This fall in Ontario, two churches marked milestones on a journey of renewal. In September, The Junction Church in St. Thomas, Ont., hosted a service, including a ribbon cutting to mark extensive renovations on the church’s building. In November, Water Street Church in Guelph, Ont., hosted a similar celebration to mark a renewal of their ministry and facilities.
A growing number of congregations are investing time, energy, and resources into church renewal, which can involve building renovations and always involves a new focus on ministry goals, church vision and values—and a lot of prayer. Some churches begin the journey because they’ve seen a decline in the number of members and people attending each Sunday, others simply seek more definition in their purpose and vision, and still others join as part of a cohort or classis effort. There are various types of church renewal processes available to congregations, including several through the Center for Church Renewal and the newly formed Reformed Partnership for Congregational Renewal. The Banner talked to church members and pastors at three Christian Reformed churches to learn of their experience.
Wolf Creek Community Church in Lacombe, Alta.,worked through a renewal process this year after the church’s pastor moved to another congregation. Church leadership decided to take some time before seeking a new pastor to clarify and build on the values and goals of the church. “Refocus, Renew, Rejoice” became the theme and the name of the process, facilitated by Jack Tacoma, a church vision consultant.
A five-member revisioning team organized 40 days of prayer, followed by a congregational retreat in February where members prayed, discussed, brainstormed possible goals, and defined the core values of the church. Seeking God was present throughout. “There was ongoing work in small groups, prayer—regular prayer gatherings and prayer before and after the service at times,” said revisioning team member Ingrid Vander Meulen.
“It brought people together. It built community between generations; it fostered conversations and relationships that hadn’t formed before,” said church clerk Annette Zuidhof. Congregation members had a reaffirmed sense of the church’s goals and vision, which they embraced in a new way. The formal part of the process has wrapped up, said Zuidhof, but the work continues as the church begins implementing the proposals and goals agreed upon by the congregation. A pastor search committee formed in June.
For Family of Faith Church in Kennewick, Wash., the story is one of continuing changes. They started the Church Renewal Lab process as part of a cohort in Classis Columbia in spring 2018. Membership was down, said pastor Thomas Kok, and leadership was seeking a way to bring new life to the church. The journey involved more change than they had anticipated: after a lot of prayer and conversation, they sold their church building to a larger congregation and moved worship services to a Boys and Girls Club in a low-income area of Kennewick. “We were familiar with that neighborhood because (of) a ministry to immigrants and refugees that was born out of our church—the Family Learning Center,” said Kok.
Led by a renewal team of 10, the congregation established a mission statement, values, and goals, all of which focus on establishing relationships with people in the new neighborhood of the church. “We’re still in what I’m calling our ‘Year of Listening’ as we try to discern where we might best serve Jesus in this place,” said Kok, noting that he’s seen, in the congregation and himself, renewed interest, passion, and willingness to serve.
Princeton Christian Reformed Church in Kentwood, Mich., worked through the Church Renewal Lab from 2016 to 2018. The church’s pastor ended up accepting a call to another church quite early in the process. Like Wolf Creek, the church found the renewal experience helped the search process by clarifying the goals and values of the church, important in finding a good fit with a new pastor.
In any church, there is a diversity of opinions, and this can make planning and communication difficult. Change can be hard, and there are no quick fixes; the process of church renewal is often slow, involving a lot of prayer and discussion. A member of the renewal team at Princeton CRC, Harvey Koning, said they sent updates, hosted town hall meetings, and encouraged and led Bible discussions at church and in small groups, sharing renewal-themed messages and Bible verses. All those helped, he said, “but the real embracing comes more from the work of the Spirit.”
At 18 months since the end of the formal renewal lab, Koning said he sees more signs of transformation than were present by the end of the two-year process. The mission is now prominent, both in big letters on the wall of the narthex and in the actions and attitudes of members of the church. New and creative ministries have begun, the mortgage has been paid off completely, a Wednesday-night ministry has grown to include more fellowship, and an Alpha course took place and was followed up with new studies. Church leaders have noticed a new focus on hospitality, outreach, and discipleship.
The total number of Christian Reformed churches working through a renewal process is hard to count because of the many different pathways. Jack Tacoma, the consultant who worked with Wolf Creek, has led about 40 churches through his program. Eighty-one churches are currently in renewal processes with the Center for Church Renewal. Its pilot project in 2013 included 80 churches.