The Christian Reformed Church’s Board of Trustees was excited by its Faith Formation Ministries’ proposal for new and refreshed church school curriculum even as it faced the reality that little funding is available to implement it.
The plan would add a component called “Dwell at Home” to the existing Dwell curriculum to connect church and home more closely and intentionally (estimated cost: $88,000-$103,000).
A subsequent evaluation of the entire Dwell curriculum would consider which activities and stories need to be updated, using many of the best ideas from the popular Walk With Me curriculum (estimated cost: $18,600).
The plan includes creating a church school toolkit that would be a “curated online collection of resources for churches” and would give guidelines for evaluating curriculum from other publishers in light of a Reformed perspective (estimated cost: $6,000).
Faith Formation Ministries also proposed hiring a half- or full-time children’s ministry catalyzer to build relationships with children’s ministry staff in CRC congregations (estimated cost: $25,000-$50,000).
Trustees loved the proposal. Ken Baker said, “It is a beautifully strategic move . . . helping to resource families for at-home faith nurture.”
Faith Formation staffer Karen DeBoer contrasted for trustees in subcommittee the way the most popular children’s curriculum (Orange) handles the fall narrative in Genesis 3 with the way the Dwell curriculum handles it. She noted that the contrast between a moralistic approach and a God-centered approach could not have been more clear. She concluded by saying, “Theology matters to our 5-year-olds too.” One trustee commented, “I wish every CRC pastor could have heard this.”
Darrell Bierman said that if children’s ministry personnel in churches could see that comparison, “there would be a resurgence of interest in developing Reformed curriculum.” He worried that if the board doesn’t act now, “Dwell will be outdated and too cost-prohibitive to upgrade.”
The board confirmed the importance of providing strong Reformed material and adopted the proposal with “implementation of this action as the budget is enabled to support it.”
And there’s the rub. Colin Watson, director of ministries and administration, noted that staff is still looking for places to cut the budget, while this proposal anticipates an additional cost of upwards of $150,000. “We might look at a partial implementation of this at best,” he said.
Synod 2016 (the CRC’s annual general assembly) noted the lack of new Reformed curriculum being produced, resulting from the 2013 closing of Faith Alive, the CRC’s publishing ministry. In response the board asked Faith Formation staff for a proposal. Last year’s synod also declined to approve a ministry shares increase, voting instead to maintain it at the current level. (Ministry shares is the term for funds every congregation pays into the denominational budget.)
“Given last year’s synod . . . I think we have to look reality in the face,” said executive director Steve Timmermans. Despite a good proposal with well-laid out strategy, he said, “We’re trying to find a million dollars to fill a budget gap. Even a well laid out strategy doesn’t mean we know where the dollars are.”
The situation feels paradoxical to Faith Formation team leader Syd Hielema. “Ten years ago, synod would approve a one-time ministry shares increase to help fund the $3 million needed to develop a brand-new curriculum. Now we’re not sure we can find $200,000 to refresh the rich curricula we have in order to keep them current, while many congregations are lamenting the challenges involved in children, teen, and young adult ministry,” he said. “What’s wrong with this picture?”