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Meeting virtually Feb. 14-16, 2024, the Council of Delegates of the Christian Reformed Church in North America reviewed ongoing work toward tasks assigned by synod (the annual general assembly of the CRCNA), made some adjustments to plans for this year’s synod, and met together as individual ministry boards for the U.S. and Canada.

For the assignment to the general secretary "to work with the Council of Delegates, each agency, and churches and classes to develop a comprehensive unified strategy and plan to arrest and reverse the trend of decline and bring about a positive trend of membership growth to our denomination" (Acts of Synod 2023, p. 976), the Council endorsed a one-year plan to hear from people in the classes. The Office of General Secretary and staff of the CRC’s Thrive ministry devised the project, which is being called “Gather,” to hear and discern where God is already at work renewing his church.

“Our plan is to convene 10 regional gatherings with lay and ordained leaders throughout the United States and Canada. Each two-day event will include prayer, worship, fellowship, storytelling, and facilitated dialogue,” staff wrote as a summary for the Council. “Throughout these events, we will be identifying what is happening on the leading edge of missional ministry, how God is renewing his church, and what our role in that work should be.

“The discoveries from this initiative will be integrated to inform the development of an adaptable renewal strategy for congregations as requested by synod.”

Council of Delegates members agreed together to promote and encourage full participation in the upcoming gatherings, including reaching out to all the churches in their classis, having personal conversations with classis leaders about plans for the gatherings, helping, as needed, to select leaders to participate, and to “make every effort” to personally attend the gathering of which their own classis is taking part.

Sherry Fakkema, Classis Pacific Northwest, whose second term on the Council ends in May, said, “I think we have an important task and I'm thrilled with what is happening, and even though May is my last COD meeting, I'm hoping that I get invited to the gathering that is in our area.”

Classes will be invited not based on geography, but across regions, so members from diverse parts of the church can share their stories with those who might not already know of them.

General secretary Zachary King told delegates that organizers don’t intend to have the two Korean classes of the CRCNA, Han-Mi and Ko-Am, meeting together, for example, and they intend to have translation available so “stories and lessons about how churches are being renewed can be shared across the language barrier.”

Elaine May, congregational renewal leader with Thrive, will lead the project. The first of the sessions is scheduled for April 19-21 in Minneapolis with the Huron, Hackensack, Lake Erie, Lake Superior, and Columbia classes.

From suggestions of the regional leaders for Resonate Global Mission and from classis leadership, 15 people from each classis will attend. May said lessons learned in hosting the first gathering will help to shape the others, four of which are expected in fall 2024, three that winter, and two in spring 2025 so learning from all of these events can be presented to Synod 2025.

Herb Schreur, Classis Northcentral Iowa, was encouraged by the direction. “Synod has directed us to try and do something. I think that we have in the past, been a little bit shy of anything that didn't work for the first time,” he said. Instead, Schreur hopes organizers will carefully review the first gathering, improve on what was learned and keep going. “the exchange of information can go on,” he said. “We can sort the rest of it out later and let's not stop because we haven't got the perfect plan yet.”

King said the cost of these events, except for contributed staff time, will be offset by specified donations and grants. “A donor has come forward with a substantial gift to get us started,” the overview to the Council of Delegates said. “Our hope is to hold these events at no cost to individual participants and without diverting any funds from ministry.”

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