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Photo: Resonate Global Mission
Photo by Resonate Global Mission

Resonate Global Mission is working with ministry leaders from a variety of denominational ministries to strengthen church planting in Canada and the United States.

“The more initiative and ownership that can be taken by a variety of staff to support church planting, the better off we’ll be as a denomination,” said Kevin Schutte, a CRCNA church planter who leads Resonate’s church planting initiative.

Church Planting Is a Denominational Effort

From 2016 to 2018, Resonate Global Mission worked with Calvin University’s Center for Social Research to conduct an extensive study on church planting in the CRCNA. The results highlighted concerns about the denomination’s approach to church planting and called for better collaboration and support.

In response, Resonate formed the Collaborative Church Planting Team—a group of staff and ministry leaders from many denominational ministries dedicated to addressing some of the challenges revealed by the study. Last week, the team took a step toward fostering greater collaboration by facilitating calls between denominational staff and church planters.

“These calls … provided an opportunity for denominational ministry staff to listen well to a diversity of church planters, with a wide range of church planting approaches, and in all sorts of community contexts,” said Rev. Chris Schoon, director of Faith Formation Ministries.

Schoon serves on the Collaborative Church Planting Team and helped facilitate the calls, which nearly 50 staff members joined to learn from planters working in diverse contexts, including micro churches, church restarts, and diaspora ministry.

“Our desire [was] to support the plants, and also receive some constructive feedback so CRC staff can serve better,” said Schutte.

Throughout the week of discussions, common themes emerged: church plants are essential for mission, church plants need better support from the denomination, and church planters have a lot to offer the CRCNA.

Church Plants Are Essential for the CRNCA’s Growth

The denomination is growing through church plants. Church planters have a heart for sharing the gospel and are often able to reach people who are not part of a church. People who may not be comfortable visiting a traditional CRCNA church are often more willing to engage with a church that looks a little different.

For example, Hesed Community Church in Detroit, Mich. serves neighbors through ministry houses that provide opportunities to worship God and study the Bible—but also food and other necessities. The Bridge in Fergus, Ont., calls themselves “a church for people who don’t go to church.” The Bridge community meets in houses and is focused on discipleship.

Many CRC church plants also provide communities for people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds to learn about Christ, worship God, and grow in relationship with the Holy Spirit in their own language and cultural traditions.

Ricardo Tranquini, who is planting La Casa de Mi Padre Comunidad Cristiana (My Father's House Community Church) in Fennville, Mich., shared that a woman in his community lived right in front of a church for 18 years but never went because she was afraid her English wasn’t good enough. When Ricardo planted La Casa de Mi Padre Comunidad Cristiana, the woman was finally able to be part of a faith community.

Another family in his community used to travel 45 minutes for worship. Now, they have a church community in their neighborhood, and they can worship and grow in their own language and culture.

Church Plants Need More and Better Resources

Church plants are important for reaching people who do not yet know Jesus or who are not part of a faith community—but church planters need more support from the denomination.

“What are we missing? What do you wish we would understand?” Schutte asked church planters in each call.

Church planters mentioned overwhelming gratitude for the support they already receive from the CRCNA’s ministries and established congregations—financial support, coaching, and more—but they also noted a disconnect between their congregations and the denomination.

Many church plants don’t look or function the same way as established CRC congregations, and many church planters voiced concern that the denomination does not understand their context.

For instance, the denomination strives for church plants to be self-sustaining within three years of launching, but it will likely take 10 or more years—and some church planters wonder if their church plant ever will be financially stable. An increasing number of church planters are also bivocational and don’t earn a paycheck from their church.

Church planters are also working in different contexts than many traditional congregations; sometimes worship, children’s ministry, and other discipleship resources that work well for established congregations don’t resonate with people in their communities.

Ministry leaders on the calls also learned that relationships are an important aspect of strong support networks for church planters.

“While we need to do a better job of making resources available that fit with communities from diverse cultures and backgrounds, the primary resource that church planters said they need during the week was for relational support networks, especially from people involved in other local church ministries,” said Schoon.

Church Planters Need to Be at the Table

The calls last week weren’t just about learning how the CRCNA can better support church planters, however. Church plants are on the frontlines of bringing and being the gospel in communities throughout Canada and the United States, and the denomination can learn so much about mission from church planters.

“As a non-church planter there are some things you intuitively know ... that church planters love God and the church, and that church planting is challenging. But it is one thing to know this factually; it is another to hear their passion and love for God, for inviting people into a relationship with the triune God, for the church broadly and the CRC in particular,” said Rev. Joyce Borger, director of Worship Ministries for the CRCNA.

Borger, who serves on the Collaborative Church Planting Team and was instrumental in bringing about these calls, said that the CRC needs to listen to church planters—not only because they have a passion for mission, but they have gifts, skills, and experience in missional living.

“They know how to do it and can have much to teach,” she said.

A Way Forward

Resonate is hopeful that these calls between church planters and denominational staff helped foster greater collaboration and connection, but there’s still more work to do.

“It’s been fruitful. It’s been an opportunity to learn,” said Schutte. “There’s a genuine desire for people throughout the CRC to be engaged in this thing called church planting. We’re going to have to do this together.”

Schutte said the next steps are to continue creating spaces where people from across the denomination can continue to learn from—and speak into—church planting.

“Having staff from Worship Ministries, Women's Leadership, Hispanic leaders, and Faith Formation Ministries host the calls alongside Resonate staff helps all of us see that church planting—and the church's missional character as a whole—is a calling we are all responsible for through the unique lens of our respective ministry areas,” said Schoon.

“I am convinced we have an opportunity right now to work collaboratively across denominational ministry areas in a way that strengthens ministry in local contexts.”