Launched on Feb. 8, 2010, the Network has become one of the Christian Reformed Church in North America’s most-visited, most-read, and most-interacted-with websites.
As of this week, marking its 10th birthday, The Network has pageviews averaging more than 85,000 per month and growing, provides content in various weekly emails totaling over 26,000 subscribers, and offers some 2,800 resources, 3,900 blogs, and 900 discussion posts.
“Since it began, more than 800 different CRC churches have touched the site in some way. They have at least one person within the congregation who has created a Network account and is able to submit a post or comment,” said Staci DeVries, community manager of the Network. “It’s remarkable how well people know it and use it.”
For example, people who are interested in issues related to being an elder, serving as a missionary, or being a commissioned pastor have been actively engaging The Network. And in many cases, people share information about things that work at their church – in Sunday school, in adult classes, in ministry that engages with the community.
Fielding questions from the practical to the esoteric, The Network has offered suggestions on the best gifts to give volunteers, helped people to obtain old Psalter Hymnals, suggested how to introduce new songs in worship, and shared tips on creating a photo directory for your church.
Some of the most popular features are the job postings for ministry positions and the questions and answers about ministry topics. Topics addressed range from climate change to the #metoo movement to how churches can discuss the issues of race relations and ministry leadership.
“The Network is a way in which like-minded people can get together, and many have even built meaningful relationships,” said DeVries.
She added that the blogs on the site are geared to spark thoughts and conversation. “Your blog doesn’t have to be perfect, but it can give voice to your thoughts. It is a way for you to be heard and to hear from others.”
With its set of community guidelines, the site is generally self-monitoring, meaning that users help to oversee The Network, reporting comments and other kinds of information that don’t fit on the site.
“From the start, we have wanted to be a trustworthy resource for the local church and to make it as easy as possible to use,” said DeVries.
The Network has also been showing its potential as an online tool to help unite churches and have them share best practices, said DeVries.
A couple of months ago, for example, Melissa Deelstra from Prince Edward Island used the Ministry Q&A feature to ask Network peers which youth ministry books or resources they might recommend.
That same day, Deelstra received a couple of comments recommending books, which she immediately ordered. Soon afterward, Melissa circled back with a comment saying, “I just finished reading Sustainable Youth Ministry. It is fantastic; thank you for the recommendation. Next up, Biblical Theology of Youth Ministry!”
Deelstra said The Network has provided a place for her to connect with and learn from others in similar roles. “By following topics on The Network — such as children's ministry or youth ministry -- I am able to stay plugged into ministry conversations happening across the CRCNA.”
Mavis Moon, who lives in San Jose, Calif., and attends San Jose Christian Reformed Church, has been a member of The Network for 10 years. Soon after it began, she got online and signed up to be a member. (You don’t have to be a member, but it can give you wider access.)
Moon said she reads and participates in The Network for several reasons.
“I like to read about what others are doing to see what we may try and implement in our own church. I also like to browse questions in areas in which I have some experience in order to help others,” she said.
She can also scan the weekly Network email for ideas and articles that her church might find helpful, and she often forwards articles to the worship leader, worship planning team, pastor, children’s program coordinator, deacons, and elders.
She has also posted questions on The Network and has appreciated the answers from others.
“My latest question was just a week or so ago,” she said. “Our church is planning a bilingual service with a Chinese-American CRC that meets in our facility. I asked if anyone else had ideas or advice. I've received several very helpful responses, and have passed them on to the team planning our service.”
Going forward, said DeVries, The Network won’t tinker with what has been working well — the wide-ranging connectivity to and conversations with people in CRC congregations. But staff will be monitoring how to improve what they are doing, always keeping in mind the many end users and making sure they can access the site simply to read what is there or to offer reflections on any of the many church-related topics.
“The passion that the churches show as they interact and connect via The Network amazes me,” said DeVries. "As we look ahead, the site’s core purpose is our top priority. We want to continue to give local church people a place to connect."