Lilly Endowment Inc. in Indianapolis, Ind., has awarded the Christian Reformed Church a nearly $1 million grant to fund a project that seeks to create an innovative model of coordinated regional resourcing for congregations.
The CRC’s three-and-a-half-year pilot project is called Connections: Embedding Regional Resourcing in the Christian Reformed Church in North America. The actual grant amount is of $999,817.
“The grant is a gift to the CRCNA,” said Dr. Steven Timmermans, executive director of the CRCNA. “The CRCNA trusts that this effort will not only benefit our congregations but will also result in a model other denominations and congregations may find helpful.”
In an era in which the CRC, like other denominations, is faced with many changes and challenges, this project will help the denomination adapt and connect in new ways with its congregations through its classes, said Lis Van Harten, project director.
It will also help churches become more aware of and use denominational—and other local and regional—resources as a way to assist them in their ministries.
“The timing of the grant couldn't have been better,” she said, since “the Connections Project will come alongside Faith Formation Ministries and the new missions agency as plans are being made for innovative and refreshed regional resourcing of congregations.”
Faith Formation Ministries, which was formally launched this summer at Synod 2015, has the goal of networking with, strengthening, and resourcing congregations with tools and other means to help bolster the faith life of people in churches.
The new missions agency will spring into being as the result of a decision synod made in June to join Christian Reformed World Missions and Christian Reformed Home Missions into one agency for missions.
In both cases, Faith Formation Ministries and the new missions agency will help the denomination shift from uncoordinated central resourcing to coordinated regional resourcing.
An important focus of the Connections Project, said Van Harten, will be to explore ways in which the CRC can support local churches as they seek to foster health in their congregations and to enhance the ministries they offer to their communities.
“The collaboration and new opportunities offered through this grant will enable congregations to explore resources for ministry and projects that they're passionate about,” said Van Harten. “It will help generate creativity in congregations and their leaders.”
The Connections Project, she said, will involve three regions, each of which will have participation from three or four classes.
The project will also involve developing regional resource people as well as planning and hosting gatherings for church teams to connect with each other and the resource people.
There will be two types of resource people, said Van Harten: catalyzer-consultants, who will gather church teams and help oversee resourcing in the regions, and coaches, who will work closely with congregations that are part of the project.
In addition, the Connections Project will involve forming cohorts of church teams that will engage in discussions around a chosen topic and connecting congregations with similar resourcing questions/projects.
At end of the project, said Van Harten, the aim is to have created a resourcing model that enables congregations to be enriched and better able to “discover and access resources; arrive at better, perhaps even healthier, decisions to questions/needs they have, and obtain the tools they need to impact their life together and with their community.”
In addition, the goal is to share this model with other denominations, she said. The project kicks off in November as staff are identified, hired, and trained so that the project can be fully launched in 2016.
"We are very grateful to Lilly Endowment for awarding the CRCNA this grant,” said Van Harten. “It will allow us to create a new model of resourcing congregations at the regional/classical level. It's our goal that the model will be replicated in additional regions after the three-and-half-year project is completed.”
Above all, throughout the project, she said, the focus will be on the needs of churches. “We, the denomination and its ministries, need to be responsive to those needs by offering resources from a variety of sources. We need to take the stance of 'we're here to help'," she said.