When Rev. Jon Hoekema asked God for an additional 40 people to help serve in his church, he did not expect them to come from another denomination.
But Resurrection Presbyterian Church in Westmont, Ill., merged recently with Horizon Community Christian Reformed Church in Downers Grove, Ill., after a nine-month process of discovery.
The process began a year ago, when Hoekema sat down for coffee with Rev. Bob Price from Resurrection—and Price offered the idea of merging congregations.
Rev. Jon Hoekema (in blue, left) and Rev. Bob Price pray during their Service of Mission and Merger.
“The EPC [Evangelical Presbyterian Church] is almost the same as the CRC,” Hoekema said. “In fact, I think the EPC is closer theologically . . . to the CRC than [is] the RCA [Reformed Church in America].”
Horizon began in 1998 as a church plant in Classis Northern Illinois (a regional group of churches) and was attracting about 70 people. Resurrection, meanwhile, began in 2009, when several families pulled out of a local Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation because of the denomination’s stance on homosexuality. On average, Resurrection drew 40 members in attendance.
“Neither of us was a thriving church plant,” Hoekema said, “but it was the mission that drove the merger. ‘Merger as mission’ is when two congregations come together in humility for the sake of God’s kingdom.”
Because there were no resources concerning mergers of this nature, the two congregations developed their own three-phase process of Discovery, Describing, and Doing. The first phase included initial discussions between governing bodies, while, as part of the Describing phase, two leaders from each congregation, along with Hoekema and Price, walked through the process of how the merger would work—from worship to staffing. The two congregations met for several events to become familiar with one another leading up to the Doing phase, which began in May 2011 and concluded with a Service of Mission and Merger on June 5.
Early on Price and Hoekema understood that the new congregation would not be able to support two full-time ministers, so Price applied to be a chaplain in the U.S. Navy Reserves to supplement his part-time work for the church; Hoekema also planned to work part-time.
However, Price received the opportunity to serve the Navy full-time, so Hoekema now serves Horizon full-time. Price, now in officer training school, will be stationed in Connecticut come November. His wife and their six children will continue to worship with Horizon until they, too, move to Connecticut.
“I am having to make a shift from a leadership perspective of ‘How do I survive?’ to ‘How do I lead a group of people for strategic kingdom use?’” Hoekema said.
Horizon did not previously have a ministry team of leaders, but now 18 people drawn from the former congregations serve pivotal roles.
Going forward, Hoekema said, Horizon, which is officially a Christian Reformed church, will focus on discipleship through relationships, internally as well as in the community.