A delegation from a Lutheran church visited me when I was a pastor in South Dakota. Their building had burned down and they wanted to look at the structure we had recently completed. While they did, the pastor asked me how many churches I currently served. He looked wistful when I answered that I was just serving that one congregation. He was serving a four point charge. Depending on the Sunday he traveled between at least three different locations to lead worship.
Multi-point parishes are fairly common in many denominations, but they are almost unheard of the Christian Reformed Church. At one time I thought that might be because our identity insisted that we are a church that worships twice every Sunday. That reason, however, is diminishing. It might still be that a congregation’s identity is too tied to having its own pastor--no matter how expensive we pastors are--but that would also be true in other denominations. Or, it might be because we do not have Episcopal or Presbyterian structures that could push two churches into a cooperative arrangement.
It is not because we do not have smaller churches. We do, and more of our congregations will fit that description. Not long ago one of these churches in our classis closed. Among other things, I thought the closure represented a failure of imagination. As a classis we could not imagine any future for a small group of people who wanted to keep worshipping together.
There are alternatives. Some smaller churches live fairly close to larger congregations. They could share staff that would benefit both churches. Large churches become resource centers that provide training and mentoring for other churches in the area. One congregation I know of recently merged with a larger church in their area, essentially becoming a satellite campus of that church. Unfortunately they left the CRC to do it, though our church order does allow for the formation of “union congregations” with other churches in ecclesiastical fellowship (art. 38g). Our church order also provides room for “groups of believers among whom no council can as yet be constituted” to exist “under the care of a neighbouring council” (art. 38a). Could we also find room for groups of believers who can no longer function as an organized church, but could exist as a house church or some other form of congregation?
In a time when many churches are declining we need to be more creative in the way we think of congregations.