Congregations always have a culture.
You won’t find it written down in mission statements or council minutes. Church culture just is. Walk into any congregation on a Sunday morning, and you will gradually gain a sense of who is welcome. You’ll sense who is valued by observing who is at the center of attention during the coffee hour. You’ll see who wields power when you look up front during worship. You’ll find out what matters, and what doesn’t, through things like the communion furniture displayed, the songs that are sung, and the preaching from the pulpit. And hopefully, you will also notice who is standing in the corners during the coffee hour, whose voices aren't being heard in worship, what furniture is missing and what songs are not being sung.
We are called to recognize what sort of culture lives in our congregations. But we are also called to shape that culture in ways that reflect the grace and mercy of God.
Our congregations are like gardens, and each of us is like a plant that grows there to bear fruit. Most gardens have healthy and unhealthy conditions for growth--nutrients in the soil, sunshine, water, grubs, weeds, etcetera. In the gardens that are our congregations, we can find healthy conditions in our children’s programs, our fellowship times, and our solid biblical preaching. But we also have grubs and weeds. They might be found in how our programs are made manifest—a church prayer line that becomes a gossip line, a Bible study that serves as a place to complain about one’s family, or bitter emails to the worship leader about how frequently the organ is used.
As followers of Jesus Christ, our calling is to be congregations that embody the grace of our Lord in all that we are and all that we do. Just as a gardener seeks to maximize the healthy conditions and minimize the unhealthy conditions, so we are called to tend the cultures of our congregations.
So, how do we do that?
We try something new.
"Something new" may mean bringing back an old practice. It may mean trying a current practice in a new way. It may mean simplifying a practice that has become so complicated over the years that we don’t know why we do it that way any more.
Many ministry leaders throughout the Christian Reformed Church are voicing the need to be more intentional concerning the discipleship and faith formation practices of their congregations. As we in Faith Formation Ministries listen to these voices, we recognize how challenging this desire is, and this challenge has led us to develop a “Strengthening Your Faith Formation Culture” cohort.
We are seeking twenty Christian Reformed congregations to participate in a 12-15 month cohort designed to grow stronger, grace-shaped faith formation cultures within their congregations. Participating congregations will:
- Identify and Assess the health of their cultures and identify the practices that are shaping this health.
- Discern which practices are best suited for strengthening their culture.
- Experiment with two or three steps to strengthen their trajectory.
Last year, we offered a cohort to look at the building blocks of faith. The cohort gave congregations the opportunity to take small steps to grow their faith formation practices. One church leader described their experience by saying, “Through participating in the cohort, we felt empowered to look at the faith formation process as a congregation.” In Faith Formation Ministries, we know that you know your context best, which is why we aren't coming to congregations with prescriptions for new programs. Instead, we are seeking to walk with you as you discern the Spirit's guiding in how best to serve and reflect Christ in your context.
Will participating in a cohort solve all of your congregation’s issues? Definitely not. But what it will do is give your congregation the encouragement and accountability it needs to take small steps in the direction of intentional faith formation. It is our hope that by working with a coach and learning from other congregations, congregational leaders will find the inspiration and courage to try something new. After all, we find our hope in the God who promises to make "all things new!" (Revelation 21:5). And that includes our congregations.
For more information about the "Strengthening Your Faith Formation Culture" cohort, or for an application, email Christine Dekker (firstname.lastname@example.org).