Classis meetings tend to offer short presentations and, because they happen only periodically, they don’t make much room for building relationships.
The annual meeting of synod gives delegates even less time to get to know one another and especially to gain an appreciation for the kinds of resources and ministries the denomination provides, said Joel De Boer, a pastor and resource coach for Classis Central Plains and Classis Northcentral Iowa.
“Most delegates walk away from synod with an awe of the structure of the church, but a disappointment that it seems they [synod and the denominational offices] only know the local church by name, financial giving, or yearbook statistics,” said De Boer.
De Boer is one of the regional resource persons of a new grant-funded project that, he hopes, can help change this gap that local congregations sense between themselves and the larger church.
Just getting off the ground, the new Connections Project will be helping members of 12 classes in southern California, southern Ontario, and the U.S. Midwest over the next two and a half years to connect churches with resources to help them in any area of ministry.
Thanks to a nearly $1 million grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc., the project has put together teams of local resource persons who are trained and equipped to help churches in this process.
Plans aim for using what is learned and developed in the initial regions included in the grant to help with connecting churches across the CRC with ministry resources.
“As I have talked with many churches and pastors in the two classes I am serving as regional coach, they are longing with hope that things are now changing,” said De Boer.
“We are just beginning with this, but the times I have had with pastors and leaders continue to show that the denomination and the Connections Project desire to demonstrate a personal touch.”
As part of this project, the CRC making available many resources, developed both within and from outside the denomination, to churches. These far-reaching resources range from leadership-training materials and videos to study guides on church-development and communication strategies that can be of use — and yet churches often don’t know about them, said Derek Atkins, coordinator of the Connections Project.
“This project presents a way to help churches wade through the stacks of resources that are out there,” said Atkins. “One of the roles we will play will be to serve as a curator of resources, as a reference library. We will work to raise the awareness of churches to what can be of use to them in their ministries.”
Larry Meyer, resource coach for Classis Wisconsin, said some church members have wondered aloud about their relationship with the denomination.
They say that Grand Rapids receives their ministry shares and on their behalf spends it on many things, and yet at the same time, they say their local church rarely sees any direct benefit to their own ministries, said Meyer.
“Some of our churches are struggling and yet feel the denomination seems to care little about them [other than about declining ministry shares]," said Meyer.
Although it is not designed primarily as "an answer" to this concern, said Meyer, “the Connections Project addresses this ache by providing to the churches a ministry that asks little and gives much.”
Lesli van Milligen, resource catalyst for Ontario and Eastern Canada, said she has seen the approach of the Connections Project — connecting ministries with the local church — help in different ways.
For instance, she said, there is a peer-mentoring group made up of youth pastors and directors from one classis who meet monthly to support each other through sharing ministry challenges, spending time in studying and sharing best practices, and supporting each other relationally and through praying for each other.
Other initiatives include helping church administrators and ministry coordinators network with each other as well as with classis and denominational leaders to learn how better to communicate from congregation to congregation, from classis to congregation, and from denomination to congregation.
“The question is, How best can we get information to the right local church ministry leaders without having to go through too many distribution channels?
“Connections will also help gather people who are interested in specific ministry themes. A couple of cohorts that are coming together in our area are a group that wants to explore prayer ministry and another group of churches that wants to look at how staff/team ministry might bless their church contexts,” said van Milligen.
To read more about this project, click here.