As soon as he had the chance, church planter Chris Mitchell started to tell the people in his fledgling congregation about the Christian Reformed Church’s system of raising funds through ministry shares.
That seemed a little ironic, because when Mitchell and his wife, Cindi, started the New England Chapel in a rented office space with support from Christian Reformed Home Missions, their goal was to plant a church free from the trappings of a traditional CRC congregation.
A graduate of Calvin Theological Seminary, Mitchell’s focus was to reach people who had given up on religion, yet were still seeking God. His outreach touched a chord, and people began to join this community that accepted everyone, regardless of their questions or doubts.
Given his relatively free-wheeling approach in planting the church in a western suburb of Boston, Mass., you might think that Mitchell wouldn’t want to talk about ministry shares—a program that some in the CRC regard as a sort of “denominational tax.”
But Mitchell, who was raised in the Boston area and had little interest in religion when he was growing up, is a fan of the ministry-shares system.
“The first few years of building our church would have been impossible” without the subsidy they received via ministry shares, Mitchell says. “The truth is we owe our existence to ministry shares.”
New England Chapel now meets in a refurbished warehouse and attracts about 1,000 worshipers each weekend.
“Our leadership decided, even as we were still receiving ministry shares, to have the vision of our church [contributing to] ministry shares,” he says. “We saw this as a way of giving back . . . to help other church plants and to give back to the denomination that has supported us.”
At first it was difficult to explain the ministry-shares concept to people, Mitchell says. Most church members had little idea about how denominations operate or how the CRC’s wide range of shared ministries are funded. “We had to discuss and describe this whole process and how it works,” he says.
The ministry-shares program raises about $25 million a year to help support CRC ministries in North America and around the world. Congregations are asked to contribute to ministry shares based on the number of active adult members on their rolls.
A key attribute of the program is that there is almost no overhead cost. To raise the same amount of money through fund-raising campaigns would require spending several million dollars a year—money that, thanks to ministry shares, the CRC can spend on ministry programs instead.
Mitchell’s church was already growing prior to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. When the attacks happened, New England Chapel threw open its doors for anyone interested in gathering and praying. Many people came for prayer and comfort—and many of them stayed.
New England Chapel describes itself as “a place where the music and messages speak to your real life. It is a place to belong and share and serve the community. It is a place to find God in our own time, at your own pace—all without pressure and judgment, but with hope and patience.”
Mitchell says he is very grateful for the vision for ministry that he learned while attending Calvin Theological Seminary. He also went to school at the University of Rhode Island and earned a degree in theology from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass.
Although he supports ministry shares, Mitchell says the system may need to be adjusted to accommodate changing definitions of church membership. These days, not everyone who attends a church becomes an official member, he notes. “The whole idea of membership is confusing at best. Overall, though, [ministry shares] is an important way of giving.”