In the Old Testament, God’s people put down stones to remember God’s provision. This past summer, as delegates to Synod 2014 and the Reformed Church in America’s General Synod worshiped together, 12 stones were placed to symbolically recall God’s faithfulness—with a particular focus on the shared history of the RCA and CRC.
We need to remember and celebrate God’s provision for his church, particularly in light of the discouraging news we sometimes hear about the future of churches and denominations in contemporary culture.
Here are three reasons why I believe that we are, in fact, being blessed by God.
First, the world is flocking to urban areas. Places of great diversity, cities include both long-time residents of different ethnic groups and newly arriving immigrant groups. Moreover, the young are stepping back into the city areas their grandparents left. Cities are where we find the next generation of church members and leaders.
Let’s look at three dimensions of the CRC compiled from numbers and other data gleaned from the Internet and print resources.
We’ll start with Grand Rapids, Mich., one area where the CRC has a long history. A central area of the city has long had more than a dozen churches. Here are three snapshots, each 25 years apart.
- The first, taken from the 1964 Yearbook, suggests that things were booming 50 years ago. Eighteen CRC churches were home to 3,728 families. During the following years, a number of things began to happen. “White flight” and the allure of the suburbs drew people away. Immigration slowed to a trickle, and the number of births continued to decline.
- Twenty-five years later, although there were still 18 churches, the total number of families had dropped by 40 percent.
- But today, according to the 2014 Yearbook, there are 20 churches in that same area, and the total number of families has grown by 11 percent! God hasn’t abandoned the city, nor has he abandoned our efforts to be a church engaged in a variety of urban ministries.
A second area of blessing is increasing diversity. Let’s use the same 25-year markers to look at churches that are ethnically primarily non-Dutch or multiethnic.
- In 1964, fewer than a dozen ethnic minority churches were organized or on their way to being organized. Nevertheless, there were about 20 ministry efforts led by Home Missions. Those for Chinese believers were found in Chicago, Jamaica (New York), and Crenshaw (Los Angeles). Other ministry efforts were located in African-American areas of major cities; ministry among Spanish-speakers had begun in Miami, Grand Rapids, Holland (Mich.), Chicago, and southern California. In addition, there were more than a dozen ministries among the Navajo and Zuni.
- Twenty-five years later, many of these efforts had emerged as organized churches, particularly with the advent of Classis Red Mesa. In addition, the 1989 Yearbook shows churches for Vietnamese, Hmong, Laotian, and Korean groups.
- Today, another 25 years later, it’s difficult to glean the exact number of multiethnic churches, but I counted more than 200, either organized or emerging, that reflect our growing multiethnic identity. It’s an amazing progression and evidence of God’s provision.
For a third area of blessing, let’s look at the CRC and young adults. Christianity Today and a host of other sources tell us that young adults are leaving the church.
That may be the case, but check out the CRC’s Young Adult Leadership Task Force blog. You’ll find some very perceptive young adults emerging as leaders in the CRC.
This past summer, the blog provided a list of 20 leaders under the age of 40. Their accomplishments are amazing. They tend to be from areas where the CRC is well established, but they are also found in areas that are centers of innovation and creativity.
Our emerging leaders are where they need to be. But in the words of Matthew van Maastricht, one of the YALT bloggers, we need to care about them, talk to them, and listen to them—not because they represent a critical demographic (although they do), but because of who they are: sons and daughters of the King.
As we seek to better understand God’s work among us, his continued provision is evident. With the psalmist we should “sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always” (Ps. 105: 2-4).