Do or Die: A dying 104-year-old church makes a bold move to become a thriving new ministry
A thriving new campus of Faith Church (RCA) has sprouted from Faith's "enfolding" of a 104-year-old congregation of the Christian Reformed Church.
In the winter of 2011-2012, council members of First Christian Reformed Church in Highland, Indiana, saw three possibilities for their future: They could continue to shrink in numbers and eventually cease to exist. They could try to turn things around on their own, which would take at least seven years. Or they could ask an outside group to join them and serve as a catalyst to revitalize the church.
"Their council voted almost unanimously for option three because they saw it as the fastest way to see results," says Jason DeVries, who is pastor of Faith-Highland, the new congregation that has emerged from the enfolding process.
The process began in 2012, when First CRC approached Faith Church (an RCA congregation whose main campus is in Dyer, Indiana) with the idea of a new ministry. Faith then sent leaders to meet with First's council to answer questions. Following that meeting the churches continued discussions and got to know each other.
In December 2012, Faith's senior pastor, Bob Bouwer, preached at First CRC and held a Q&A time. Another weekend in December, people from First worshiped at various Faith campuses. At a subsequent congregational meeting, 80 percent of First's members voted to affirm "folding" First CRC into a new Faith Church campus.
Jason DeVries was chosen to lead the ministry, and a transition team made up of leaders from both First and Faith was formed to provide leadership during the new church's first year. Faith-Highland was officially launched on September 15, 2013.
In just a few weeks about 450 people were attending each weekend. "The Faith-Highland launch has truly been blessed by God," says DeVries. "Prior to launch we were probably less than half that number. It has been amazing to see the people who have responded to our Facebook marketing, the door hangers we put in the neighborhood, and postcards we mailed out informing people about Faith-Highland."
Faith-Highland is the sixth campus of Faith Church, which has campuses throughout Northwest Indiana, and one just across the state line in Illinois. They have a combined worship attendance of 3,700 people, and all campuses receive the same teaching message each week delivered live or by video feed.
Each location has a campus pastor to build community. "With this being a transition for many, I'm trying to get to know people and answer as many questions as I can," says DeVries. He and members of the transition team also connect members of the congregation with opportunities to serve or get involved in a "mini church" small group. DeVries also visits the church's shut-ins and people in the hospital.
"Basically, I do what every solo pastor does, but I do it within the structure of a larger organization, Faith Church. This allows me the camaraderie and support of our other pastoral staff, guidance on decisions, and a support structure that is tremendously beneficial."
DeVries says he loves learning the different reasons new people attend. "On launch Sunday, a five-year-old boy came to church in a tie and all excited. When asked why he was so excited, his response was, 'Because I've never been to church before!'"
A couple from Faith-Dyer told DeVries they feel called to serve at Highland thanks to preparation they received in Dyer. A mom and daughter who had been attending another Faith campus said they found Highland more convenient, and another mom and daughter said they had been ministered to by First CRC folks before their husband and dad passed away. "Previously they were not going to church; they now have connected here," says DeVries.
"Praise the Lord for what he's doing!"