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Vibrant Congregations Launching

November 3, 2021

Vibrant Congregations, an initiative resulting from conversations with many Christian Reformed Church in North America and Reformed Church in America congregations, asking them what issues are important to them, is in the process of formally launching.

Vibrant Congregations will soon be sending an email to CRC and RCA pastors and other partners in the United States to invite them to take advantage of Vibrant’s services for their congregations.

Although Vibrant  Congregations has already been up and running, all of the pieces are now nearly in place to make the formal launch, especially with an expanded, user-friendly web site.

Having researched what is on the mind of many churches, Vibrant Congregations has the aim of helping churches discover their God-given, hope-filled future by connecting them with the right partner to take next steps in ministry and mission, said Larry Doornbos, director of the new ministry.

“As we began this initiative, we needed to spend time discovering different ways to serve the church,” said Doornbos. “We eventually designed a vibrancy pathway as a way to help churches determine who is the best partner in mission for them. We want to help them figure out where to go among the resources of both denominations and other partners to assist and address their needs.”

Vibrant Congregations, in many ways a one-stop-shopping ministry, emerged from listening sessions that denominational leaders held with church members of both denominations.

Colin Watson, Sr., executive director of the CRCNA, and Ken Eriks, director of special projects for the RCA, met with several congregations, asking them how each of the denominations could best serve their needs.

“We learned that there was a need for a single place for churches to go to help them discern which program would be best for them,” said Watson. “Out of listening to the churches came Vibrant Congregations.”

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

Unsure how to face the future, these churches told Watson and Eriks 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 can determine what renewal program is best for them.

Just looking through the denominational websites can be a challenge, they told Watson and Eriks, given that there are so many options helping with church renewal.

In each region, where leaders from a number of churches were invited to gather at one church for the listening sessions, “we usually had 15 to 20 people in a group,” said Eriks, now retired from his position at the RCA. “They named people and resources that were helpful for them. They also talked about the obstacles and challenges they faced in accessing the people and resources that would be most helpful for them.”

Available resources include but are by no means limited  to the Church Renewal Lab, Churches Learning ChangeGo Local, Healthy Church, and Congregational Vitality Pathway.

Each of these renewal programs, said Watson in an earlier story on this topic, 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 that synod and the next one were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they created Vibrant Congregations as an evolving ministry.

Including times of prayer and discernment, said Doornbos, Vibrant Congregations presents a process that helps a church listen to the voice of the Spirit in prayer, the voice of the congregation, and the voice of the leadership. This listening process allows a church to define its heartbeat and discover its God-given, hope-filled future before moving on to discussing what renewal programs or approaches would fit best.

But the overall ministry doesn’t stop 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.

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 united with Chrisitan Reformed World Missions as Resonate Global Mission. Then, after a time, he left parish ministry and Home Missions and eventually got involved in work involving the renewal of existing churches.

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