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Gathered Christian Reformed Church leaders at Synod 2023 (the denomination’s general assembly) were welcomed to one of four workshops Sunday evening (June 11) to hear from and share with denominational ministry leaders on topics important to furthering the church’s mission.

Church Planting

Kevin DeRaaf, acting Canada director of Resonate Global Mission, and nominated as the agency's new director to be interviewed by Synod 2023 this week, spoke to a small group with a presentation called “A Fresh Wave of Church Multiplication.” Recognizing that the former programmatic church growth operating system—delivering a “strong Sunday event” with a charismatic preacher, talented worship leaders, and children’s program—is declining in its reach, DeRaaf described how Resonate is supporting classes in the CRC to lean into new “expressions” of missional churches. Those include micro-churches, which emphasize community and mission in a specific context, and “multiplication hubs” where a leader and a model in one place encourages the replication of that vision in connected nearby, individual plants. Scott Vander Ploeg, pastor of Sunlight Ministries in St. Lucie, Fla., described one of the difficulties in promoting flexible church planting models: integrating leaders who come with different levels of training into rigid categories within Church Order. “We need an ecclesiastical rethink on Church Order,” Vander Ploeg said.

Listening to Lead

Lesli van Milligen and Reggie Smith, both from Thrive (formerly congregational ministries), led a workshop on “The One Who Leads, Listens.” About 10 people gathered for the workshop and participated in activities such as a listening circle and “walking the river,” where they simulated having a debate first “across” a fictional river, and then “walking side-by-side” as they navigated the river. The intent was to help participants learn new tools and techniques for engaging in dialogue in a way that truly listens to and seeks to understand the person to whom they are talking. “I hope these skills will come in handy as you deliberate and seek to truly listen to each other in the coming days,” said van Milligen. 

The Ministry Shares Program

Jeff Bolt, director of advancement for the CRC, led a workshop on ministry shares—the pooled money contributed by local churches and distributed to fund the denomination’s ministries. Ministry shares have been used in the Christian Reformed Church since 1862. Until recently the annual synod would set the per-member amount that each congregation should contribute. Churches now set their own annual pledge amounts, and the denomination still distributes the funds that churches give among the various supported ministries and agencies. A review of that system is on the agenda for Synod 2023.

“Ministry shares are one of the least expensive ways to raise money for a ministry,” Bolt said. “It’s an agreement between churches that benefits everyone. The benefit is that your mission and ministry footprint is larger.”

Bolt showed some videos that highlighted ministries that benefit from ministry shares including chaplaincy and Canadian Indigenous ministries.

Afterward, the group discussed some ways that church giving has changed in recent years. Some churches prefer to direct their donation toward a specific agency, which doesn’t change the total amount that all the agencies receive. In Bolt’s opinion, the pledge system, which began in 2019, has enabled churches to “right-size” their giving– and for some, that meant reducing their giving. One classis had only five of its churches giving to ministry shares before 2019, and now 20 churches are making pledges.

Prayer in Discerning

Jon Hoekema, the CRC’s prayer shepherd, and Sean Baker, ministry consultant with Thrive, led a workshop, “More than ‘A Quick Prayer’,” on incorporating prayerful practices into church life.

“What is one practice you could introduce in your church to create a balance between a deciding approach and a discerning approach toward making decisions?” Hoekema asked participants.

“Deciding Tools” include parliamentary procedures, majority rule, strength and weakness analysis, and other strategies, participants heard. “Discerning Tools” include prayer, silence, Scripture, listening circles, consensus, storytelling, and consolation. Both sets of tools are needed for a church to move forward effectively, according to the presenters.

Synod 2023 is meeting June 9-15 at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich. Find daily coverage from The Banner news team at Visit for the synod schedule, webcast, recordings, photos, committee reports, and liveblog. Synod is the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church.

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