Church Planters Challenge the Church to Grow

Church Planters Challenge the Church to Grow
Church planters at Synod 2019 (l-r): José Rayas, Ben Bowater, Dirk vanEyk, Mark Van Andel.

Church planters who come to synod said they sometimes feel like “fish out of water.” (Synod is the annual leadership meeting of the Christian Reformed Church.)

But that didn’t stop delegate Ben Bowater from making a splash. During a morning of quiet synod business, Bowater made an impassioned call to action: “Until we as a church have the urgency to go door to door and around the world to let our brothers and sisters know that our Father God sent his Son, our brother, to die for all of us, the church will continue to decline,” Bowater announced.

A church planter in Kalamazoo, Mich., and first-time delegate, Bowater often wished synod procedure were more mission-focused. The denomination is in decline because we are unwilling to change our ways, unwilling to go out and tell the good news, he told The Banner. “We’ve got to think in terms of priority.”

Dirk vanEyk, another first-time delegate, agreed, but added, “We [church planters] can create a conversation.” A church planter in Kentwood, Mich., vanEyk said he learned how easy it is to get something on the agenda for synod. “What I learned is, literally anyone can put something on the agenda,” he said. “Church planters do not have an inherent right to complain about synod after seeing how easy it is to get something before synod.”

VanEyk has another way to get something before synod. His lively Grand Rapids church plant, Encounter Church, will host worship for Synod 2020. “We’re going full Encounter,” he said with a grin. ‘Full Encounter’ involves drums, colored lights, and perhaps even a hazer (fog machine). He also will have the chance to preach.

Not too many church planters come to Synod. “Probably because church planting is rogue by nature,” said vanEyk.

“Church planters can tend to think, ‘All that church order stuff, whatever,’” said Mark Van Andel, who planted Hesed Community Church in Detroit. “But I would like to see more church planters here.” It was Van Andel’s first time at synod, too.

But another church planter was serving as a synod delegate for the 12th time. José Rayas, who plants churches in El Paso, Texas, was also elected first clerk to Synod 2019.

“Over the last 15 or so years, our denomination’s call to plant churches has matured,” said Rayas. “If we’re truly going to be a church-planting denomination, we need to raise the proper leaders.”

Rayas serves at synod in order to connect his Hispanic church-planting friends to the denomination. “I want to make sure synod’s work goes out into the churches. If someone doesn’t do that, it dies out.”

At Synod 2012, Rayas helped form a group of Hispanic church planters called Consejo Latino. “We dream of holding a CRC church planting seminar in several different languages, to share the pains and the joys, the patience and the persevering.”

At this year’s synod, vanEyk felt a “ball of anxiety that we don’t want to talk about.” People feel threatened when they hear about declining church membership and other signs that what they are doing isn’t working, he said.

“An industrious people will find something to do no matter what. We’ll find a lot to keep us busy,” rather than searching for “another perspective.”


Synod 2019 is meeting at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., from June 14-20. For continuous coverage from our award-winning news team, download the Banner app on your mobile device or follow The Banner Magazine on Facebook or @crcbanner on Twitter. You can find more tweeting by following hashtag #crcsynod. News stories will be posted on The Banner’s dedicated Synod web page several times daily. Unless noted otherwise, all photographs are by Karen Huttenga.

About the Author

Roxanne Van Farowe is a freelance writer.

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