Classis and the Smaller Church


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.

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It seems that we're in a time of flux when it comes to church planting; older models of "birthing" a new church and bringing it to full independence within a few years do not seem to be working as well in our current economic realities.  Multisite seems to be a model that is gaining ground nationally.  How friendly do you think our church order is to a mutlsite model?  Would we consider this one church in several locations, or a group of believers that *chooses* not to constitute a council?


As long as a small church depends exclusively on an imported pastor for its survival, it will lack imagination in desperate times.   A pastor will not keep a church together, whose men cannot be spiritual leaders on their own (with God's help).   Elders who are afraid to preach, or visit, or lead, or pastor, will lead to a pastor serving 2 or three or four churches, until they die one by one.  Unless by some special grace, God imports a whole bunch of believers into that church from somewhere else.


A picture is worth a 1,000 words. Classis with the percentage of churches under 100 members. I stopped at 33% so could get at least one Canadian Classis in there. Draw your own conclusion to what this means for costs.  Room for what Norm suggests?

In total there are 324 churches with under 100 members = 30% of the churches in the CRCNA.

Country Classis            #churches   <100mem       %
USA      Pacific Hanmi               50               43        86%
USA      Southeast US               22               15        68%
USA      Yellowstone                  11                 7        64%
USA      Columbia                       20               12       60%
USA      Red Mesa                      20               12       60%
USA      Greater Los Angeles     37               21       57%
USA      Hackensack                   34               19      56%
USA      Lake Erie                       23               12       52%
USA      California South             28               14       50%
USA      Arizona                          10                 5       50%
USA      Pacific Northwest           45               20      44%
USA     Central California            33               13      39%
USA     Atlantic North East          21                 8      38%
USA     Northern Illinois               22                 8      36%