Tuesday, May 3, 2016
The Church of the Nazarene in Amersfoort, Netherlands, has responded creatively to the good “problem” of growing too large for its original church meeting place: Last September, the congregation established two additional locations in other parts of the city.
In Trinitarian language, the church is now three-in-one.
Founded nearly 25 years ago, the church had reached a membership of about 300. The high school theater where they met had seats for just 150, so they moved to two services. But it still felt crowded, with little space for newcomers.
“People felt lost in their own church,” says Pastor Karel Muller (photo left).
Although they explored the idea of finding or building a larger worship center, it proved to be financially difficult.
“The church board invested much in communication with the congregation. We paid attention to the ideas and plans in the meetings on Sunday, organised several special meetings on other days and held digital surveys,” he said.
The congregation made the innovative decision to move into three separate locations, not only giving them more space, but expanding their reach in the city. By having smaller congregations in each location, they believe it may be easier for people to participate and know many of the other regular attenders.
Three in one
“We believe in small churches and in this time of the culture we think that community building in churches is more important than growing bigger and bigger,” said Gerrie Huizenga, who now leads the location that is called City Church. “And discipleship, we can do it best when we know each other.”
According to Huizenga (photo left), it’s not strictly church planting, as the church doesn’t see the three locations as three separate churches, just three different worship spaces that meet simultaneously.
The South location, with about 70 to 80 people, meets at the church’s original location, led by Erik Smit. The group in the north of Amersfoort is called Link, with about 100 people on Sunday mornings led by Muller. City Church, with 70 to 80 regular attenders, meets in another Protestant church building, which was willing to share their space.
Each group is developing a distinct flavor, as they assess the needs of people in those immediate neighborhoods.
The Link church is exploring new forms of worship that they hope will speak to spiritual seekers, or to gradually attract the uninterested partners and children of those who are already attending.
City church offers a service shaped more like a small group or Bible study, as participants sit in a circle and interact with one another as part of the service. They recently opened a special room that all the church members across the city can use for meetings, study, pastoral activities, having coffee and so on. They also expect to begin deploying into community social action in partnership and service with organizations already active in the urban center, which is populated by more people in material need.
The staff see themselves not only responsible for their respective group, but to the whole. Muller preaches in all three locations, and for special occasions they gather as one group to worship. The youth, ages 12 to 18, also have their own service once a month, organized by Monique Kalkman, the church’s youth worker.
Change is hard
Nearly six months since the new approach began, the church is assessing how the process has gone and is reflecting on what they’ve learned.
“We’re trying to do our best to be one church with three,” said Huizenga. “It’s not a problem, but it’s a struggle how to do it.”
The three pastors meet weekly to stay close as a team, sharing and offering help to one another. Yet, they and the church board have been challenged in finding their way in somewhat altered roles, Muller said.
Attenders have struggled with a sense of loss, mainly because in choosing a new location in which to worship, some have been separated from friends who committed to a different location.
“One side is that you become smaller, you become more of a family again, you know who’s there,” said Jacqueline van der Korput (photo left), who has attended since 2000, and served as a worship leader for many years. “The negative is that you miss your friends. That’s what I keep hearing. I miss my friends, but I think it is very good. When you stick together and you organize for yourself, that can just swallow you, and you are busy with the church and you forget there are people out there who need Jesus, they need attention, our love.”
As a result of the new locations with smaller numbers, there are new members.
“To divide is to multiply and that’s what’s happening already.”
One man from a non-Christian background had never gone to church because he suffered from an anxiety disorder. Yet, the smaller, more informal setting at one of the new locations gave him the courage to begin attending regularly.
Another couple from a non-Christian background heard about one of the new locations from others in their neighborhood. They had been eager to learn more about faith in God, and have joined that Nazarene community.
The congregations are still trying to determine what style and forms they will adopt for worship and outreach.
Digna van Geest, who has attended the church for 15 years, chose to worship at the Link church because it is closest to where she lives. She said the transition has been positive, but the group is still trying to determine what their vision is and how they will be involved in the community.
When Link evaluated themselves, they realized that there were two very different visions among the group. Yet, van Geest said, the overall attitude among the group is to stay committed and continue communicating with one another, despite potential conflicts or disagreements.
Muller said that because the church and the leadership were united in the change, it has held them together through the transition and resulting challenges.
“When things are not like you wish or your way, everybody is willing to try new things and even if it’s always not what you specificially want, it’s not [as if] with one hurdle everybody runs away,” said van Geest.