Scenario 1: The RCA Staying Together

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Staying together is one of three scenarios the Vision 2020 Team is considering for the future of the RCA. The other scenarios are reorganization and grace-filled separation.

How the Vision 2020 Team describes staying together

In this scenario, the team explains, “If you think of the RCA as a house, you keep the structure of the house the same but rearrange some of the furniture.”

Two options for the RCA within this scenario

Within this scenario, the team has looked at two options. The first is staying together and doing nothing differently; the second is staying together, maintaining current RCA structures and governance, but doing so with a different approach (though not as radical as the restructuring of the second scenario).

Option 1A: Status Quo

Staying together and doing nothing—what the team is calling Option 1A—presents the current reality of the denomination.

“If we continue to do ‘business as usual,’ the default future seems to be one of continued tension, frustration, and polarization over our differences, especially regarding the presenting issue of human sexuality and marriage,” the team wrote in its report.

This option also creates “a sense of urgency for change,” wrote the team, saying that if the denomination chooses this option to do nothing, churches and classes will leave the RCA.

Last year, the Council of Synod Executives shared a report with an estimation that if nothing changes, “as many as 40 percent of our churches (including entire classes) have indicated they will leave the RCA within the next two to five years.”

The loss of those churches and classes will greatly impact the entire denomination, the Vision 2020 Team wrote in its report. Many remaining churches may be pushed into survival mode, focused on self-preservation rather than proclaiming the gospel, the team explained.

It will be a future of slow decline, threatening the sustainability of the RCA. That downsizing would eventually result in the necessity of radical restructuring and reorganization, which is the second scenario. The sense of the Vision 2020 Team, then, is that “something needs to change if there is any possibility of staying together,” as they wrote in their report.

With that sense, the team has sought out and brought forward an option for staying together that will involve some change. This option within scenario one is being called Option 1B: Adopt a Centered-Set Paradigm.

Option 1B: A Centered-Set Paradigm

In this option, current structures and governance would remain the same. The change would be the adoption of a “centered-set” paradigm, centered on key, unifying theological beliefs and convictions. (The alternative paradigm is one that is “boundaried-set,” which focuses on boundaries of who’s in or out, right or wrong.)

What this means for the RCA, as the Vision 2020 team proposes, is that “consistories and/or classes [could] decide where they stand on matters beyond the key theological convictions.”

For example, each classis would make decisions on matters of “permissible difference,” such as the biblical interpretations on human sexuality and marriage. If a consistory within that classis held differing beliefs, that church would be allowed to move to a classis with which it better aligns.

This option calls for commitment to be “more emotionally healthy and spiritually mature across the board,” said the team in its report.

“In particular, regarding issues of human sexuality and marriage, we would define ourselves and let others, both individually and collectively, define themselves. We would refrain from policing one another and filing charges to discipline people who believe differently,” the report continued.

The Vision 2020 Team recognizes that with this option, there would still be those who choose to leave the denomination. The team believes that those that remain would experience a lower level of anxiety and would better be able to keep their ministries focused on mission and outreach.

“The RCA could demonstrate how to hold together despite deep differences, testifying to our unity and hope in Christ in a highly polarized culture,” wrote the team.

This option, like the others, comes with concerns: would enough churches remain in the RCA for a sustainable future? What might happen to relationships with local churches if some realigned with a different classis? Would allowing choice in consistories and classes create further divisions? Would people and churches heighten their spiritual maturity?

Summarizing thoughts on this scenario from the Vision 2020 Team

Even a small change will require hard work across the denomination.

“While this scenario of staying together may be the least expensive and simplest of the three scenarios, staying together may also require the hardest work,” wrote the team. “But it also could be the path that brings about the greatest change in us as a denomination and leads to our most profound public witness in a cultural moment when division and polarization pollute the air we breathe.”

Delegates to General Synod 2019 provided feedback on all three scenarios through an extensive discussion process. That feedback will shape the continuing work of the Vision 2020 Team.

Read the full Scenario 1 in the Vision 2020 Team report.