Most Christian Reformed churches are long-term, quiet, close-knit communities of believers worshiping God, fulfilling their baptismal vows, serving each other, and sharing the gospel with their neighbors. What happens when these churches want to grow or deepen their faith and impact? What steps should they take, and how can they get started?
“Sometimes churches look for fast, off-the-shelf solutions to contend with creeping doubt or to meet consumeristic itches to bolster their numbers,” said Paul Vanderklay of Living Stones CRC in Sacramento, Calif. “What would better serve the church is steady, long-term, incremental, persistent, and contextual help with leadership development, discipleship, and evangelism.”
This is exactly the type of help the Reformed Leadership Initiative (RLI) was designed to provide. The initiative is a two-year pilot project of both the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America. It was created to develop and support leaders in both denominations by facilitating learning communities and coaching for local congregations.
The initiative focused on four geographical networks (Canada, Central California, Iowa, and New Jersey) and two ethnic group networks (Hispanic and Korean). Each of these networks is co-led by both a CRC and RCA leader; each explores their own pathways to helping local churches develop biblical leadership.
“In California we have tried to help local churches take on small challenges in a successive but persistent way,” said VanderKlay, who serves as a CRC co-leader in Central California. “In learning communities the groups get some basic training and discover they are not alone in their challenges. We (referring to Steve With, RCA co-leader) have also discovered that coaching a pastor might not trickle down to the council. Councils benefit from coaching themselves.”
The initiative has seen positive growth among participating churches. Participants have felt supported by their peers and coaches as they’ve learned new things. The initiative has also taught the CRCNA and RCA a few key lessons that they can apply in the future.
For example, the co-leaders of the various networks have learned that proper pacing is important, especially for small- and medium-sized churches.
“Helping churches grow by two to four families a year is a reasonable and profitable goal,” VanderKlay said, pointing out that more lofty goals can lead to churches getting discouraged early on in the process.
The Reformed Leadership Initiative will officially end in December, but those involved are eager to share their learnings and provide assistance to other churches who want to explore this kind of church renewal.
Vanderklay concluded, “What all of us are learning from RLI is that little things can mean a lot, and, with some initiative and creativity, old structures can be leveraged to do some new things to impact the kingdom.”