On Monday morning Steven Timmermans, executive director of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), addressed Synod 2018, the church’s annual general assembly, using three “snapshots” of the denominational landscape meant to capture for delegates the state of the church. Noting specifically a request to synod from Classis Pacific Northwest to address membership decline and unresolved conflict in the church (Agenda for Synod 2018, p. 334-351), Timmermans said he did not want to focus on decades of trends but instead on recent trends. “I ask us to look together what’s happening most recently.”
He introduced the first snapshot with a slide of “welcomes” and “farewells” that showed churches, both emerging and organized, being added to and closed in the CRC in the past three years. While together the farewells outnumbered the welcomes, the trend in United States churches, Timmermans said, showed a net increase of congregations. Not so in Canada.
Timmermans’ next snapshot, capturing regional trends, highlighted 12 classes (regional groups of churches) that demonstrated either growth or stability over the last 15, 10, or five years. “More classes [those of Central California, Grand Rapids East, Grandville, and North Central Iowa] have joined the category of growth or stability in the last five years,” Timmermans said.
Noting patterns in the areas that are experiencing stability or growth, Timmermans offered the hypothesis that “when classes and regions are planting churches and welcoming immigrant groups with congregations that may wish to affiliate with the CRC, God’s blessings become evident.”
The final snapshot, at the congregational level, was two stories of churches living into the desired future of “Churches Flowing into Their Communities,” from Our Journey 2020, the CRC’s current five-year ministry plan. Timmermans told of adult baptisms recently celebrated in a congregation that had befriended a Muslim immigrant through Coffee Break ministry and a person of no faith affiliation (who grew up in a Buddhist household) and who connected to the congregation through its visible presence in the neighborhood. And he told of a church increasing in professing members by 25 percent over the last five years through evangelism, reentry post-incarceration, and attracting young families and young adults through “authentic ministry—ministry that invited them to step from the pew into the trenches.”
Timmermans suggested “there may be those that say ‘This is not our grandparents’ church,’ but it never has been—it’s God’s church!” a statement that drew some amens from the synod floor.
Timmermans closed by acknowledging that we do need to look at the data to spur the CRC on to be ever more faithful, but he urged delegates not to adopt “a narrative of negativity, despair, or scarcity” and not to lose hope.
Quoting Psalm 25, he asked that the petition of the psalmist be the denomination’s prayer: “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”
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