Rick Zomer, executive director of Youth Unlimited, began his workshop with a sobering statistic: 40 to 60 percent of North American young Christians will leave the church within 18 months of graduating from high school. But when we ask “why are young people leaving?” we imply that young people bear all the responsibility for leaving, as if it is solely their fault, he said.
Rather, “What are we [the church] doing that young people are reacting to [negatively by leaving]?” he asked.
Zomer challenged churches to consider how the culture and structures they have created might be inadvertent barriers to young people’s full engagement. Young people’s world today is very different from what people their age experienced decades ago, he pointed out. Churches should reimagine how they view and select people for leadership roles, which currently often overlook young people. Finally, Zomer emphasized the need to develop intergenerational mentoring connections in the local church contexts, not as another ministry program but as genuine, authentic relationships. Perhaps discipleship is not primarily about imparting information but rather about building long-term relationships from which spiritual wisdom can be passed at the right, appropriate times, he said.
In another building, church planter Kevin Schutte challenged his audience to draw on God’s abundance to plant new churches. Kevin Schutte is a church planter and also works for Resonate Global Mission.
An abundance worldview includes an appreciation for the heritage and traditions of the Christian Reformed Church, he said. The legacy of faith he received from his parents and grandparents gave him resources to plant Pathway Community Church in Olathe, Kans., 15 years ago.“Standing on the shoulders of our history is where we can find new ideas. Don’t dismiss the past, but continue the process of creativity for the future.”
Gospel and mission must drive church organization, not the other way around, Schutte explained. For example, when a Baptist church plant wanted to meet in his church’s building Sunday mornings, some of his congregations were concerned that newcomers might join the ‘wrong church.’
“The criteria is, ‘Is Christ being preached?’” he said. “We reject an attitude of competition, or a worldview of scarcity that leads to fear and anxiety.”
About 15 people attended the deacon-focused workshop, “Helping without Harming,” co-led by Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo, director of World Renew Canada and Ron Vanden Brink, director of Diaconal Ministries Canada. The hour-long session was a pared-down version of a full-day workshop developed about four years ago and has since been presented to almost 500 participants in Christian Reformed congregations. It focused on asset-based community development work with learning from resources produced by The Chalmers Center, including the book When Helping Hurts by Chalmers founder Brian Fikkert.
Participants, including deacons, elders and pastors shared some stories of community engagement done well and done poorly, recognizing that looking at a situation from the point of need focuses the power on “the giver.” Instead, when the focus is on relationship and doing ‘with’ instead of doing ‘for,’ both groups grow.
Three more workshops covered the topics of the role of elders, friendships between cultures, and church renewal.
Delegate John Zuidhof said he came to the church-planting workshop looking for ideas as he enters his “third third of life.”
“The abundance mentality, being creative—a lot of those ideas really resonated with me,” he said.
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.