The Crossroads Moment: “Can we go on like this?”
There comes a time in the life of many congregations when the church wonders, “can we go on like this?” 

Perhaps, membership has declined or baptisms are rare. Maybe the neighborhood has changed and programs are struggling to meet their original intentions. Possibly, the budget is tight or the pastor recently left. 

If any of these dynamics are present, you may be at a crossroads moment. At a crossroads moment, wise leaders will wonder if these unsettling dynamics are God’s way of getting us to consider a significant change of course: a change that, for many of us, may be hard even to speak out loud. 

  • Is it time to close our doors? 
  • Should we merge with another congregation? 
  • Could we close and begin a new ministry? 
  • What would be required to take one more shot at renewing this ministry? 

It’s important to deal with these questions honestly and well. But it’s easy to deal with them poorly. Churches at a crossroads moment can often feel anxious and alone, willing to follow the loudest voice, whether it’s the voice of God or not. That’s why Resonate Global Mission and Pastor Church Resources (PCR) developed the Crossroads Discernment Process. 

What is the Crossroads Discernment Process?
Crossroads is a process designed to help your church discern whether God is inviting you to make a significant change to your ministry. With the guidance of a Crossroads facilitator, small and large groups in your church will reflect on what God has done in your past and what he is doing in the present in order to discern what God is calling you toward in the future. You’ll consider your options in a way that is Spirit-led, Kingdom-oriented and strategically supported by your classis and denomination. 

Who is Crossroads for?
This process is designed for churches whose leaders sense that the viability of their congregation may be an important issue within the next five years and that a significant change is likely required. 

How does Crossroads work?
A facilitator, working with your church’s council-appointed Crossroads Team, will lead your congregation through five phases of discernment and action. At the heart of each phase is a group activity or two, chosen from among a large menu of activity options. These small or large group activities engage the whole congregation in the discernment process across all five phases. 

Gathering Your Congregation
You’ll develop skills to practice listening well to God and each other. 

Engaging the Past
You’ll invite the congregation to tell the story of your church: celebrating God’s faithfulness while also acknowledging and dealing with some of the sin, pain and grief you’ve encountered.   

Naming the Present
Listening to voices throughout the congregation and community, you’ll identify the opportunities and challenges facing your church at this time. 

Discerning the Future
Having laid the critical groundwork of the previous three stages, a church can look to the future with hope in God’s kingdom and an eye toward missional imagination. In this stage, your group will gather, clarify and prayerfully recommend an option for your congregation’s future. Most Crossroads Churches discern options within one of four main categories: 

  1. Remain in place, mostly in current form
  2. Remain in place, but pursue intentional, deep renewal
  3. Close and seed a new ministry
  4. Close and distribute assets to bless other kingdom causes

Next Steps
Once the council and congregation have voted on a next course of action, your group will help initiate the first next steps. 

What does Crossroads look like:
At each stage, the facilitator and your church’s Crossroads Team will meet to plan an appropriate activity for the congregation. After engaging the congregation at each stage, the Crossroads Team and facilitator will then reflect on key learnings, share those with the council or congregation and plan for the next stage. 

Most churches attempt the process at a pace of at least one stage per month, though churches may decide with their facilitator to move more quickly or slowly depending on what God reveals to the church in each stage. 

Sample Activities

What makes Crossroads unique?
Crossroads was designed and is supported by the denominational covenant community that shares your church’s vision and mission. It is based on the best wisdom and tested practices of CRC ministries, PCR and Resonate, working in CRC congregations. PCR contributes expertise in process, group dynamics, and the grief work that must be considered when you ask and answer these kinds of questions. Resonate contributes expertise in helping groups imagine new and deeper expressions of God’s mission. The process then connects churches back to their classis and denomination for the support and encouragement required to discern well and with hope.  

How much does Crossroads cost?
Most of our recommended Crossroads Facilitators charge $2,500 (US or Canadian) to cover the cost of a basic facilitation through the five stages. Though much of the facilitation can happen remotely, most facilitators and churches would prefer to have some meetings happen with the facilitator in person. In such a case, the church is also responsible to cover the costs of facilitator travel and lodging. The church is also responsible for the cost of any materials used or facilities rented for the congregational activities. If the church and facilitator agree to spend more time on any one stage, they should negotiate reasonable compensation for the facilitator’s time and expertise. 

Churches can contact PCR at crossroads@crcna.org to apply for a grant to cover some or all of the costs to engage the entire Crossroads Discernment Process with the guidance of one of PCR’s recommended facilitators. The CRCNA is committed to ensuring that finances will not prevent any church from engaging in this process. 

Crossroads Pastors
Though the typical Crossroads Facilitator will only lead your congregation through the Crossroads Discernment Process, some Crossroads Facilitators are pastors who are willing to serve a church as both an interim pastor and a Crossroads facilitator. A Crossroads interim engagement typically lasts six months. Contact PCR at crossroads@crcna.org to connect with one of our Crossroads Pastors. 

Can We Do This More Quickly?
This process was developed out of decades of experience with Resonate Global Mission (formerly Christian Reformed Home and World Missions) and Pastor Church Resources (PCR), consulting with Christian Reformed congregations at Crossroads-like moments. In our experience, the churches that took the time to engage all three preliminary stages felt much more hopeful and committed to whatever was decided and acted upon in the last two stages. That said, if your church has already resolved to close and only needs help to engage that process in an orderly way, contact PCR at crossroads@crcna.org to connect with an expert who can guide you through the tasks of closing your church. 

How do we get started?
If you’re interested in learning more, contact Pastor Church Resources (PCR) at crossroads@crcna.org. We can help you identify and contract with one of our recommended facilitators. 


Crossroads: A discernment process for churches uncertain about their future.

Welcome

 

Welcome to a challenging and timely conversation about your congregation! We assume that getting to this point has been a journey for you and for the people with whom you serve. You’re trying to name hard realities, acknowledge unmet hopes, savor memories, wonder about the future, and put your trust anew in the God who was, and is, and is to come (Rev. 1:4). In this process we hope to help you do all of these things well. 

This process is designed for leaders and members like you who sense that 

  • the ongoing ministry of your congregation may soon face significant challenges. 
  • your congregation in its present form might not be sustainable.
  • your congregation may soon have to make important decisions about its future.
  • good stewardship of the resources God has given for ministry and mission may mean crucial changes are needed. 

In other words, if you think the viability of your congregation may be an important issue in the next five years, it’s probably a good time to begin this process. 

This process will help you prepare for and lead a congregational conversation in which your people engage the past, name the present, and discern the future together. One of our guiding convictions is that in light of Christ’s resurrection there is always hope. Of course, that hope may well be realized in ways that you don’t expect today. But it will be realized, by the grace of God, for your blessing and for his glory in the world.

One of the key dynamics in any conversation about viability is that of stewardship. There are pastoral needs and concerns that are powerful and real—for individual members as well as the community. There are also practical needs and concerns about leadership, finances, membership numbers, and the time/energy inputs of volunteers. And there’s the relationship of your congregational story to the kingdom story in Scripture. How do you understand God’s hand in your stories, and your hand in God’s big story? 

This is a process of discernment. To do this well, it’s important that each step of the process be engaged in the sequence that has been laid out. There’ll always be a temptation to move quickly to the decision point, and perhaps even to skip one or more steps. We respectfully advise against any kind of shortcut. The process is designed so that folks can weigh-in and participate, allowing ultimate decisions to be owned together. In our experience, churches that take the time to engage the whole process feel much more hopeful and committed to whatever is decided and acted upon at the end of the process.

There are several stages in this process: preparing for the journey, gathering your congregation, engaging the past, naming the present, and discerning the future—all leading to the decision either to reimagine your life together as a congregation or to close for the purpose of providing a legacy gift to some type of ministry that serves the coming of God’s kingdom. For each of these stages we have a tab in the toolkit, highlighting steps to follow, resources to explore, and activities to engage in. Your facilitator will help you choose which of the resources to use and which activities might best fit your congregation so as to achieve the goal of a particular stage. In addition to choosing activities, you can get creative in how to tackle them. Some will work well in a retreat setting.

Preparing for the Journey

 


PREPARE | GATHER | ENGAGING THE PAST | NAMING THE PRESENT | DISCERNING THE FUTURE | NEXT STEPS


 

Whenever we’re thinking about starting something, whether it’s a project, a job, or a vacation, it’s important to do some prep work. Generally, taking some time to prepare results in better outcomes. The same is true for this discernment process. By engaging with the material in this stage, your church will be able to journey through Crossroads in the best way possible.

 

Checklist for Stage 1: Preparing for the Journey

This checklist summarizes the suggested steps in this preparation stage of your journey. You’ll find a more complete explanation below.

  • Create a Crossroads Team to oversee the entire process.
  • Have the Crossroads Team read In Dying We Are Born by Peter Bush, a pastor who speaks about two kinds of death: (1) the dying to self that a congregation must undergo in order to remain vibrant and vital, and (2) the death of an organization, such as the disbanding of a church. The first kind of death holds great possibility for churches hoping to avoid the second kind of death. 
  • If you’re interested in more supplemental reading, check out our Digging Deeper page to see recommendations.
  • Contact Pastor Church Resources at crossroads@crcna.org for help to identify and secure a facilitator. Pastor Church Resources maintains and supports a group of qualified facilitators, including pastors qualified to serve as interim Crossroads Pastors, providing interim pastoral ministry for six months while leading the congregation through a Crossroads Discernment.
  • Contact your classis, via your classis’ Stated Clerk, to inform them of your intention to engage this Crossroads Discernment Process. At a minimum, your classis can provide prayer support for your congregation. A classis may also offer your church the support of a Church Visitor to accompany your church at strategic points in the discernment. Whenever a church is engaged in such significant discernment, it’s worthwhile to remember and connect with the larger covenant community of which your congregation is one part.
  • Secure a facilitator.
  • Move onto the next stage/tab: Gathering Your Congregation
  • Consider having food/refreshments throughout the preparation process. It seems that things often go better when food and fellowship are in the mix.

To get started with this important conversation, the council should appoint a three- to five-person guiding team made up of both council members and congregants. This team will sort through the suggestions and guidelines described in this toolkit, make decisions about which ones may be most helpful or applicable in your setting, seek the blessing of the council, and then carry out and oversee the entire process. Ensuring that the congregation stays on track and crosses the finish line is a key task of the team.

Before any discussions begin about the future of your church, we suggest that everyone on the guiding team read In Dying We Are Born. Though the title suggests that a major focus is on churches that are dying and will close, this book also addresses how some churches need to dramatically change their culture and ways of doing ministry. The author contends that “all congregations, even ones that see themselves as healthy, need to be prepared to die, to take up their cross, so God can make them alive.”

You might want to think about having some group discussions on the book to help folks process the content before diving into the good and hard work of discernment.

 

Leading These Important Conversations

Contact Pastor Church Resources PCR) at crossroads@crcna.org for help to identify and secure a facilitator. PCR maintains and supports a group of qualified facilitators. Most facilitators will come alongside a church exclusively to guide the Crossroads Discernment Process. Some facilitators can guide the congregation through a Crossroads Discernment while also serving as an interim pastor, providing interim pastoral ministry alongside a Crossroads Discernment Process.  

If you’d like to find your own facilitator, pay attention to the qualities PCR looks for in an effective facilitator. Here are some questions to consider about the person who will facilitate. Does the person

  • listen more than they talk?
  • ask thought-provoking questions?
  • allow for some unrest/tension to take place in the conversation?
  • know when to tactfully “step in” and redirect the conversation?
  • have the ability to “take control of the conversation” when someone dominates or says inappropriate things?
  • keep the focus on others in the room rather than on what they think or have to say?

PCR looks for the following characteristics in their recommended facilitators.  

 

When it comes to challenging discussions such as the future of your church, the ideal facilitator is

  • pastoral—not necessarily an ordained minister but someone who can shepherd God’s people through a challenging moment with grace, hope, and truth.
  • missional—able to help the congregation think beyond themselves to consider their role in the kingdom of God. 
  • trustworthy—a respected leader with integrity who’s able to carry out the work in a way that honors God and blesses others.
  • without a personal agenda—able to walk alongside you in your conversations and discoveries—able to hold back their two cents and resist pushing their preferred outcome.

 

A Facilitator From Within Your Congregation?

You may think that someone in your own congregation, like your pastor or chair of council might be a suitable facilitator. While it is true that many pastors and chairs of council exhibit these qualities, we strongly recommend that the facilitator come from outside the congregation. Thinking about the viability of a church can meet with a lot of mixed emotions. Also, people from within the congregation have personal biases that cannot help but influence the process. Those emotions and biases are normal and to be expected. However, at times, they can also get in the way of having good and honest conversations. Even if you have in-house candidates who exhibit the qualities of an effective facilitator, that person is still not likely to be the best person to facilitate a Crossroads Discernment at your church. 

For that reason, we recommend that you contact Pastor Church Resources (PCR) at crossroads@crcna.org for help to identify and secure a facilitator. PCR maintains and supports a group of qualified facilitators who can lead this complex, personal, and potentially emotional discussion.

 

Church Visitors’ Involvement

Church visitors are appointed by the local classis. One of their tasks is “church visiting,” which connects the classis to its local churches and their officebearers through strengthening, care, and accountability. They also help churches understand Church Order, navigate challenging conversations, and advise church leaders. Typically, church visitors are two-person teams—made up of two pastors or one pastor and one elder. While church visitors may take the initiative to contact churches, churches are also encouraged to contact church visitors for advice. The church visitors may be key allies and resources as you discern what’s next.

 

Conversation Participants

Since these important conversations are about your church and its next steps, all who are connected to the church in a significant way should be present. Defining significance can be tricky. Someone who attends once a month may consider themselves a full, active member and may want to have input, but they might not be familiar with many of the church’s ministries or the people who serve in those ministries. Their perspective might still be helpful, though. Be careful when deciding whom to include and whom to leave out. You’ll want diversity and as many groups as possible to be represented. And to move forward constructively, you’ll want to avoid unnecessary conflict and ill feelings from the get-go.

What’s important is that both the congregation and its leaders are part of the process. This isn’t just about what the leaders think. The church belongs to everyone, and everyone desires and deserves to be heard. The level of participation may vary at different points along the way. Generally, as long as people feel they’ve had a chance to say their piece, and have been heard, they’ll feel good about the process.

Once you’ve confirmed who the facilitator will be, please contact Pastor Church Resources and let us know who that person will be. This will allow us to continue to support this person.

 

Worship Resources for the Entire Process

There are a number of worship resources available as you work your way through the Crossroads Discernment Process.

If you find yourself stuck at any point, reach out to us—Pastor Church Resources. We’re here to help.

Once you’ve completed this Preparing for the Journey stage, go to the Gathering Your Congregation stage/tab.

Gathering Your Congregation

 


PREPARE | GATHER | ENGAGING THE PAST | NAMING THE PRESENT | DISCERNING THE FUTURE | NEXT STEPS


 

As you gather for your discernment conversations, you’ll want to consider how you’ll create a safe space for honest reflection and engagement as you listen to one another and to God. This stage of the process helps you develop healthy listening practices and creates a positive environment for the conversations you will have together. No matter what path you ultimately choose, taking the time to discern well will benefit your congregation.

Each congregation is unique and comes to these conversations from a different set of circumstances, so the activities suggested here are customizable. Some congregations will be able to point to examples of having healthy discussions about weighty issues in the recent past. Other congregations, with less practice in having intentional, challenging discussions, may find that they need to spend a lot of time on listening activities so that they can build their capacity to do the work ahead of them. If you think your congregation may need some extra time in order to maintain a healthy, constructive conversation in this process, you may want to schedule more than one session to go through this gathering material.

 

Checklist for Stage 2: Gathering Your Congregation

This checklist summarizes the suggested steps in this stage of your journey. You’ll find a more complete explanation below.

  • Have your council or guiding team meet with your facilitator to determine the number of sessions you think you’ll need to lay a strong foundation for this process through this gathering stage.
  • Review the list of activities  we strongly recommend in this stage (see the “Summary of Activities” list below).
  • Establish dates and times for the selected activities. A retreat setting with 3-4 hours would be ideal to complete the activities in this stage. Alternatively, they could be tackled separately over one or two shorter meetings. However you meet, we encourage you to start these activities with a meal or dessert.
  • Gather the necessary supplies for your selected activities.
  • Communicate plans to the congregation well ahead of time, finding different ways to convey information so that everyone has an opportunity to hear and participate. Make people aware of these plans a few weeks ahead of time.
  • Consider how you’ll incorporate prayer and worship into this stage—in your worship gatherings, in these sessions, and in suggestions for personal and group prayer and devotions as participants seek God’s guidance.
  • Print copies of the Table Questions (below) for use during a meal or dessert time that you might wish to incorporate into one or more of the activities.

 

Summary of Activities

(for important details, click on the links below)

Here are some activities you can engage in as you work through the Gathering stage. Although most of the activities in the other stages are optional, these three activities are necessary for setting the stage for healthy conversations, and we strongly suggest that you participate in all of them.

  1. Listening to One Another: Particularly in today’s North American culture, we don’t often have meaningful conversations with people who fundamentally disagree with us. We’ve lost the skill of having these conversations in a respectful yet helpful way. This activity takes you back to the basics of listening to each other.
  2. Conversation Covenant: Having difficult conversations is hard, especially when you find yourself in an anxious situation. Yet your congregation will benefit from inviting everyone to include their voice in healthy discussions together. A conversation covenant will help you create agreed-upon expectations for entering into these discussions.
  3. Listening to God: Integral to these congregational conversations is a focus on discerning God’s will for your congregation. God speaks to us through his Word, shaping our hearts and minds to be aligned with his will. Dwelling in God’s Word helps us learn to listen for God’s voice together.

 

Table Questions

(for use during a meal or dessert time)

  • What’s your earliest memory of this church?
  • What’s something you disagree about with a good friend of yours?

 

Resources You May Want to Consult

  1. Blog post: 3 Key Insights for Having Difficult, Honest Conversations by Kathy Smith. A summary of three insights discussed in the book Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler.
  2. Blog post: 9 Tips for Entering & Sticking with Tough Dialogue. Jeanette Romkema writes about some tips for engaging in tough dialogue, drawn from her experience of 20 years in dialogue education.
  3. Leadership training: Designed by Pastor Church Resources, The Challenging Conversations Toolkit is a five- to nine-week small group guide that helps members of your church engage with challenging topics. Though designed to focus on the particular topic of human sexuality, the three-hour facilitator training introduces leaders to better tools for all kinds of conversations that acknowledge differences while still pointing to Christ and building up the faith of participants.
  4. Website: A number of worship resources are available as you work your way through the Crossroads Discernment Process.

 

Reflection Questions

These questions may be used by the facilitator when engaging with the group:

  • How does it feel to be the listener? What’s hard about listening to one another? What’s hard about listening to God? What did you learn?
  • How does it feel to be listened to? What’s hard about it? What did you learn?
  • What did you learn from this experience that could help you form principles for having conversations about more difficult topics as you go through this process together? What type of environment creates a safe space for these conversations?
  • How can you balance grace and truth in your conversations? What might happen if either grace or truth outweighs the other?

 

Next Step

When you feel that you’ve laid a strong foundation of listening to God and to one another, and that everyone involved is ready to enter into deeper conversations, you’re ready for the Engaging the Past stage.

It’s important to celebrate the accomplishment of the progress you’re making. How will you celebrate the transition into each stage? A few ideas:

  • Create a bulletin board depicting the stages and an arrow pointing to the stage you’re currently in.
  • Create space in a worship service to note the transition into each new stage, to hear a testimony about how God worked among you in the previous stage, and to pray that the next stage will be fruitful and constructive as well.
  • Ask an artist to draw the outline of your church logo or of another symbol that’s meaningful to you. Use crayons or markers to color a portion of it each time you make progress, and in the end you’ll have a completed picture.
  • Create a “certificate of accomplishment” for each stage. Send it as a PDF to your church mailing list after each stage completion.

If you find yourself stuck at any point, reach out to us—Pastor Church Resources. We’re here to help.

Once you’ve completed this Gathering Your Congregation stage, go to the Engaging the Past stage/tab.

 


CRCNA Testimony

I have used dwelling in the Word in an established church and in a church plant. The dwelling in the Word practice is different from our usual way of engaging the Bible. We tend to do “one off” readings of the Bible in which we study a text one week and then run on to the next one. We seldom stay long enough to ask whether we’re actually doing what a text calls us to. When dwelling in a rich text like Luke 10:1-12, for example, I’ve seen groups ask and begin to discern how to engage their neighborhoods in the way that Jesus calls his disciples to in that text. I‘ve seen groups begin to experience where and how they can join Jesus where he’s at work. 

—Rev. Jon Huizenga, pastor of Rise Up Church, Cedar Springs, Michigan


Engaging the Past

 


PREPARE | GATHER | ENGAGING THE PAST | NAMING THE PRESENT | DISCERNING THE FUTURE | NEXT STEPS


 

Your past is important for understanding your present and for thinking about your future. Your church was born at a certain point in history. People came and went. Opportunities for ministry surfaced and disappeared. Leaders responded with wise and unwise decisions. Conflicts arose and died away. And today you live with the cumulative impact of it all. This stage of the Crossroads Discernment Process asks you to travel into the past in order to see the faithfulness of God, to celebrate and lament the actions of his people, and to learn from it all. Through this part of your journey you’ll learn an abiding truth: Today is never just about today. 

 

Checklist for Stage 3: Engaging the Past 

This checklist summarizes the suggested steps in this stage of your journey. You’ll find a more complete explanation below.

  • Confirm with your facilitator that you’re ready to move into the good work of engaging the past now that you’ve spoken and listened to one another in initial conversations, developed a Conversation Covenant, and spent some time listening to God. 
  • Review the list of optional activities in which you could engage the past (see the “Summary of Activities” list below) and make selections that seem helpful and fitting.
  • Establish dates and times for the selected activities. We encourage you to start these activities with a meal or dessert.
  • Gather the necessary supplies for your selected activities.
  • Communicate plans to the congregation well ahead of time, finding different ways to convey information so that everyone has an opportunity to hear and participate. Make people aware of these plans a few weeks ahead of time.
  • Consider how you’ll incorporate prayer and worship into this stage—in your worship gatherings, in these sessions, and in suggestions for personal and group prayer and devotions as participants seek God’s guidance.
  • Print copies of the Table Talk suggestion (below) for use during a meal or dessert time that you might wish to incorporate into one or more of the activities.

 

Summary of Activities

(for important details, click on the links below)

Here are some activities you can engage in as you work through the Engaging the Past stage.

  1. A Night to Remember: Remember events and people in the congregation’s past and bring them before God and each other in prayers of praise, confession, lament and hope. 
  2. Testimony Night: Personal stories are powerful reminders of God’s faithfulness. During this evening of celebration, people will have the opportunity to share their experiences of God in the context of the congregation’s life and ministry.
  3. Small Group Conversations: Engage the past in the context of small groups rather than as a whole-congregation activity. Gather in existing small groups or in small groups that are specially created for this activity. 
  4. Online Book of Congregational Memories: Create a website or a Facebook page for others in the congregation to share memories and to experience the memories of participants who have shared. 
  5. Online Catalog of the Congregation’s Impact: A team helps the congregation to create and develop an online catalog of the congregation’s impact on its community and the world. 
  6. Worship Services and Sermons: Worship planners and leaders assemble a series of worship services or write a series of sermons, perhaps planned for a “memory month,” in which events, processes, and personalities from the past are named and treated appropriately within the liturgy (as opportunities for praise, thanksgiving, confession, lament, etc.).

 

Table Talk

(for use during a meal or dessert time)

  • Everyone in the group describes a favorite childhood memory. Note: It doesn’t have to be a memory associated with this congregation. The memories will help the group shift thinking away from today and toward the past.

 

Resources You May Want to Consult

  1. Written presentation: The Life Cycles and Stages of Congregational Development by George Bullard, who offers important insights about a church’s life cycle as well as the dominant characteristics of each stage of that cycle. You might choose to engage the congregational assessment exercise that is included in the book.
  2. Analytical framework: General Systems Theory and its application to the lives of emotional systems such as congregations. For a brief summary of the theory, see Leading Change in the Congregation: Spiritual and Organizational Tools for Leaders by Gilbert R. Rendle (chap. 3).  
  3. Website: A number of worship resources are available as you work your way through the Crossroads Discernment Process.

 

Reflection Questions 

While helping the congregation to engage in one or more of the above activities, the facilitator may use questions like these to draw together important findings and themes:

  • What values/virtues/passions do you see in your past that you can carry into the future?
  • Which people or groups from your past do you need to honor?
  • What mistakes, misuses of power, and conflicts should you acknowledge and/or confess together?* 
  • With whom do you need to reconcile?*
  • What hardships do you need to lament?
  • What do you need to thank God for?
  • What are some key moments when you saw the Holy Spirit lead you into something you would not have done yourself?
  • How has your community been transformed in big or little ways because of God’s work in and through you? 

*If this question leads to a sense that there is work to be done in the areas of reconciliation and/or healing, then the group should feel free to seek assistance from Pastor Church Resources.

 

Next Step

When you feel that you’ve engaged the past well, you’re ready to move on to the next stage of the Crossroads Discernment Process: Naming the Present.

It’s important to celebrate the accomplishment of the progress you’re making. How will you celebrate the transition into each new stage? A few ideas:

  • Create a bulletin board depicting the stages and an arrow pointing to the stage you’re in.
  • Create space in a worship service to note the transition into each new stage, to hear a testimony about how God worked among you in the previous stage, and to pray that the next stage will be fruitful and constructive as well.
  • Ask an artist to draw the outline of your church logo or of another symbol that’s meaningful to you. Use crayons or markers to color a portion of it each time you make progress, and in the end you’ll have a completed picture.
  • Create a “certificate of accomplishment” for each stage. Send it as a PDF to your church mailing list after each stage completion.

If you find yourself stuck at any point, reach out to us at Pastor Church Resources. We’re here to help. 

Once you’ve completed this Engaging the Past stage, go to the Naming the Present stage/tab.

Naming the Present

 


PREPARE | GATHER | ENGAGING THE PAST | NAMING THE PRESENT | DISCERNING THE FUTURE | NEXT STEPS


 

If you’ve ever walked into a large shopping mall, airport, or amusement park, you’ll have seen a map that identifies your current location: “You are here!” Knowing your starting point allows you to get your bearings so that you can chart a course to your destination.

So far in this Crossroads Discernment Process, you’ve focused on the past. Now you’ll focus on the present.

Chances are that the present is tense. There are questions in the air. Wonderings. That’s why this discernment process is under way. It was important for you to think about your past: who, what, where, and how you were. It was important to speak the truth about the good and the not so good of the past. Ultimately it was important to sense the grace of God in your past—and now you need to consider the truth and grace of God in the present. This involves the important work of self-examination as a church community.

This brings the community to a vital conversation about stewardship: How well are we making use of the resources God has provided? Resources include people, gifts, buildings, time, and energy. Is our current use compellingly fruitful, or can we imagine better ways to use these resources? When we talk about stewardship, we are talking about how God has blessed us in order to bless our surrounding communities and the world. So how has God blessed us, and how are we blessing others? What’s God doing in our presence and with our presence in the world? His mission and ours need to be in harmony.

The truth is, people aren’t always in sync with what the orientation map says. They may even disagree with the people standing beside them! Which way do we go from here? Ahead? Left? Right? Back? And on which level are we standing? How do we interpret the map together, so that it really does help all of us?

 

Checklist for Stage 4: Naming the Present

This checklist summarizes the suggested steps in this stage of your journey. You’ll find a more complete explanation below.

  • Review the highlights of the previous stages of gathering and exploring the past.
  • Review the list of optional activities you could engage in (see the “Summary of Activities” list below) and make selections that seem helpful and fitting.
  • Establish dates and times for the selected activities. We encourage you to start these activities with a meal or dessert.
  • Gather the necessary supplies for your selected activities.
  • Communicate plans to the congregation well ahead of time, finding different ways to convey information so that everyone has an opportunity to hear and participate. Make people aware of these plans a few weeks ahead of time.
  • Consider how you’ll incorporate prayer and worship into this stage—in your worship gatherings, in these sessions, and in suggestions for personal and group prayer and devotions as participants seek God’s guidance.
  • Print copies of the Table Questions (below) for use during a meal or dessert time that you might wish to incorporate into one or more of the activities.

 

Summary of Activities

(for important details, click on the links below)

Here are some activities you can engage in as you work through this Naming the Present stage.

  1. Listening Groups: A process by which congregational members and regular visitors are provided an opportunity to share their experiences and perspectives on the life of the congregation.
  2. Appreciative Inquiry: A way of thinking about the positive resources that exist in your congregation. This approach helps you think about the present in a way that is rooted in thanksgiving in God’s provision, rather than focusing on a perception of scarcity or lack (“the church down the street has this ministry and that program”).
  3. Naming Losses, Fears, and Hopes: This circle conversation activity will attend to the real and present emotions within the group.
  4. Review Current Realities: Before doing this activity, you’ll need to collect church membership data. This activity will name dynamics at work in the present. It uses Congregational Life-Cycle teaching, The Life Cycle and Stages of Congregational Development , and the current demographics of the congregation.
  5. Who Is Our Church?A winsome way to think about who your congregation (the body of Christ) might be as you consider it to be an actual human person (body)—and how that might inform your present understanding, as well as future needs.
  6. Community Demographics: Engaging in a demographic study of your community can give you ideas about how the community has changed and how you can connect with your neighbors. It can also help you decide how to use your resources to serve the community.

 

Table Questions

(for use during a meal or dessert time)

  1. Describe a moment when you especially sensed God’s presence in your life through the ministry of this church.
  2. Describe a moment when you sensed that God was using you to bless someone. Share what was going on inside of you at that moment.
  3. Describe a moment when you sensed God at work in one of your fellow church members. What did that spark in your own soul? 

 

Resources You May Want to Consult

  1. Diagnostic Tool: The Life Cycle and Stages of Congregational Development by George Bullard. This tool can bring clarity to a group’s self-awareness regarding their relative age and the potential work necessary to regain vitality.
  2. Survey: The Healthy Church executive survey will allow the congregation to see, with some clarity, the church that exists in the present rather than the church as it once was.
  3. Website: A number of worship resources are available as you work your way through the Crossroads Discernment Process. 

 

Reflection Questions

While participants engage in one or more of the above activities, the facilitator may use questions like these to draw together important findings and themes:

  • If “here” is where you are—where exactly is that?
  • What’s it like to be “here”? How are you being blessed? How are you experiencing “lack”?
  • Who is “here”?
  • How is God “here”?
  • How are you being instruments of blessing beyond your church family?
  • From what narrative perspectives are you telling the story of “now”? At best, this means that we integrate the perspectives below* so as to be hopeful, honest, and balanced. This involves teasing together the perspectives that, at worst, can isolate and dominate:

*Heroic perspective—focusing on what needs to happen to save the church.
Victim perspective—focusing on being in such a sorry, sorry state. Woe is us.
Villain perspective—focusing on the idea that this church needs to close its doors—period.

 

Next Step

When you feel that you’ve engaged the present well, you’re ready for the next stage of this process: Discerning the Future

It’s important to celebrate the accomplishment of the progress you’re making. How will you celebrate the transition into each new stage? A few ideas:

  • Create a bulletin board depicting the stages and an arrow pointing to the stage you’re in.
  • Create space in a worship service to note the transition into each new stage, to hear a testimony about how God worked among you in the previous stage, and to pray that the next stage will be fruitful and constructive as well.
  • Ask an artist to draw the outline of your church logo or of another symbol that’s meaningful to you. Use crayons or markers to color a portion of it each time you make progress, and in the end you’ll have a completed picture.
  • Create a “certificate of accomplishment” for each stage. Send it as a PDF to your church mailing list after each stage completion.

If you find yourself stuck at any point, reach out to us—Pastor Church Resources. We’re here to help. 

Once you’ve completed this Naming the Present stage, go to the Discerning the Future stage/tab.

Discerning the Future

 


PREPARE | GATHER | ENGAGING THE PAST | NAMING THE PRESENT | DISCERNING THE FUTURE | NEXT STEPS


 

We’re getting close to decision time. Isn’t that a daunting thought? 

Of course, you’ve already done some good (and hard!) work. Groundwork has been laid. People have been gathered. History has been celebrated, and you’ve acknowledged the challenges and the blessings of your present circumstances. If you’ve done the work so far, you should be in a much better place to make the important decision before you.

There are likely to be some preliminary thoughts about what direction the church should take—thoughts that may already have been swimming in peoples’ minds for some time. That’s pretty natural. The good work now is to make a decision about the future of your church together. Remember that no matter what you decide, there’ll be risk. Remember too that how you make the decision is as important to God as the decision itself. Keep offering people opportunities to speak into the process. Give people a voice when decision time comes. Follow through on the decision that has been made. Trust that God leads you. 

That last part is difficult in times like these—when there are such large questions to be addressed and seemingly so much is at stake. But as you trust God with the unknown, the known, and everything in between, he provides. He leads. He loves. God did so when he called Abram to leave his homeland and journey to an unknown place, and God did so when he called Abraham’s children, Israel, to leave Egypt and enter the wilderness and then, later, the promised land. 

Go with God!

 

Checklist for Stage 5: Discerning the Future

This checklist summarizes the suggested steps in this stage of your journey. You’ll find a more complete explanation below.

  • Revisit your communication values from your Conversation Covenant. These values will guide your conversation at this strategic stage. 
  • Determine which activities you’ll engage as a group. We strongly recommend that groups engage activities 1-3 below.
  • Invite the outside guests necessary to enrich your group’s engagement with Activity 2, Gathering and Clarifying Your Options.
    • Contact your Resonate Regional Mission Leader and invite them to join your group for some (or all) of your meeting to gather and clarify your options. Resonate Global Mission can introduce your group to the denominational resources available to help a church like yours renew, restart, or close in order to help support the planting of a new ministry or congregation in your region. Resonate will first take the time to listen to what you’ve learned about your church so far in this process. They will then use their experience and expertise to help your group understand their mission-oriented options. 
    • Contact your classis Stated Clerk to see if a church visitor or two could join your group as you gather and clarify your options. Church visitors can provide prayer support, encouragement and, often, insight into how your church’s discernment may intersect with ministry resources and opportunities in your classis.
  • Establish dates and times for the small group and congregational gatherings (see below). We encourage you to start these activities with a meal or dessert. 
  • Gather the necessary supplies for your activities.
  • Communicate plans to the congregation well ahead of time, finding different ways to convey information so that everyone has an opportunity to hear and participate. Make them aware of the planned dates a few weeks ahead of time. 
  • Consider how you’ll incorporate prayer and worship into this stage—in your worship gatherings, in these sessions, and in suggestions for personal and group prayer and devotions as participants seek God’s guidance.
  • Once your church has decided which option to pursue, proceed to next steps.

 

Summary of Activities

(for important details, click on the links below)

Here are the activities we strongly recommend every congregation engage in the Discerning the Future stage.

  1. Review the Evidence: Take stock once more of what you’ve learned about God, your church and your community during the Crossroads Process so far. 
  2. Gathering and Clarifying Your Options: Gather, refine and clarify your options with the input of strategic classis and denominational leaders. 
  3. Narrowing and Recommending Your Options: Narrow your options and prepare to present them to your council or congregation. 

The following may help enrich the options you are considering. 

  1. Investing in a Missional Opportunity: Comstock CRC (Kalamazoo, Mich.) and Pioneer CRC (Cedar Springs, Mich.) are two churches that decided to close and reinvest in a missional legacy. Read about their experience to inspire your own creative discernment. 
  2. Discover What Other Churches Have Done: Church buildings can be inefficient, expensive spaces to maintain for the few hours a week we use them. Churches today are finding incredibly creative uses for their buildings that address needs in their post-Christian communities. This activity can open people’s eyes to some of these possibilities. We hope the stories presented here might inspire other ideas for how your church building could endure as a kingdom blessing in your community.
  3. Investing in the Future: How has your community changed in ways that your church has struggled to address? How could this ending be an opportunity to invest in bringing the gospel in new ways?
  4. Community Conversations: This activity gives you an opportunity to listen to your community, to see where God is already at work. We believe that through common grace God is already doing the work of restoring, reconciling, and repairing through many secular as well as spiritual organizations.

As you think about the future of your congregation, keep in mind that God has been and will continue to build his kingdom in your community. You uncovered that reality as you went through the Naming the Present stage—particularly if you engaged in the Community Demographics and Appreciative Inquiry activities in connection with your local community and your congregation. 

The question, then, is not whether God will remain at work, but whether you and your church’s role in that work might change.

 

Resources You May Want to Consult

  1. Article: When a Church Closes by Gay DeJong. One person’s story of the unexpected peace she found in the midst of her church’s closing.
  2. Website: A number of worship resources are available as you work your way through the Crossroads Discernment Process.

 

Reflection Questions 

While participants engage with the process of discerning the future,the facilitator may wish to use some questions like these:

  • Where else do you see people having to make choices about which direction to take in life? What can you learn from them?
  • How would you define “kingdom of God”?
  • What ministries or events or values from your past are clear examples of not just building your church but participating in God’s kingdom? 

 

Next Step

Once your church has decided which option to pursue, proceed to Next Steps stage/tab.

If you find yourself stuck at any point, reach out to us—Pastor Church Resources. We’re here to help.

Next Steps

 


PREPARE | GATHER | ENGAGING THE PAST | NAMING THE PRESENT | DISCERNING THE FUTURE | NEXT STEPS


 

Taking Your First Next Steps

At the end of Discerning the Future, you should have presented your recommendations about the future of your church to your council or congregation. Whatever they’ve now decided to do, there are some next steps that will require attentio

In this stage, you will clarify what next steps are required to build upon the decisions your church has now made. If the choice you’ve made does not fit in one of these four categories, contact Pastor Church Resources at crossroads@crcna.org to see what next steps might suit the direction you’ve discerned.

 

Steps if remaining in place, mostly in current form

  1. Having done all the work that you’ve completed so far, it might be disappointing if you hear God call you to remain in place. Nevertheless, this process of prayer and listening to God is never wasted. You’ve had to trust in God’s direction, discern his voice and work together. God has been at work.
  2. Schedule a time to share with others in your congregation about what you learned and how you saw God at work in each other, in this process and in this congregation. Tell the story of the faithful God you encountered as you walked through this season.
  3. With the help of people like your Resonate Regional Mission Leader and your Church Visitor (see Gathering and Clarifying Your Options), meet with your council to encourage them to consider what they can do to support the continued life, health and mission of the church.

 

Steps if remaining in place, but renewing/modifying

  1. It may be that the next steps of renewal are already clear from the process so far. If so, the council can lead the congregation accordingly. 
  2. However, most churches find that they benefit from continued coaching and assistance as they seek deep renewal. 
  3. If your earlier engagement with Resonate Global Mission sparked some ideas for renewal, invite them to speak to your group again about how they might support you in renewal. 
  4. There are many other excellent organizations devoted to helping congregations like yours seek renewal. If you’d like to see what other groups might help you pursue deep renewal, contact Vibrant Congregations at vibrantcongregations.org. Vibrant Congregations is a joint endeavor of the CRCNA and the Reformed Church in America (RCA) created specifically to help you discover your best partner(s) to take fresh steps in ministry and mission.

     

    Steps if closing and seeding something new

    1. Sometimes the best option is to bring the current ministry to a close, wait for a season, and then start a new ministry in the same location. Of course, closing anything is difficult. Dreams, traditions, and memories will be affected. Some of the people from the old ministry will be part of the new ministry. Some won’t. All of that’s okay—especially if something significant is allowed to remain: your ongoing participation with God through the new ministry that emerges from the old. If you decide to close and seed something new, contact your Regional Mission Leader. Resonate Global Mission is a key partner to help you with next steps. 
    2. Consider the following to enrich the process of closing and seeding something new. 
      • Investing in a Missional Opportunity: Comstock CRC (Kalamazoo, Mich.) and Pioneer CRC (Cedar Springs, Mich.) are two churches that decided to close and reinvest in a missional legacy. Read about their experience to inspire your own creative discernment.
    3. Closing well requires careful attention to process and details we’re not accustomed to. Contact Pastor Church Resources at crossroads@crcna.org. We have denominational experts who can guide you through the financial, ecclesiastical and legal steps of closing your church and strategically investing your assets toward kingdom mission.  
      • Consult the church’s articles of incorporation, bylaws and state and provincial laws to ensure all necessary steps have been taken to initiate the process of closing the church. 
      • Logistics of Closing a Church: a denominational expert can guide you through this step-by-step guide, which covers church memberships, pastor’s status, church staff status, historical record-keeping, legal considerations, and reporting to classis. 
    4. Plan a Worship Service
      • Choose a final worship date that gives people time to prepare but isn’t too far into the future. Most churches find that four to eight weeks is about the right amount of notice. This provides enough time to invite former members or pastors who might want to be present while also not dragging out the process, which can be emotionally draining. Churches have found that once they announce a closing date that is about four to eight weeks in the future, the congregation generally shifts to a mode of finishing well. 
      • Consider how you might include some of what you learned during the Crossroads process in the worship service. What stories could be shared as testimonies of God’s faithfulness in and through your church? 
    5. Provide Pastoral Care
      • Pastoral care is important during this time. Expect that the closing of your church may prompt feelings of failure, abandonment, regret and grief. 
      • Care for one another by allowing plenty of time for people to articulate what they’re experiencing. Pray together in trust that God is with you even in this challenging season.

     

    Steps if closing without plans to start something new.

    1. God may be calling you to finish your life well together. In such a case, your legacy can be marked by the sale of assets and the wonderful work of thinking through how proceeds that are raised can bless others. 
    2. Closing well requires careful attention to process and details we’re not accustomed to. Contact Pastor Church Resources at crossroads@crcna.org. We have denominational experts who can guide you through the financial, ecclesiastical and legal steps of closing your church and strategically investing your assets toward kingdom mission.  
      • Consult the church’s articles of incorporation, bylaws and state and provincial laws to ensure all necessary steps have been taken to initiate the process of closing the church. 
      • Logistics of Closing a Church: a denominational expert can guide you through this step-by-step guide., which covers church memberships, pastor’s status, church staff status, historical record-keeping, legal considerations, reporting to classis and the following steps toward directing funds to ministry partners. 
        1. Blessing Our Ministry Partners: Note the people, organizations, and initiatives you’ve partnered with in ministry and how you might bless them with an investment in their future.
        2. Investing in the Future: If you have not already done so, consider how your community has changed in ways that your church has struggled to address. How could this ending be an opportunity to invest in bringing the gospel in new ways?
        3. Directing Funds: What are logistical options for setting aside funds to leave a legacy?
        4. What About Us?: What do members do after their church closes? How can you help them find a community of faith and receive pastoral care? What happens to your membership papers?
    3. Plan a Worship Service
      • Choose a final worship date that gives people time to prepare but isn’t too far into the future. Most churches find that four to eight weeks is about the right amount of notice. This provides enough time to invite former members or pastors who might want to be present while also not dragging out the process, which can be emotionally draining. Churches have found that once they announce a closing date that is about four to eight weeks in the future, the congregation generally shifts to a mode of finishing well. 
      • Consider how you might include some of what you learned during the Crossroads process in the worship service. What stories could be shared as testimonies of God’s faithfulness in and through your church? 
    4. Provide Pastoral Care
      • Pastoral care is important during this time. Expect that the closing of your church may prompt feelings of failure, abandonment, regret and grief. 
      • Care for one another by allowing plenty of time for people to articulate what they’re experiencing. Pray together in trust that God is with you even in this challenging season.

     


    CRCNA Testimonies

    Faith Alive Church in Yakima, Washington, was exploring their options to either close their doors after 50 years or to creatively restart their church. They’re now partnering with a Reformed Church in America congregation led by Pastor Frank Meneses to launch a second site in their church building that’ll be an English-language multicultural community with a large Hispanic demographic. This courageous, Spirit-led move reflects (1) an acknowledgment that if they continued down the same path, they'd be shutting their doors in a few years, and (2) a willingness to partner with a pastor/community that doesn't look like them.

    South Holland, Illinois, used to be a place where many Dutch residents of Chicago migrated when they moved out of the city, so the CRCNA began a Peace CRC there in 1965. Today the demographics of that community have changed. The church decided to close and reopen as Reconciliation Church, with the goal to reflect the growing South Holland African American population. The process of dying and being born again has not been easy for the longtime congregants, nor for the pastor. Yet the restarted church is gaining new people from the neighborhood.