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A Call for Vibrant Congregations

April 21, 2021

The bright purple tennis shoe is a compelling online image for a new, joint program in ministry for the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Reformed Church in America, focusing on “Taking Fresh Steps in Ministry and Mission.”

The shoe-and-blue-jeans imagery is featured on the website of Vibrant Congregations, whose goal is to help churches find the right resources as they start on a journey of renewing themselves.

“We are a place that can help you find your way,” said Larry Doornbos, who was named director of Vibrant Congregations in 2019. “We are here to open the door for churches looking to take fresh steps in ministry and mission.”

Vibrant Congregations, in many ways a one-stop-shopping ministry, emerged from listening sessions that denominational leaders held a few years ago with church members of both denominations.  “They were asked what would be the most helpful thing that the denominations could do for them,” said Doornbos.

Faced with many challenges, including aging membership and a decline in their numbers of young people, congregations said they felt stuck.

Unsure how to face the future, the churches told leaders they would like to have a resource that helps cut through all of the red tape — that is, all of the agencies and offices of their denominations — so that they could determine what renewal program was best for them.

Just looking through the denominational websites was a challenge, they said, given that there were so many options helping with church renewal.

These include but are not limited to Church Renewal Lab, Churches Learning Change (formerly called Ridder Church Renewal), Go Local, Healthy Church, and Congregational Vitality Pathway.

“The issue we’ve had in this multiapproach space is that it isn’t always clear to churches what may be the best avenue for renewal that they need to employ,” said Colin Watson, executive director for the CRCNA. Each renewal program, he said, offers its own strengths and is best suited for certain congregations in certain contexts.

Doornbos said they were hoping to unveil and highlight the evolving ministry at Synod 2020. But since synod was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he decided to bring attention to Vibrant Congregations in other ways, including this CRC News story.

“We believe we have an important role to play, especially in a COVID-19 world,” said Doornbos. “What will happen to churches after COVID-19 ends?

“What will churches look like in a fast-changing, membership-declining world?”

Including times of prayer and discernment, said Doornbos, Vibrant Congregations presents a process that helps a church define itself and its goals before moving on to discussing what church renewal programs or approaches would fit best.

But the overall ministry doesn’t stop there at church renewal. Vibrant Congregations includes resources for church planting, creating worship services, ways to form a vital youth ministry, and valuable books to read on various topics.

Vibrant Congregations has also offered monthly online conversations with such missional leaders as Ed Stetzer, Richard Mouw, David Fitch, and Lisa Sharon Harper.

In addition, Doornbos posts articles offering advice and reflections for pastors and church councils and on such topics as discipleship and church renewal.

“I had a pretty good picture of the challenges churches are facing before I came on board,” said Doornbos.

After graduating from Calvin Theological Seminary, Doornbos served Rehoboth (N.Mex.) CRC. He then planted Evergreen Ministries, a flourishing church in West Michigan. He also served as a development team leader for Christian Reformed Home Missions, now known as Resonate Global Mission.

“Vibrant does a number of things, including setting tables of conversation . . . bringing renewal organizations together, working to strengthen leaders, curating resources, etc. — but all of these serve our central task of equipping congregations for ministry and mission,” said Doornbos.

Mical Pugh, pastor of Lake City (Mich.) CRC, said his church turned to Vibrant Congregations when it was time to refocus its vision, mission, and strategy.

“Vibrant Congregations was knowledgeable, asked good questions, and researched who we are as a congregation,” said Pugh. “The process was spelled out and followed. We were confident of a good outcome.”

In the end, as it normally does, Vibrant Congregations offered the church two options of programs or initiatives to turn to on the path toward renewal.

“Both of the options were excellent,” said Pugh. “We were able to interview both of them and had the freedom to choose without pressure.”

For more information on renewal opportunities and resources for your local congregation, visit Vibrant Congregations.