Ridder: Churches Learning Change is expanding in the Synod of the Heartland as new churches join in. Formerly called Ridder Church Renewal, the intensive multi-year process includes leadership development for pastors and a team of other church leaders. It is an opportunity for personal transformation that in turn sets the stage to transform a community.

“It’s a process to help us see how God has been working in the past and how he will work in the future,” says Mike Altena, pastor of American Reformed Church in Luverne, Minnesota. “We put together a team that would journey together to help our church and each other live on mission.”

Ridder: Churches Learning Change differs from other church renewal programs in that it starts with the individual. It helps to assess where each participant is in his or her walk with God and how each person functions within the various systems of church and community. 

The process has clarified some of the places where American Reformed needs to grow: “The church has two arms,” says Altena. “One arm cares [for] and loves and takes care of one another. The other arm reaches out into the community to serve the lost and broken world. But we often are resistant and find ways not to go. Ridder has given us a platform to examine our resistance to going and why we fear that.”

Twice a month, the group gathers to reflect on where they have been in the past and where God wants them to be in the future. Ridder provides the strategy to effect change at the right time and the tools to help get there.

People participating in Ridder: Churches Learning Change have become more engaged in all aspects of their lives: at church, at work, and at home. The process has transformed the way they interact with employees and customers in the workplace, and it’s affected the relationship they have with members of their families.

“Ridder has me build relationships with people and see the value in people that don’t have a Christian background,” says George Bonnema, one of the Ridder participants at American Reformed. “It’s made me ask the questions, ‘How can we reach them? What can we teach them? What can they teach us?’ As I continue to grow, I have found myself getting into community outreach situations that previously I would never have considered because I now feel encouraged and empowered to use what small abilities I have to live on mission.”

Since Ridder: Churches Learning Change is a process and not a program, it doesn’t start on day one and finish on some future date. It’s continual. It doesn’t stop. The fruits of the process don’t show up at the same time for everyone. No single formula works in all situations. Ridder is designed to allow each person and church to determine its own pathway.

“It’s opening my eyes to the challenges before our church,” Bonnema says. “I don’t have answers. But I do believe that with discretion and God’s leading, we will find those answers. It won’t be a quick fix, but [God has] called us to this process, and I feel that Ridder is a good tool for us.”

Altena sums it up this way: “Ridder is providing the tools to move us from living a complacent life where we think we’re doing okay to living out the call that God has placed on our lives.”

Visit and click on “Ridder Taste and See Registration” to hear from churches across the synod about their experience in the Ridder: Churches Learning Change process.


Tim Poppen is media specialist for the Synod of the Heartland.