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Are there churches that are really doing this? I bet the meeting that decided it was interesting ;)

You should either stand for neither, both, or the Word.


Greg, I think most Muslims would say that Allah and God the Father may be the same. But no Muslim would affirm the Trinitarian God. I think you are right to say that Allah is a bridge to talk about grace and forgiveness and the nature of God the Father. But if the Nicene Creed is binding then we are ultimately talking about two different views of God.

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

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!

John Burden on September 5, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

[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?

John Burden on September 8, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

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

John Burden on September 16, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

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?



John Burden on September 16, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


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?


John Burden on February 23, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Sam, good to hear from you! I think there are some very concrete things that could happen. For example, the Evangelical Covenant Church holds regional "ministry fairs" where pastors and churches from the region meet. For example, if you wanted to be a pastor in Iowa. Minnesota, or South Dakota, then you would be paired with the regional director of the area, and they would be working with the vacant churches to find a match. Then, you would attend a "ministry fair" in the area in which every vacant church would attend as well. Before you know it, you have a match. Each student gets paired with a regional director who walks with you to find a call. The CRC hit on this when we had that fair at the seminary a couple of years ago. Pastor search committees of vacant churches came and met with students. But guess who organized it? CTS students. That's the problem. 

After thinking about this a lot, this is probably the best way forward. It wouldn't even require us lifting our synod ceremony which is the big concern for a lot of people. Your thoughts?

Paul, it seems to me that for a church to reach a community, it must be at the intersections of that community and involved with the institutions which are valued within the community. Schools are the epicenter of every community; they are the largest intersection. At our church, we have spent a full year trying to get involved in our local public elementary school. You just saved yourself a year and then some!! Plus, to find someone who is already in the community as opposed to having people "enter into the community", is a God-send. This is an ideal model, and for it to happen organically is the Holy Spirit confirming your call in the community. As someone interested in community based outreach, I have a couple of questions for this church plant:

(1) Is the youth leader under the leadership of the church planter? Or are they complete partners?

(2) Are both positions fully funded by your church?

(3) Is the goal to be a Young Life type model that bubbles up into a church?

Great Topic!

John Burden, Providence Church, Holland MI

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