Scenario 2: Significant Reorganization of the RCA

tearing down and rebuilding


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

How the Vision 2020 Team describes significant reorganization

Scenario 2 is intended to explore the impacts if the denomination were “to radically restructure the leadership and organization of the denomination to enable Christians with diverse beliefs, commitments, and missional practices to work harmoniously together under a denominational ‘umbrella,’” says the team’s report.

The team explains the essence of the second scenario this way: “If you think of it like a house, it would be like tearing down a house and rebuilding it. The same people would be in it, but the structure would be different.”

What would not change if the RCA were reorganized

The team identified some non-negotiables that would have to remain true in a reorganization of the RCA: the RCA’s character as missional, Reformed, and confessional with a presbyterian governance structure, as well as its commitments to global mission, church multiplication, and care for missionaries and ministers. At the same time, the scenario aims to eliminate unnecessary or redundant structural components, clarify and simplify organizational leadership lines, maximize available equipping resources at the lowest possible level, maximize networking relationships within the denomination, and create a variety of partnerships beyond the RCA.

Ways the RCA could be significantly reorganized

Within Scenario 2, the team has developed three possible sub-scenarios:

2A: An “affinity silo” structure, which would be like three mini-denominations and could exist with or without the umbrella of the RCA as a denomination.

2B: A denomination–classis structure, which would eliminate the regional synods but preserve other aspects of the RCA’s current structure.

2C: A network structure, which would group churches and classes into larger affinity networks, formed around their priorities in mission.

Of these three options, the team has most thoroughly considered and laid out the possible structure and ramifications for the third option, the network structure.

More about Option 2C: Network structure

In this scenario, the General Synod would function as an umbrella structure for eight or so groups, or “networks,” formed around missional priorities. Current regional synods and classes would be “compressed” into formal ministry networks, which would be staffed, resourced, and accountable for missional ministry within their bounds.

While the entire denomination would be united around the priority of mission, networks would be united in a more localized missional focus and strategy—for instance, church planting or social justice. Individual congregations could choose to affiliate with the network most aligned with their missional identity.

In its report, the Vision 2020 Team clarified the differing responsibilities of the General Synod and the networks. According to the report, “The General Synod would exist to equip and support network ministry,” and most resources would be directed to the networks “in order to maximize flexibility, responsiveness, contextualization, and accountability.” This sub-scenario reduces denominational staff to one primary ministry staff person in each essential area, while preserving current support and operations staff “in order to facilitate the RCA’s core commitments to global mission, church multiplication, and care for missionaries and ministers.”

The Book of Church Order would be revised to address only “the issues, beliefs, and practices on which we are unified, the markers that identify us: missional, Reformed, confessional, and presbyterian in governance,” explains the report. The General Synod, made up of representatives from the networks, would then have decision-making authority over these matters. Networks, on the other hand, would have the freedom to develop complementary guidelines or bylaws and would determine the “structures for the implementation and execution of a common vision and mission.” The General Synod would focus on strategic leadership and the networks on polity issues. Networks would also oversee the credentialing of potential ministers and commissioned pastors.

The potential impacts of pursuing significant reorganization

The Vision 2020 Team acknowledges the dramatic change this scenario would require. Some of that change would be painful, resulting from the “disorder, confusion, and questioning” that would accompany the restructuring. But the team believes the change could also have a positive side: “greater responsiveness in our structure, new perspectives on how to accomplish our mission together, increased understanding of our identity and commonalities, and increased effectiveness through our willingness to ask hard questions,” reads the report.

“Do people have the stamina to go through that type of change?” asks the team’s video overview of the scenarios. “It would take a long time, and it would involve change on every level. … It would be messy.”

The video also expresses the scenario’s hopeful side: “We would have an opportunity to redo things. We would have an opportunity to restructure things that would work more to the denomination’s benefit. It would be an opportunity to kind of start over again.”

Delegates to General Synod 2019 provided feedback on all three scenarios through an extensive discussion process. That feedback is being used to inform the work of the Vision 2020 Team.

Read Scenario 2 in the Vision 2020 Team’s report.