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Discerning the Future


We’re getting close to decision time. Isn’t that a daunting thought? 

Of course, you’ve already done some good (and hard!) work. Groundwork has been laid. People have been gathered. History has been celebrated, and you’ve acknowledged the challenges and the blessings of your present circumstances. If you’ve done the work so far, you should be in a much better place to make the important decision before you.

There are likely to be some preliminary thoughts about what direction the church should take—thoughts that may already have been swimming in peoples’ minds for some time. That’s pretty natural. The good work now is to make a decision about the future of your church together. Remember that no matter what you decide, there’ll be risk. Remember too that how you make the decision is as important to God as the decision itself. Keep offering people opportunities to speak into the process. Give people a voice when decision time comes. Follow through on the decision that has been made. Trust that God leads you. 

That last part is difficult in times like these—when there are such large questions to be addressed and seemingly so much is at stake. But as you trust God with the unknown, the known, and everything in between, he provides. He leads. He loves. God did so when he called Abram to leave his homeland and journey to an unknown place, and God did so when he called Abraham’s children, Israel, to leave Egypt and enter the wilderness and then, later, the promised land. 

Go with God!

Checklist for Stage 5: Discerning the Future

This checklist summarizes the suggested steps in this stage of your journey. You’ll find a more complete explanation below.

  • Revisit your communication values from your Conversation Covenant. These values will guide your conversation at this strategic stage. 
  • Determine which activities you’ll engage as a group. We strongly recommend that groups engage activities 1-3 below.
  • Invite the outside guests necessary to enrich your group’s engagement with Activity 2, Gathering and Clarifying Your Options.
    • Contact your Resonate Regional Mission Leader and invite them to join your group for some (or all) of your meeting to gather and clarify your options. Resonate Global Mission can introduce your group to the denominational resources available to help a church like yours renew, restart, or close in order to help support the planting of a new ministry or congregation in your region. Resonate will first take the time to listen to what you’ve learned about your church so far in this process. They will then use their experience and expertise to help your group understand their mission-oriented options. 
    • Contact your classis Stated Clerk to see if a church visitor or two could join your group as you gather and clarify your options. Church visitors can provide prayer support, encouragement and, often, insight into how your church’s discernment may intersect with ministry resources and opportunities in your classis.
  • Establish dates and times for the small group and congregational gatherings (see below). We encourage you to start these activities with a meal or dessert. 
  • Gather the necessary supplies for your activities.
  • Communicate plans to the congregation well ahead of time, finding different ways to convey information so that everyone has an opportunity to hear and participate. Make them aware of the planned dates a few weeks ahead of time. 
  • Consider how you’ll incorporate prayer and worship into this stage—in your worship gatherings, in these sessions, and in suggestions for personal and group prayer and devotions as participants seek God’s guidance.
  • Once your church has decided which option to pursue, proceed to next steps.

Summary of Activities

(for important details, click on the links below)

Here are the activities we strongly recommend every congregation engage in the Discerning the Future stage.

  1. Review the Evidence Take stock once more of what you’ve learned about God, your church and your community during the Crossroads Process so far. 
  2. Gathering and Clarifying Your Options Gather, refine and clarify your options with the input of strategic classis and denominational leaders. 
  3. Narrowing and Recommending Your Options Narrow your options and prepare to present them to your council or congregation. 

The following may help enrich the options you are considering. 

  1. Investing in a Missional Opportunity Comstock CRC (Kalamazoo, Mich.) and Pioneer CRC (Cedar Springs, Mich.) are two churches that decided to close and reinvest in a missional legacy. Read about their experience to inspire your own creative discernment. 
  2. Discover What Other Churches Have Done Church buildings can be inefficient, expensive spaces to maintain for the few hours a week we use them. Churches today are finding incredibly creative uses for their buildings that address needs in their post-Christian communities. This activity can open people’s eyes to some of these possibilities. We hope the stories presented here might inspire other ideas for how your church building could endure as a kingdom blessing in your community.
  3. Investing in the Future How has your community changed in ways that your church has struggled to address? How could this ending be an opportunity to invest in bringing the gospel in new ways?
  4. Community Conversations This activity gives you an opportunity to listen to your community, to see where God is already at work. We believe that through common grace God is already doing the work of restoring, reconciling, and repairing through many secular as well as spiritual organizations.

As you think about the future of your congregation, keep in mind that God has been and will continue to build his kingdom in your community. You uncovered that reality as you went through the Naming the Present stage—particularly if you engaged in the Community Demographics and Appreciative Inquiry activities in connection with your local community and your congregation. 

The question, then, is not whether God will remain at work, but whether you and your church’s role in that work might change.

Resources You May Want to Consult

  1. Article: When a Church Closes by Gay DeJong. One person’s story of the unexpected peace she found in the midst of her church’s closing.
  2. A number of worship resources are available as you work your way through the Crossroads Discernment Process.

Reflection Questions 

While participants engage with the process of discerning the future, the facilitator may wish to use some questions like these:

  • Where else do you see people having to make choices about which direction to take in life? What can you learn from them?
  • How would you define “kingdom of God”?
  • What ministries or events or values from your past are clear examples of not just building your church but participating in God’s kingdom? 

Next Step

Once your church has decided which option to pursue, proceed to Next Steps stage.

If you find yourself stuck at any point, reach out to us—Pastor Church Resources. We’re here to help.