First CRC’s Missions Committee Disbands
Dateline: September 10, 2020
After nearly fifty years of managing the missions program of First CRC, the missions committee decided today that they had no choice but to disband. The decision was wrenching for the few remaining members because they recognize that it really means the end of an organized missions program for First Church. Most of the funding that the committee has controlled is likely to be absorbed into other areas of the church since few outside the committee have a significant commitment to mission work. How did things come to this end?
Gerrit, who proudly told me that he was one of the original members of the committee, talked about the excitement for missions that characterized the church and the committee when it was formed in the early 1970s. Members were eager to go beyond “quota” giving in order to extend God’s church around the world. Giving grew dramatically in the early years. Mission Emphasis week included morning and evening services on two successive weekends and a well attended supper Wednesday night.
For several members of the mission committee, the cause of missions was their great passion. They were extremely dedicated year in and year out. Growing the church’s Faith Promise program each year was a highlight. Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, they saw major increases and committed to support for more ministries.
By the turn of the century there were changes at First Church. There was a growing commitment to local ministry and programming plus increased staffing at the church. Attention to the world was increasingly focused on responding to disasters, community development and short term teams, including youth groups, which led to direct personal involvement. These developments mostly went around rather than through the missions committee. It continued to focus on the tasks of prayer, raising money to support missionaries, and keeping in contact with them.
Committee members sometimes reacted by lamenting the changes and remembering the “good old days.” Many of the members remembered them well because they had been on the committee so many years. Sometimes they tried to recruit new members. Sometimes, Gerrit admitted, they weren’t that interested in adding new people. They enjoyed each other and didn’t want to disturb the chemistry of the group. Younger leaders in the church were involved in other ministries that were local or more hands-on. As a result there were fewer and fewer congregation members that were deeply committed to international missions. It became the pet issue of a few rather than a church-wide commitment.
By 2010 all of the committee’s members were retirees. During the decade since then, the committee gradually shrank as members were unable to continue serving. In the last few years the committee began to see the handwriting on the wall. But they found that missions no longer had a constituency in the congregation. Their group was seen as the people who were committed to missions, while other members of the church had their newer ministries. Finally, today, September 10, 2020, the three remaining members, two of whom have significant health problems, sadly voted to disband.
Could this have been avoided? Could the committee or church council have made different choices, leading to a different result? It seems clear now that the years around 2010 were pivotal. If the committee and council had recognized the situation at that time and begun a very deliberate mentoring and recruiting program, this could have gone differently. A priority had to be placed on recruiting new and younger members. Some of those who had long served needed to step aside, but not before helping to recruit replacements. The short term youth and intergenerational teams should have been closely connected to the missions committee if not under it. Some of those who participated in these teams could have been recruited for the committee. Instead of connecting visiting missionaries only with the aging committee members, more effort should have been made to connect them to younger members, get them into the homes of younger families and into the schools and Sunday schools. In 2010 the disturbing trends were well advanced, but there was still time to take deliberate action to reverse them. Today, in 2020, it seems to be too late. Vital ministry will not be done, at least by First CRC, and it will miss out on a connection to the excitement of a world where many are coming to Christ. This is a cautionary tale for other churches, where it is not yet too late to change course.