Recently I addressed Synod 2015 on the state of our church.
My remarks were scheduled early in the week-long assembly, so they arose out of my experiences during the past 11 months as executive director—not out of my experiences this year at synod. But I’m happy to report that my pre-synod assessments—that God’s blessings are evident in exceeding greatness among us—were validated time and time again during the days of Synod 2015.
I began by sharing two misconceptions that I often hear. These misconceptions have a way of clouding a clear view of what God has done, is doing, and will do in and through the Christian Reformed Church, so I wanted to set the record straight. The first misconception is that the Christian Reformed Church is shrinking. The second is that Ministry Shares are declining. Let me explain.
Most of us see the denomination from a singular vantage point—one specific window. If we are in a church that is experiencing explosive growth, we might assume that’s the story throughout the CRC. Or, if we are in a declining church, we might believe that the whole CRC is shrinking—a view that is reinforced when we hear reports in the media that Christianity in North America is wasting away.
But if we look at the data in our Yearbook, there are more members in the CRC now than there were last year, and the year before that, as shown in these slides:
Of course, faithfulness isn’t captured by a trend line or a set of numbers. But I wanted to share with synod, and now with you, that it isn’t accurate to say we’re shrinking. God is blessing us, especially when we consider that decades ago, our growth—while looking spectacular at times—was boosted by bunches of immigrants and batches of babies, not by evangelism and church planting.
The second misconception is that Ministry Shares—our unique way of funding the ministries we commit to doing together—are shrinking. I used another slide to show that over the last number of years, the gross amount of Ministry Shares received has been relatively stable.
While these data are not adjusted for inflation, changes in the number of adult confessing members, etc., the point is that we haven’t plunged over a cliff and no pool has dried up. Congregations have consistently provided $24 to $25 million each year for our shared ministries.
There are issues we need to address: that while some churches give all or most of their Ministry Shares commitment, other churches give very little. That a significant number of dollars are requested but not received, requiring greater reliance on costly fundraising. That some churches struggle to meet the Ministry Shares commitments. But our commitment to serve God together remains strong.
During the week I spent at synod I saw again and again the evidences of God’s blessings
- in video clips that showed our churches and members serving God at home and around the world;
- in young adults who led us in stirring and inspirational worship;
- in visionary leadership that is finding better ways of working together, such as joining two mission agencies in a way that provides even more effective outreach;
- in the pioneering work of Calvin Theological Seminary in the areas of Hispanic leadership development and prison ministry;
- in vibrant leaders such as Carol Bremer-Bennett who will not only continue the good work God has been doing in and through us, but perhaps also point us in new directions.
These are just a few signs of the ways God is blessing us. My hope is that we all will take note of his blessings each and every day, not only during the week that synod meets.
As the old hymn says, “Count your blessings, name them one by one.” Let’s not stop counting. To God be the glory!