Reformed Group Network – a plan to connect small groups
The new RCUS website was designed to attract inquiries from;
a) existing churches exploring their denominational options, and
b) those seeking to plant a new Reformed work in their community.
Within the first week after the launch, inquiries began to come in. While some were from group “a”, most were group “b”, – typically a small group in a rural area, that wants to be a Reformed work, but may not easily grow big enough, fast enough to have a full-time pastor and building. Currently, we and every other Reformed denomination have been passing them by.
There is a better way, and it’s as old as our church here in the U.S. At the 2022 RCUS Synod, a decision was made to embark on a plan to gather in all those seeking to unite with the Reformed Church.
The founder of our church in America, John Philip Boehm, rode thousands of miles on horseback planting Reformed works from Pennsylvania to the Carolinas. It often took years for those groups to get a second visit, but many endured for generations. Over the years, he would dutifully hit the road, traversing thousands of miles to preach, baptize, marry, bury, and administer sacraments.
Synod proposes to replicate that church-planting program, assisted by the great advances made in travel and technology since Boehm’s day.
Essentially, the idea is that we make space in the RCUS for a network of home mission works that are, quite literally, “home” missions. This program would challenge four assumptions common among denominations today;
- Prospective church plant groups must have numerical and financial strength at the outset, or they cannot affiliate and come under oversight. They are, for all intents and purposes, ecclesiastical orphans.
- A church plant prospect must also evidence the means and opportunity for growth in both of those metrics,
- Church plants are expensive, requiring the denomination or sponsoring church to fund all or part of the cost of a church planter minister, facility, advertising, etc.
- “Home churches” are only for those seeking to escape accountability, and cannot be a model for those actually seeking accountability.
Synod proposes to bring such Reformed groups under care, connect them to an existing RCUS congregation [“Sponsoring Church”] where their membership would reside, set up a quarterly visitation by their RCUS pastor for communion and baptisms, etc., as well as to build strong RCUS relationships through online worship services and Bible studies, Heidelberg and family camps, etc. In time, the mother church would supervise the ordaining of elders and, if they outgrow the home group model, find a building and organize as a traditional congregation. Many, due to location and gifts, will never be more than a home-based satellite church group – and under this model, that is fine – but some will grow.
We have no doubt there are many groups out there that would be attracted to such an arrangement.
By being members of an existing congregation, these small-group folk would have accountability, and fellowship opportunities. They could support RCUS missions and be part of something bigger and real.
Instead of investing money in buildings and mission pastors up front, we grow seedlings and when one takes off, we build on that.
This is a completely different model from what any denomination is doing, to our knowledge, but there are lots and lots of self-supporting Reformed home groups and Bible studies out there to work with.
How would it work:
When the Welcoming Committee encountered a group of Reformed believers looking for denomination affiliation, yet not of sufficient numerical of financial strength to immediately put on the path of calling a pastor, finding facilities, etc., the group would be referred to our Reformed Group Network (Synod created this as a sub-committee of the Welcoming Committee.)
The Home Group
Ideally, a home group would be 3-7 families desirous of the stability, structure and mutual submission inherent in ecclesiastical fellowship with the Reformed Church. These people would become members of the RCUS by uniting their Home Group with an existing RCUS Sponsoring congregation. They would join us in supporting our ministries and missions, in time growing closer and closer.
This Home Group will often recognize that given the demographics of their location, they may never grow into a self-sustaining church congregation, with their own local pastor and building – and that’s OK. They should still have the opportunity to find a home in the Reformed Church.
A typical Sunday service might consist of gathering together to participate in their Sponsoring Church’s live-streamed service. Age-appropriate online Sunday School classes would be offered denomination-wide (this is a big project, but the committee is already at work ). Offerings would support local costs, expected to be small, with a portion of the balance supporting the sponsoring church ministry and guidelines, local and denominational ministries, with a portion to support the Reformed Group Network. The latter would be used to administer, prepare materials for, underwrite travel costs, and especially prepare those Home Groups that are candidates to become Home Mission congregations. Once a Home Group formally becomes an RCUS Home Mission, it would leave the singular oversight of its Home Group Sponsoring church and subsequently relate to classis directly, as do existing HM works. It would also no longer participate in the directed offerings, but make financial decisions on its own.
The Sponsoring Church
Not every local church will be cut out to sponsor one or more Home Groups. To qualify, there are at least five essential qualities we should look for:
- Zeal for home missions. This is by far the most important. Unless the local church has a vision to grow the Reformed Church and spread the gospel here in our land, they should focus on finding something they are zealous about. Maybe it is training pastors, diaconal ministry, their local pro-life CPC, or foreign missions. That may well be how the Lord chooses to use them, and that is good and proper. We are talking here about those churches particularly eager to advance the Reformed faith in the U.S.
- Financial ability. A church in debt, or chronically short of funds should not become a Sponsoring congregation. There are times a Home Group may need financial help, (although it is more likely their giving will actually outpace the costs over time).
- Strength in numbers. A church that is too small is not likely to have enough participation in a joint online women’s Bible study, for example, or other group-building activities. Also, the consistory may be too small to deal with long-distance spiritual and diaconal needs. [This is probably the least important, if the smaller church’s commitment level is high.]
- Technically proficient. A sponsoring church should have a well-produced online service. A multi-camera set-up (preferred but not essential] can easily be managed through a laptop or iPad, enabling announcements, Scripture reading and words to hymns to be displayed on screen, while breaking up the monotony of a single, unchanging shot of the pastor for an entire sermon (or the entire service, for that matter). We have a number of people in the RCUS who know how to get a local church up to speed, so this is more about being willing than being tech-savvy.
- A charitable spirit. The RCUS has a unique shared culture that can be quite demanding to those coming from a different background. A Sponsoring Church must understand that new adherents need gentle discipleship in areas where Reformed polity and practice may be lacking. Building the church is an endurance race, not a sprint.
. The Reformed Group Network
The RGN should be thought of as a communications and support network to;
- Link RCUS Home Groups with Sponsoring Churches, and
- Link RCUS Home Groups with one another, to share tips, news and anecdotal information.
- Manage RGN social media communications to share news and recruit new Home Groups.
- Administer the Home Group Fund to help Home Groups grow, and periodically fund travel to classes and synod, as well as RGN communications.
- Produce the weekly online children’s Sunday School lessons
- Produce Catechism classes should the number of Home Groups exceed the number of Sponsoring Churches.
- Sponsor women’s missionary groups and Bible study opportunities and events. (Some of these would benefit existing congregations, as well.
- Enfold youth in Heidelberg camp and mission opportunities through groups like the Reformed Mission Services.
There do not appear to be any RCUS constitutional impediments to a local church having satellite groups. Indeed, many of our home mission works have begun this way. Through geo-targeted ads, we could concentrate our outreach in areas near potential Sponsoring Churches. We may even find there is an economy of scale to a Sponsoring Church having numerous satellites. In time, a Sponsoring Church could add an associate pastor primarily working with and visiting the satellite groups.
The RGN should be a ministry of the willing and able.
- Has anyone else done this? How is this different from the “multi-campus” satellite approach of mega-churches?
This is different in almost every way. We would be primarily focused first, on home groups that are not expected to outgrow the home setting, and second, on growing the others into separate self-sustaining congregations with their own pastor and elders.
- Why this, and why now?
This model is uniquely suited to the RCUS because many of those contacting us are in rural areas that, demographically, may not support a self-sustaining congregation. Modern technology enables us to provide a bridge to uniting these small groups with the Reformed Church in doctrine, polity and practice. We already have several churches that would be candidates as Sponsors. And yes, in time some of these small groups will become candidates as home mission works.
- How soon could a Reformed Home Group Network be launched?
The goal is to launch sometime in 2023. Your committee is already working, but we need help. If you are interested in being a part of this new ministry, simply send an email to info@RCUS.org and let us know.
Growing the RCUS, Part 3