A team asked to compile a list of denominational resources related to church planting and evangelism has instead offered the church a document outlining the religious and biblical context of church renewal as it relates to evangelism and church planting, in addition to providing the requested list. The authors expressed the hope that its paper will “prompt the kind of reflection, discernment, and painful yet creative change that will truly bring renewal in the [Christian Reformed Church].”
The request for the list came from Synod 2017 (the annual leadership meeting of the CRC) in response to a discussion about the denomination’s membership decline.
“We appreciate the spirit and tenor of the recommendation, which emphasizes the value of a well-stocked ‘ministry toolbox,’” wrote the authors, including Moses Chung, Zachary King, Kevin Schutte, Cory Willson, and Jeff Bos. “However, we must be sober enough to realize that a ‘list of current resources’ cannot, in and of itself, grow our churches. If it were so, the answer to church renewal through evangelism and church planting would only be ‘a click’ away via an Internet search for ‘resources for church renewal.’”
Experiencing a renewed evangelistic focus only happens through prayerful Spirit-led discernment and costly change, they said. It is an act of the Holy Spirit and not the application of the correct tools by ministry professionals.
They noted that for spiritual renewal to happen, the church must stop separating and compartmentalizing mission tasks like evangelism and church planting from worship, preaching, and discipleship. “This model worked in the now defunct world of ‘Christendom’ or ‘churched culture,’” they wrote, “but does not work in the current context where biblical and ecclesiastic memory is rapidly disappearing from our society.”
Against a background of statistics noting the decline of the church in general in North America, the authors describe the place of the church in culture as
post-attractional; no longer a destination of value.
post-propositional; no longer a source to receive wisdom and truth.
post-universal language; no longer a source of text about shared meaning.
While many may lament this, they wrote, those who are concerned with renewal for church planting should see it as a new opportunity.
However, in a quote from missiologists Dwight J. Zscheile and Craig Van Gelder, they also noted that “the assumption that people will look to established institutional religious structures to meet these needs and formally affiliate with them as in previous generations does not seem to be holding for many people today. Unless churches provide new ways of connecting with people where they are and of bringing them together meaningfully, they will continue to struggle and decline.”
That struck a chord for delegate Sam Cooper from Mississauga, Ont. “I wonder if we are being drawn to a new ecclesiology. The days of a concentric church are over. Just over,” he said. “Our younger members are out there. They refuse to be drawn to the center any longer. [This report] may get us to get out there and serve them where they are.”
The authors also pointed out that any denomination that remains majority white and middle-class will, by default, tend to decline in numbers and influence.
The report asserted that particular methods, tracts, and tools of evangelism go in and out of vogue. “Especially in uncertain times and seasons of church decline, we can become gripped with fear about the future of the church and become attached to evangelistic methods and tools that promise numerical results.
“Whatever evangelistic, renewal, or mission strategies are pursued, it is the work of discipling all Christians to engage in Christian mission that is essential.”
The authors said that the Lord must breathe life into the dry bones of his church (Ezek. 37) and give it a passion for evangelism and church planting. The question is, they ask, do we want it? “Such a movement of renewal will be messy in our current church culture.”
The Council of Delegates endorsed the report and will forward it to Synod 2018.