Any small(ish) church pastor or ministry leader who’s been to a conference at a mega-church knows the feeling: a feeling of guilt that their church hasn’t jumped to over 1000 overnight, and a sense of despair that growth is out of reach.  The conversations with these growing church pastors, however, offer us some reassurance and some challenges for us as a denomination.

February 4, 2014 0 0 comments

Today’s entry continues with the factors that led to growth in CRC and RCA churches.The church was at a point where it was ready to take risks and to make changes.

January 28, 2014 0 4 comments

As we all know, this five year span has not been easy in North America, with the downturn of the economy directly affecting our churches and their members.  And yet, in the midst of this crisis, there were 42 CRC churches and over 30 RCA churches (exact number not available) who showed significant growth.

January 21, 2014 0 8 comments

More Books for under the Tree . Perhaps it is an occupational hazard of being a minister, but around this time of year a lot of family and friends decide to give books as the perfect Christmas present.  In the spirit of that giving and perhaps to enhance your asking here are seven more books that I’ve found helpful from a number of different genres. 

December 13, 2013 0 0 comments

It’s beginning to look a  lot like Christmas…which at my house means, “What books are doing to show up under the Christmas tree?” Perhaps it is an occupational hazard of being a minister, but

December 11, 2013 0 1 comments

Premise: the vast majority of our church planting resources need to be invested in planting churches in Alpha Cities. If this premise is true then we need a way in the CRC to come together (churches, classes, agencies, synod, and our partners) and discern how to create a church plating movement that focuses on Alpha Cities.

November 19, 2013 0 8 comments
Blog wine is the sign of the eschatological age. 

November 4, 2013 0 0 comments

What did it feel like? It felt like being hungry, I suppose, in a place where being hungry is shameful, and where one has no money and everyone else is full. It felt, at least sometimes, difficult and embarrassing and important to conceal.

October 29, 2013 0 1 comments

Advertising encourages people to want things and to satisfy their desires. Education encourages people to reflect critically on their desires, to restrain or to elevate them.

October 15, 2013 0 1 comments

In the face of changing demographics in America, many African Americans find themselves becoming a minority-minority, or shrinking minority.  For instance, in the west where I live, Asian and Latino populations are increasing dramatically as a result of immigration and soaring birth rates.  The U.S. black population has shrunk from about 17% to 12% as we enter the second decade of the third millennium. The white population has shrunk to 72% while the Latino/Hispanic population has risen to over 16%.

October 7, 2013 0 0 comments

African American theology had  its earliest roots in an experience of pain and suffering. Mourning freedom and agonizing over loss of identity and opportunity were a huge part of the Southern African American experience. But, with civil rights and a more socially engaged African American population in the North and the West, black theology has evolved into more of a need for empowerment and survival.

October 3, 2013 0 0 comments

Here are some factoids about African American churches and church plants.

October 1, 2013 0 1 comments

One African American Church planter in Atlanta has an interesting expansion strategy for church planting in African American communities.  He envisions planting “bubble churches” in well educated and well resourced corners of the community and then hiving off need based churches that are highly subsidized by the parent church in order to create a sustainable church planting movement.

September 26, 2013 0 1 comments

As of 2013, no one could simply say, “I am going to plant an African American church” with the implied presumption that one size fits all.  The dream of freedom, employment, opportunities, education and mobility has created many strong sub cultures within the overall African American community. 

September 17, 2013 0 1 comments

As I study the book of Luke there are continuing moments of surprise. Some of the surprises come from words that I have read many times before, but failed to catch their meaning or nuance. 

August 26, 2013 0 0 comments

A couple of  years ago in an article entitled, To The Praise of his Glory” in the Review and Expositor  the author wrote, “Paul mentions ‘redemption,’ the great metaphor of emancipation taken from the slave market in Ephesians 1. The costliness of this act is spelled out in the term "through his (Jesus') blood," a reference to his life poured out.

August 12, 2013 0 5 comments

And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”  And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. —Luke 5

August 6, 2013 0 1 comments

"[T]he Bible is a masterpiece. The Bible is one of the greatest works produced in the world. Those people who only have the Bible actually are set up for life. Not only do they have a spiritual vision given to them but artistic fulfillment. They don't even recognize just the pleasure of dealing with this epic poetry and drama. Everything is in the Bible."  — Atheist, Camille Paglia

July 29, 2013 0 0 comments

Tim Keller and Planting More Churches in the CRC -- Recently Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC spoke with a number of reporters at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Today’s blog post lifts out one part of his talk on the place of church planting. 

June 24, 2013 0 20 comments

Kerry Patterson in the book Influencer lays out important ways that we can influence people to bring about change. The book is filled with interesting ideas and important ones for leaders. One of the places that Patterson focuses on is the area of physical space. The power of space to influence behavior, to change attitudes, and to lower conflict is often overlooked...

June 10, 2013 0 0 comments

A while ago as I was reading in Luke I noticed something, namely, Elijah and Elisha get a lot of play in this gospel. I first noticed it when reading Luke 9 and 10. In Luke 9 there is the feeding of the crowd which echoes the feeding in 2 Kings 4.42ff, a miracle performed by Elisha.

June 6, 2013 0 0 comments

There is an increasing emphasis on discipleship among evangelicals.  It seems that this is the present great movement that is consuming us. In the 1980s and 90s it was evangelism, the recognition that we had not done well generally, and in the case of the CRCNA specifically, at reaching those who were not connected to Christ and his church.

June 3, 2013 0 5 comments

The latest Utne Reader has an article entitled, “Me, Myself, and I: Why is it so hard to admit when we are lonely?” The author, Olivia Laing, talks about the pain of loneliness in her own life as she lived in New York City, surrounded by people but still terribly alone. In the article she points out not only her own pain of loneliness but also the research on loneliness, 

May 20, 2013 0 1 comments

1 John 3.1 raises a bunch of interesting questions.  The words of the verse are  "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him."  One of the questions is, "When John tells us that God has "given" (or bestowed) the kind of love that makes it so we are called "his children", how do we understand "given" or "bestowed"?

May 12, 2013 0 0 comments

When we asked when they considered a church to have become “mature,” the measure was quite simple: The church after three years is 1) Self-sustaining 2) Self-governing and 3) Self-propagating. 

April 28, 2013 0 11 comments



The irony of this topic is that in the CRC we have now more churches than ever, but our membership continues to decline. Could we draw some correlation between these two elements?

Perhaps, on the one hand we have an agency-driven obsession to "plant churches." And on the other hand, we have congregations that need to boost their commitment to reach the "outside" world, and take command of their God-given duty (and Church Order duty) to evangelize.

Yes, we should plant more churches!  But our denomination is not the only one who should be planting new churches. Our classis should be planting churches. Churches should be planting churches. Even a group of laypeople, under the authority of their local church, can begin a church plant. I have seen it done. Church planting is a mind-set. We were called to reproduce and the lack of money should not stand in the way. Our God has all the resources both in heaven and on earth. Jesus said, "I will build my Church!"

About 20 years ago, in a class on church growth at Fuller Graduate School of World Missions, as it was then named, I heard Dr. Peter Wagner say that the most effective strategy on earth for growing the church is to plant new churches.  It still is.

Jon, I agree with your comment that reduced funding flowing through CRHM has forced the issue for congregations and classes to step up and take more ownership for church planting. In my more positive moments I believe that a commitment to church planting is now embedded in the CRCNA at a level where it will be sustained. I still remain convinced that economy of scale means that CRHM can serve the church planting mission of the CRCNA by offering recruiting, assessing, training, coaching, and networking for peer learning, etc. in a way that local congregations and classes would struggle to do with the same quality and efficiency. 

And yes Ramon, folks at CRHM - certainly including me - have made lots of mistakes through the years. One of the mistakes made was not contextualizing the church planting program adequately for ethnic missions, and for all church plants in general. For the last decade or more - despite the many protestations to the contrary - CRHM and partners have insistently pushed a "principle-based" approach rather than a "model-based" approach to church planting. There are fundamental, core practices that are required for all church plants. We need to keep zeroing in on these values and practices and then contextualize for the given mission and opportunity. Some of these values/practices are: Robust Prayer Strategy, Missional Leader who is visionary, deeply missional, and networker/gatherer, a Core Group primarily populated by the demographic of those to be reached, and significant time to dwell among and learn about what God is already doing in that community. This will faciliate an appropriate contextualization of how to share and live the Gospel among them - Jesus incarnational strategy.



I resonate with Keller's sociological explanation for lack of church growth in a community. In my experience, it is factors such as a changing community and leadership resistance-to-change that lead to a church's disconnect from their neighbors and not theological matters. Could it be that CRC lack of growth in recent decades is not about theological arguing over things like women in office, etc, but rather simply about pulling back from consistently planting new churches?

My own church is pursuing a vision to plant churches. It is too early to tell, but I suspect that the missional zeal required to do this work will help the "mother" congregation to maintain it's own open armed approach to our neighbors and readiness to keep changing.

I agree that it takes more denominational commitment. However, the smaller denominational funding has, out of necessity, stirred local church planting efforts. That is a good thing. CRHM funds can best be used as catalyzing funds that support systems and motivate partners.

Dear Allen, Thanks for bringing out a little more light respecting the origens and tasks of CRHM. My personal thougts and "critics" are not to be considered in a negative way, otherwise we could not have any chance to have a constructive dialogue. I believe this is necessary. I agree with you that CRHM has done great things by helping and supporting congregations in their efforts to preach the Gospel,  but as human beings, CRHM has made mistakes too. Of course, the denomination, classis and congregations (leaders included) are not excempted either. In our Latino (Hispanic) situation CRHM has made mistakes too. I pray that we could find God's guidance and direction.

Thanks for  posting this appropriate challenge from Tim Keller. Obviously our denominational leadership has not accepted this reality and has not made church planting a priority. In fact, several years ago the BOT and denominational leaders unilAterally decided to redirect about 1 mil in Ministry Shares from CRHM to other projects. As to CRHM usurping the local churches role, this was a decision of the denom and its cong's to create the agency and give it this mandate. It was finally the agency thAt said to the denom and churches - from the 80's on - churches plant churches not agencies. We spent priority time and investment encouraging, teaching. and "pleading" to take on this role. We did not have a culture for Parenting but I do see progress in this - slow but sure PTL. 

Another thing to remember with gratitude (as a balance to the readiness to critique the past) is that despite the less than ideal practice of CRHM taking on the parenting role - many new churches were planted, and thousands of new Christians have entered an eternal relationship with Jesus Christ. They really don't care who God used to help catalyze the famy of believers where they met Jesus.

But for long term healthy churches - and denom - churches need to plant churches with CRHM doing the value added infrastructure supports that help catalyze Gospel Movements  and church planting.





Hi Ramon and Kris,

This is an interesting conversation. I think it is helpful to recognize that CRHM did plant churches in the 1980s and 90s, but we no longer directly plant churches. Churches are planted by local congregations and classes. CRHM's role is to help assess church planters, help provide coaching for the church planter, provide initiate training, and provide a part of the financial support for new churches. We also encourage local churches and classes to carry out this work through a network of regional leaders. This type of work is in keeping both with CRHM's mandate, which is

Home Missions shall give leadership to the CRC in its task of bringing the gospel to the people of Canada and the United States, drawing them into fellowship with Christ and his church. This mandate has these aspects:

  • Encourage and assist churches, classes and regions in the work of developing and sustaining missional churches. 
  • Initiate, support and guide church planting and development in cooperation with local churches, classes and regions. 
  • Initiate, support and guide educational ministries in cooperation with local churches and classes.

And with Article 76  of the church order which speaks of Synod appointing a Home Missions Committee to carry on work that is beyond the scope and resources of local congregations.

It is true that CRHM does have some things we ask of new churches--including assessment for the planter to determine if he/she has gifts for planting, initial training for the planter, and having a coach. Experience has shown that these requirements greatly increase the likelihood of a plant going well.

Again, thanks for joining this conversation. We are thankful for all who are interested in church planting and reaching out to those who need Jesus.

Dear Kris, I appreciate your experience with CRHM on planting churches and thanks for your comments. However, I am not sure that CRHM would help with resources if a local church does not fullfil CRHM requirements.


In my years as a church planter (20 years) CRHM has always been a resourcing and helping agency not a boss or patron.  CRHM has always come alongside local churches to help them plant churches.  I only lament that as an agency they have so much less to help us with.  You are right that the vision must come from us as churches and regardless of how much assistance we get from the denomination we must keep planting churches!

A commentary about the las paragraph. There is always a risk when we tried to institutionalized church's mission. CRHM should function as a resource and help for local churches, but it seems to be the opposite. We have given CRHM local church's responsability an now we can see the result: We are decreasing, our members dont know how to share the gospel, or they believe that is not their responsability.  This is like paying someone to do what I am supposed to do. Besides, CRHM has been taking a role of patron or boss in many ways because they are dictating to churches how to fullfil their mission, otherwise there are not funds. There is always a risk when we institutionalized the Gospel.

Tim Keller says it so well!  We have experienced the same kind of evangelistic growth in our church plant.  I wish the denomination would reprioritize and invest more in church planting but we can't wait as churches!  So, our church has made plans to invest $100,000 in a new urban church plant in the coming years.

Hi Bill,

Thanks for joining the conversation. Our goal is always disciples. Part of discipleship is joining a local body of believers and contributing with one's time, talents, and financial gifts so that God's work goes forward both in that place and in the world. So we are not looking for dues paying member, but we are looking for fully involved and committed disciples who show that commitment with the fullness of all they have. I like to think of it in terms of Deuteronomy 6 and the Shema: "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your strength." One person has put this in modern terms by taking the Hebrews words and interpreting them, "Love the Lord your God with every thought that you think, every move that you make, and every penny in your wallet." 


Hi Larry,

Thanks for the questions.  Home Missions, as you know, has an emphasis on starting and stenghtening churches and campus ministries. Over the past few years we have started/planted an average of 18 churches a year.  Typcially new churches see that for every 8 members 1 person is brought to faith. In CRC's generally that number in somewhere in the neighhborhood of 100 members for every 1 person brought to faith (remember that around 600 CRCs had no converstion growth this past year). We find that about 70% of our church plants continue beyond 5 years. We are also discovering that while it used to take about 3 years for a church plant to gain traction in a community changes in the North American landscape in matters of faith and trust in institutions means that typcially it takes 5 years for a new church to get solid footing in a community. 

Just one question: how has crcna done with its church planting emphasis?  How many are we planting each year? How many close after 3-5 years for various reasons?  Are new plants having better experiences with evangeism and discipleship than churches that have been established?  Sorry, my one question grew into three.


Is the goal disciples or dues - paying members?

Hi Joe,

Glad I found your article.  I miss your presence up here at Classis Columbia :(

I'm joining the conversation pretty late, but the content of your article is still viable and I'll attempt to offer a couple points from my experience and understanding of "church" from a Biblical study.

First I would say it is important to realize the church has at least two, not one, essential requirements:  1) To find and proclaim the Gospel to the Lost AND 2) to Grow the Found.

In the past I would have wholeheartedly endorsed a "church" without brick and mortar.  This does work well in much of the world, of particular note would be places of strong persecution, China is a notable example.  But here is the challenge (and danger) for North America:  Our general culture is a very fluid one in terms of transportation and relocation.  It is also one that has spawned the attitude of "easy come, easy go."  These two realities make a "church without walls," or a "church on the street" pretty elusive.  They tend to be constantly morphing into something other than “church.” (Both these names of church plant attempts I was personally familiar with.  Neither of them made it. After 1-2 years of effort they ceased altogether).  In my last church plant I continually faced the attitude of a "consumerism mentality" where people came expecting to be blessed!  They stayed as long as they felt we "blessed" them.  When they no long felt "blessed," they left.  Again and again we were warned by our denomination (not the CRCNA) NOT to fall into the trap of becoming a "Consumerism" Church, making available religious goods and services for the taking by whomever wanted to show up, take, and leave.  I think that warning was right.  There is no building of ties, family, the kingdom, or the church in that kind of scenario.

What I'm getting at is this:  In our culture, I think there IS a need for "brick and mortar."  There is something that happens in the hearts of people in the new church when they start seeing the "building" going up.  It does more than cement in the footer and foundations of the building, it kind of "cements" the hearts of the people to one another too.  It tends to encourage a long term view and commitment to one another as fellow members of the same church.  And it brings a focus for growing up into Christ, and not just running here and there looking for the next place to find the latest blessing.

As I plant again, I am definitely giving more thought to how the structures, even the brick and mortar structures affect the heart and mind of the church and its members.  Notwithstanding, your insight to the unintended consequences of the Reformers’ teaching should not be obscured by my comments.  I think your warning is very important to listen to.  The flip side of brick and mortar can be a "hardening of the categories," as a friend of mine puts it.  This is where, as you say in your article, the church becomes a place where certain things are done.  I agree that when and where that becomes the case, we have really lost the vitality of what it means to be a Spirit-filled Biblical Church.  Our "doing" supersedes our "being," and our doctrines, no matter how Biblical, can lose their life as they get framed and hung on the walls instead of getting planting in the soil of people's hearts.  My old Church History Prof, Dr. Richard Lovelace called this the condition of "dead orthodoxy vs. live orthodoxy."  Our goal is ultimately, to plant churches that are on fire with "live orthodoxy," being and living the true faith to the glory of God, the salvation of the Lost, and the growth of the Found.  Some throw out the old structures because they seem to create stale dead orthodoxy to these new and young church planters.  But I would caution, that the "new structures," of no walls and fluid edges can bring their own problems, they can be just as bad.  The decisions of how to structure the church plant and what materials to build with, are  important ones.  But I do not think there is a "one size fits all" answer to the question.  At the risk of seeming trite, the best structure for the new church is the one God gives!  But I think I have observed that God gives many different kinds of structures and they seem to reflect, the planter he calls, the gifts He has deposited in the planter, the people that are gathered, the local culture within which the church is being planted, and similar characteristics.

The big "C" Church is a beautiful world-wide, multi-cultural, inter-generational, multi-millennial blend of the local churches everywhere, past, present, and future.  This Church displays a wide range of structure and style, appropriately informed by, and interacting with, their local cultures.  There really is NO such thing as one perfect paradigm for the planting of new churches.  There is only the One Perfect Head of the Church who declared, "I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it."

being "all alone" is such a common method of the enemy to bring discouragement and hopelessness...  I'm reminded of Ms. Martha's pity party in Luke 10:40,  "...alone" or  " myself?"  can relate at times and have indulged in similar pity parties... but as believers we can recognize it for what it is...  

LORD, continue to connect those who are reaching out in loneliness, that feel isolated and like they are the only ones that are struggling with something, we pray for Divine connections that only You can orchestrate, and give you the glory and thanks, in the Name of Jesus.


Thanks for this thread, it's very interesting, especially your last point.  If you are ever able to post links to any published studies/etc about it, that would be great.  


self-prop·a·gate  [prop-uh-geyt]  Show IPA verb, prop·a·gat·ed, prop·a·gat·ing.verb (used with object) cause (an organism) to multiply by any process of natural reproduction from the parent reproduce (itself, its kind, etc.), as an organism transmit (hereditary features or elements) to, or through, spread (a report, doctrine, practice, etc.) from person to person; cause to increase in number or amount. I'm still confused how to apply the above definition to Joel Hogans comment. However the tools to do at least part of the above are people skills and resources (time money etc.). I am a bit nervous about the use of this term. 


Hi Jeff,

You raise an interesting question that our Church Planting Team is taking quite of bit of time to learn about.

Funding streams in this particular denomination are based more regionally and locally, the money given at the denominational level is minimal, but it is at the denominational level that assessment, coaching and training is offered. In another recent interaction we had with another denominaiton planting at about the same pace more money came from the denominational level along with assessment, training and coaching.

What we are discovering is that

1. Funding has become, in almost all cases, a partnership between the planter, local, regional, and denominational entities.

2. Assessment (or at least the assessment process pathway/standards) is located out of the denominational office.

3. Coaching standards for new church planters are becoming increasingly common. These standards allow a broad range of people who can coach, but they have to meet the standards set by the denomination's church planting team.

4. There is an increasing desire to determine the level of risk that a planter has going in to a church plant. It is becoming possible to determine how difficult it will be for a given church planter to build a sustainable church in a given place.


Of course, everything hinges on how you define "maturity."  In my thinking, the self-propagating criterion is at least, if not more, important in determining "maturity" than the self-sustaining and self-governing criteria.  Self-propagation needs to be at the forefront from the very beginning, the other two can take more time.  In other words, self-propagation is more a DNA thing whereas self-sustainability and self-governance are more developmental issues.

Hi Larry ,

Let's define self sustaining. The most conservative version of a self sustaining church plant is that it submits 100% of their denominational and classical ministry shares. That is one bit of information that the year book does not supply. Also the membership is not made up of transplanted CRC members. Another piece of information the yearbook is not very good at supplying. 

My record keeping of the CRC yearbooks show that the CRC  has created about 100 new congregations in the last 15 years.  If you average the total members over the total number of churches and compare that to 15 years ago the numbers are very disappointing . The CRC has a declining membership supporting more churches with a growing overhead at its headquarters level. If an average church costs about $200,000 per year to maintain, the CRC's overall denominational costs have increased by 20 million in 15 years with little or no growth in number of members.

We are very good at self governing, in fact so good that churches on average keep more funds in their own congregation as the percentage of Ministry shares over the whole denomination (I believe, because I have no proof) are declining marginally. Of course doing ministry locally is not a bad thing but the strengths of what the CRCNA can can do together is very significant and in my view is currently under significant stress.

Not sure what self propagating means. 

Interesting discussion in light of the overall issues in the CRCNA .




Sorry, just a few other questions.  What are the funding streams that are used in the planting process?  Is it from the denomination or is it primarily from the local churches/networks?  Do they have any sort of training for the churches or networks that enter into the process as parents?  Thanks.

Hi John,

I wondered if someoene was going to catch the "three marks" connection. Thanks for participating in the conversation. 

Hi Jeff,

The denomination mainly uses what has come to be known as "the attractional model". You may know that this model designs programs etc. to attract people to the new church.

The structure of the denomination is such that it is more like an open system. Denomiational and regional faith goals are set, but those goals are met regionally, not with a top down mandate to plant so many churches. What can happen is that a faith stretching goal is set in collaboration with the regions that pushes all to go to a place that have not been before. The main work of the church planting team at the denominational level is to assess and train church planters.

While on vacation, we often attend non-crc churches.  A few weeks ago, we attended a "community" church where the pastor was attending a conference during the week, and they had a pancake breakfast on Saturday, which we attended.  It was organized completely by men, although a few women attended to partake of the bounty.  While discussing with them the service for the next day, the men were not absolutely certain that the preacher would be there the next day on the Sunday.  But one of them said, "we think he will be there, but if he isn't, I will lead the service myself".  This was a small church, denomination not identified, probably less than 80 attended on sunday morning, with about 16 at the bible study just previous.  As it turned out, the preacher did make it, I believe a six hour trip from the conference location, and they invited us to join the choir that morning.  We were quite reluctant, not having practiced with the choir, and not knowing one of the songs at all, but eventually they persuaded us.  

A small church, but in my opinion, very mature.   A church is mature when it continues regardless of circumstances, and regardless of who is there to lead or preach.   And it is mature when the spirit of worship and welcome especially for strangers, is obvious. 

Another church we attended a week later was Assembley of God, in a different town.  We discovered it was pentecostal, and we were somewhat uncomfortable, but it was our vacation, a time when God opens up new discoveries to us.  In his sermon, the preacher highlighted the strengths of this church, in being welcoming, and in being discipling (entering and applying the word to life, and leading others to christian living).  He suggested that a weakness was evangelism, by asking how often the members had asked someone to come to church with them?   Perhaps a self-centered church can never be mature, no matter how old it is, or how financially secure. 

We ought to ask ourselves also how these three aspects of maturity (self-sustaining, governing and propagating) relate to the "marks of the true church" as we know them , which are identified as the pure preaching of the word, the pure administration of the sacraments, and the administration of discipline. 

As a practical matter, I would suggest that a church would be mature if it is evangelistic either through growing in numbers or through planting another church, or both.  Possibly a church is not mature merely because it is old.   And possibly a previously mature church could regress to immaturity.   Food for thought. 

Larry,I'm interested-is the denomination that you refer to using one model, or a variety of different models?  Is it a top down or bottom up process?

I am pastor of an "elephant" church in the country.  In small communities, the pace of change and the gestiation period can be long.

That's not to say that Rabbits don't inhabit the village and country churches too.  The Rabbits are our ministries that live and die.  And there are rabbits who are started by people and not formally supported by a church.   
Just my thoughts...

Great post Larry. One way I see God compelling us to tell the story today in the U.S. is that he's brining the nations to us, especially in our cities. If we're not going to go to the nations, he's going to bring them to us. We don't always need to go oversees. God seems to be compelling us to tell the story by being able to share this with our neighbor across the fence!

posted in: Telling the Story?

A change is as good as a rest....   I would not say that a bible study or sunday school class should be regarded as work;  most of the work is in preparing it ahead of time.   If well prepared, then such an activity for the teacher is mostly just a good time in sharing the good news of Christ.  

The purpose of Sabbath is not just to sleep all day;  it is to spend special time getting closer to God.   If Sunday school is too much work, while watching a football game, or playing scrabble, or reading a book, or going skating, or eating a sunday meal and doing dishes  is not too much work, then it is not really about what is work and what is not, but it is about our priorities.   It's like saying that warming up the car for your wife or bringing her a cup of coffee is too much work.   No its not.   It's about loving your wife and loving your God. 

Most of us work 40 hours a week, five days a week.  We get Sabbaths every day, and often two full days per week.  Sometimes we fill it with other work, non-paid or sometimes paid work, but often we are just doing things for ourselves that we call recreation.   When people use to work twelve or fourteen hours a day six days a week, the sabbath was a way of changing their activities to allow them to celebrate God and what He had done for them.  In this era, we need to remember that the sabbath was a gift, yes to give us rest from the week's work, but mostly to spend time listening and fellowshipping with God and enjoying His goodness, unfettered by work responsibilities.  Bible studies and sunday school and family devotions make the "rest" happen.   Watching the NBA or the NFL does not. 

posted in: Monday, Monday

Such an important topic!

Sabbath-keeping helps us to remember that we are not indispensible to God's work. He does the work, not us!

If a pastor does not "keep Sabbath", what message does that send to his/her congregation about its importance?

I also encourage pastors to remember that "service" is not synonymous with "keeing Sabbath" for members of the flock. When we make weeekends so busy with "work days", Sunday School classes that need to be taught, Bible Studies and other activities, the flock is denied a Sabbath rest.

posted in: Monday, Monday

Hi Larry,

Thanks for your post and your thoughtful words.  You write, "We want to be safe in a safer world; God wants us safe in an unsafe world."  I say, right on!   I think that one of the single biggest dangers in many of our churches (including mine) is the attempt to be safe.  The "doctrine of saftey" (as you put it) may be the single biggest heresy in the established church today.   I love the way you encourage us to be safe in Christ by engaging the world with Christ.  Thanks for your thoughts.

Paul DeVries

My understanding of Sherman Street and Step of Faith, is that Step of faith does have a separate council and that they have just accepted having two elders from Sherman Street on their council as a way of ensuring unity and cross-fertilization between the two churches.


Randy Gabrielse

I used the word infiltrate in that ithe members of a declining church know they are in decline (at least I would hope so) and they may feel that there is a new group coming in to their space with hopes to "overtake" the declining church. My ultimate hope is that the declining church would have the opportunity to make changes - maybe a good word is re-create - their church and welcome new families and grow that way rather than have two churches in one building - I love to see churches where the young and old come together as one united family of Christ recognizing their differences but embracing their unity in Christ. Good topic of discussion. BOb



Good thoughts. This discussion is very helpful. Here I go expounding that thought: I think that all churches are different, especially in different areas of the country. First Toronto CRC is vastly different than Bradenton CRC in Florida which is different than Providence CRC in Holland. There are declining churches who won't let power leave the hands of a select few (most of who are in their later years) and declining churches that are desperately hoping for change and new life (I think of the changes Oakwood CRC made in Belding, MI, which cost them a few long time families in the beginning but have since become more vibrant and will make the generational leap).

When I say the "generational leap" I mean a new generation has the center of gravity in decisions. The hope is to be multi-generational. I believe that. And some churches can really pull that off. But what happens when churches decide to keep the decision making in the hands of an older generation and watches young families leave because they don't have any power? Then, after time, they realize that the church is in decline so they come around and say we need to make changes. Which changes, exactly? My vote is the change to nest a younger church plant within their church.

I guess the question for me always comes down to: Who makes the decisions in the church? I don't think we can make a denominational policy or come up with a model that can be applied to each congregation. But what we can do is offer a way forward that doesn't force the elderly members to give up on their values while making room for another community to make their own decision in worship expression (this would have been great in Bradenton CRC 3 years ago).

Perhaps things are different in your church. But generally, it seems more wise to invest in church planting rather than church revitalization.

So, I guess my question is: If you were called to be a  church planter, and the denomination gave you 50,000 dollars to do it, what would you want to use the money for? For me it would be my hope to use a church building and not have to worry about keeping the lights on, but focus on preaching. What about you?


Bob, I don't disagree with anything you said. I also don't think anything you said contradicted anything I said either.

I noticed you picked a very hostile word: "Infiltrate" to describe the way a church plant would grow in an existing church. You said, "The leadership and pastors need to have the confidence and spiritual maturity to make changes that will cause the church to grow." Could the decision to plant a church be the confidence and spiritual maturity and the change that causes the church to grow?

Also, it is interesting that in many of the church plants that I see (the Gospel Coalition led by Tim Keller and the Acts 29 Network led by Mark Driscoll) have a stronger sense of preaching the Word than many established churches in our denomination. Church plants tend to be driven by preaching because they are focused and tend not be caught up in our organizational pitfalls.

Thank you for your response Bob!

Your thoughts?





Sorry for taking so long to respond to this... I guess I have a few thoughts.... I agree with a lot of what Bob said, but would make a couple of other points.

I'm not saying that church planting is a bad thing, but I would disagree with the assumption that the best way to fix a declining denomination is to plant churches.  I think this is what Bob is getting at.  Especially if we are talking about an entire denomination.  When we talk about it this way it almost seems like we are talking about the church like it is model year of a car.  When the old model wears out we pitch and redesign to peoples desires, or even to our own and then hope people like it.  The problem is, is that the church is not a car, it is a living breathing organism. 

I would love to have you expound on what you mean when you say:

"I would love it if we could re-vitalize declining churches. My hope is that we can and many will be. But with this huge church planting movement sweeping the church, it just seems like a better way to make the generational leap." 

When I read that, my interpretation of what you are saying is basically: It would be really awesome if it were even possible to revitalize churches, but it's really not so let's just plant new ones.  What exactly is this "generational leap" that needs to be made?  Shouldn't each church embrace and encompass all the generations that are in it?  If it can't then we have a deeper issue in the church (Bob's post) and all that planting a church is going to do is put paint on a rotten board. 

I thought the church planting movement was more of a result of churches realizing that we need to not be so enclosed and self-preserving and instead be active in engaging the world with the Love of Christ.  I did think it was a desperate attempt to make the church relevant again...

I have a little different thought on this:  If a church is declining there tends to be a problem:  not necesarily the pastor, leadership or members individually but as a group.  In many cases it is a spiritual issue - something we should satan's delight - Satan loves to see a declining church. 

I think that if a church is declining we ought to work to make changes to the declining church rather than trying to infiltrate the church building with a new church plant.  The leadership and pastors need to have the confidence and spiritual maturity to make changes that will cause the church to grow.  Not for growths sake but for God's sake.

I do not know the demographics of the declining churches in the denomination but we see articles about where are our kids going to church or why do we have to sing the 7 11 praise songs (singing 7 lines 11 times) etc etc.

Instead let's focus on preaching the word of God and having our churches live out that word of God everyday to each other our community and world. 

If I complained about the things I disagree with or do not like in my church I would become quite bitter quickly.  As I realize that our church would be declining quickly if I tried to make it Bob's church rather than remember it is God's church.  God's church - a God who is God to the young and old, contemporary and traditional and even republicans and democrats.

The key to remember is that churches are filled with sinners and therefore there will be challenges we have to face but we need to  recognize that God's work continues inspite of our shortfalls and we need to cover our churches with PRAYER - I cannot say declinging churches do not pray but it is the key ingredient in all aspects of the church body. 

I think churches look at growth and numbers and get concerned about how to get more kids in their Wed. night program etc. etc.  This is not the issue - the key is to show God's love to those that come through the doors.  As an example, we so often greet people who come on time - but as soon as the service begins the greeters head into the service,  Afterwards many churches have the pastor or elders greet people as they leave after the service. In my opinion the people that need to be greeted the most are those that come in late and then leave during the last song - they may be the ones that are hurting the most and need a friendly smile or a gentle touch to show God's love.

I do not have the answer for what specifics need to occur but I do believe that whether a church is traditional, contemporary, conservative, liberal, young or old or somewhere in between that if the word of God is Preached and the members of the church show the love of God to those walking through the door and those they meet throughout the week the church will become a magnet for fellow Christians and non-Christians who crave to feel the love of God in the place we call CHURCH.  


Hi John:

I've only been around church life for about 9 years so I still find myself stumbling over culture.  What I mean is when I talk to a church planter I sense that we use language differently and our perspectives may not be understood while we share ideas..

I'm not sure the question should be "How do we best plant new churches?".  As you point out each scenario is different and so the quesiton I would prefer to see is how do we "see" opportunites in the mission field where our unique gifts are desired to be put to use by God?

This is why I am uncomfortable with the top down approach that I am experiencing in the church planting movement in my area of Canada.  As laity I may well see opportunities but am unable to interest my church in pursuing them.  Yet as laity I am also removed from the process in which we select new mission fields so as to point them out to others in the denomination who might be able to fill the opportunity.    I don't really understand how new sites are chosen (or old ones adopted). 

I have talked to pastors in Toronto that spend a great deal of time looking for facilities.  I don't really understand this because it would seem to me that to plant a church you would start with where you are a good fit then make do with what is available.  Which is why I tend to think of planting ministries rather than planting churches with the idea that the ministry will grow larger as more of the local people become engaged and take ownership.

I think his might be a totally different model?

Thanks for your insight - I am more on the laity side of things.


Justin and Victoria,

Your concerns are right on and I should include that the existing church would be a partner in this new move. I would never want to force a declining church to do this. And, it is a total case-by-case scenario. We would need the right "nesting" church and the right church planter to pull it off.

All of this rests on an assumption though, and this is the issue. The assumption is: the best way forward for denominations in decline is start new churches (for example the RCA  has declined to 150,000 people and is setting out to plant 400 churches by 2014). If this is true, then its that the question becomes: "How do we best start new churches?" One option would be to plant them within existing churches so that you can focus on evangelism and discipleship instead of raising funds to keep the lights on.

I would love it if we could re-vitalize declining churches. My hope is that we can and many will be. But with this huge church planting movement sweeping the church, it just seems like a better way to make the generational leap.

Would you agree with that? I really appreciate your thoughts.

John Burden, Providence Church

I'm not a church planter which is maybe why I am really turned off by this idea - but since you asked for feedback here are my initial thoughts.  Having worked with struggling churches I know full well the pain of the lost generation (which every denomination suffers from) and the longing for the church to be more of what the dream was in the past.

It s a completely different scenario if the nest church invites a church plant to reach people they know are out there but they cannot do due to their own commitments in other areas or lack of expertise in the community they wish to reach.  But the scenario as it is offered seems to be "well the church is dying, they can't get a pastor so why let the building go to waste".   I am reading a bias in the scenario which seems to assume that the people in the church do not want the same things as the church plant and thus a separate governance system is required. 

There must be benefits to the host church that I am missing or it would sound very much like this scenario:

IBM operates a computer shop which has hit rough times and may have to close.  Apple comes and offers to use their facilities, computers and phones so they can reach new customers. They make it clear that they do not want IBM calling any of the shots because they don't need their help - after all they are failing.  How gracious does IBM need to be to see this as a benefit to them and the customers they cannot secure, how gracious is Apple being to IBM?


I don't really see the point in this.  It seems that what you basically want to do is reinvent the church within the church.  Where does this approach leave the "declining" congregation?  Are they supposed to hobble on with no one to care for them?  Or will the new plant eventually drive them out?   Or is it expected that the "declining" church will eventually come to see the light and join in with the new church?  Why do we have to plant a new church when we could just go about the work of re-enlivening the existing one?


I don't know the answer to that question for sure, but my impression is yes. My understanding was that the church plant was a fully separate plant, but maybe Stedford (if he's a member) or somone from Sherman St. can answer that.

[quote=Robert Felton]


Great topic!

I actually proposed something very similar to this a few years ago. It was the result of a project I did in a church planting class at Calvin Seminary. I was inspired by Stedford Sims who was, at that time, planting a church within the (I believe it was) Sherman Street CRC, to minister to the African American community. To be effective at reaching people outside the "upper-middle-class white" culture, the new church plant needed to have African American leadership and be able to function in a way consistent with the culture of the folks they wanted to bring together.

My thought was that the "un-churched" and "de-churched" are also a different "culture" from the "traditional CRC church folk" culture; and that the only way to effectively reach out and enfold them would be to plant a new church. But, why not plant it within an existing CRC church, for the reasons you mentioned?

Unfortunately, my proposal never made it out of committee. I still think it's a great idea.


I actually went to Sherman Street CRC when my wife and I lived in Eastown and I know who Stedford is! That is another great example. Did his church have a seperate council? Did he still answer to Sherman Street's council?

Sorry, the part after my signature in my original post was just my thoughts in "draft-form." I didn't mean to post it but I can't figure out how to edit that part. Sorry!


Great topic!

I actually proposed something very similar to this a few years ago. It was the result of a project I did in a church planting class at Calvin Seminary. I was inspired by Stedford Sims who was, at that time, planting a church within the (I believe it was) Sherman Street CRC, to minister to the African American community. To be effective at reaching people outside the "upper-middle-class white" culture, the new church plant needed to have African American leadership and be able to function in a way consistent with the culture of the folks they wanted to bring together.

My thought was that the "un-churched" and "de-churched" are also a different "culture" from the "traditional CRC church folk" culture; and that the only way to effectively reach out and enfold them would be to plant a new church. But, why not plant it within an existing CRC church, for the reasons you mentioned?

Unfortunately, my proposal never made it out of committee. I still think it's a great idea.

TED is amazing. So many ideas. So many compelling speakers who will blow your mind. Thanks for bringing this to The Network.


If you're interested in a church that has structured itself according to a central site/satellites/home church model, check out The Meeting House:

Thanks again John.  I really resonate with what you are saying.  Planting God's word is the key.  Paul says, "I planted, Apollos watered, and God made it grow."  I also believe reaching people who don't know Jesus with the truth about Jesus must be our focus for planting God's word.  We still must help God's people grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, but I think the best way they can grow is by participating in God's mission with Him.  That's what's at the heart of it for me.  I recently read the book "The Sacrament of Evangelism" by Jerry Root and Stan Guthrie; an excellent book and I highly recommend it.  In the book they  suggest that the sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper) are about experiencing a greater awareness of God's presence.  If that is true, then they claim we are never more aware of God's presence than when we are participating in mission with Him.  They contend God is already at work in the lives of our family, friends, and neighbors so we need to develop the ability to discern what God is already doing and join Him in it.  That's really good stuff!