We Don’t Have to Be Afraid to Die

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June 2013: “We are a small, older congregation seeking to mutually discern God’s will for us and what the future of our congregation in the community could look like.”

June 2014: “We decided to disband our congregation as of April 27, [the date of] our final worship service.”
 

Gallatin Gateway Community Christian Reformed Church in Bozeman, Mont., applied for a Sustaining Congregational Excellence grant to explore the June 2013 statement above. They were looking to the future, to discern what it was that God was calling them to.

They desired to bring renewal, health, and growth to their congregation. The grant allowed them to explore this by engaging in the Healthy Church Process.
The process began with the creation of a Healthy Church Team to oversee the project. Congregational participation was high.

Over 80 percent (37 of the church’s 45 regular attenders) completed the Healthy Church Survey, and 60 percent participated in the follow-up conversation.

At the project’s midpoint, Pastor George Den Oudsten reported, “Members who attended the congregational conversation said that they could see God working as they talked. They said that they could not remember a time where the congregation gathered specifically to talk about ministry. When they gathered around the tables, young and old, everyone spoke, and all the voices were heard. It was a joy to participate in this discussion about the church’s future.”

But the future wasn’t what many had expected when the project began. The Healthy Church Team recommended that the church disband. On April 6, a vote of 44 to 1 decided just that.

 “In the final service, we celebrated what God had done, but the overwhelming tone of the service was that of a memorial service, a funeral for a Christian who had died too soon. 

“We took time to remember our beginnings, confess and lament our sorrows and shortcomings, and remember and celebrate our joys and good memories,” said Den Oudsten.

When asked what the church had learned from their project he said, “That we don’t have to be afraid to die, because we serve a God who has the power to raise the dead. We learned to step forward in faith in order to make space for God to bring resurrection instead of selfishly clinging to the familiar and comfortable that was not sustainable or a stewardly use of resources anymore.”

Den Oudsten has since accepted a call to Peoria CRC in Iowa. The church building was sold to a group that will plant a church. Both parties agreed that the contract stipulate that the church property will stay in Christian ministry in perpetuity.

About the Author

Lis Van Harten is director of the Sustaining Pastoral and Congregational Excellence Programs (SPE and SCE).

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