Small Town Church with Big Heart for their Community
Bethany Christian Reformed Church in Fenwick, Ontario is learning a new way of reaching out through a Community Opportunity Scan.
Bethany Christian Reformed Church is a small church among the greenhouses, farms and orchards of Fenwick, Ont. Like many churches in the small towns of Ontario, Bethany has a congregation that faithfully attends each Sunday. New folks occasionally appear, but are usually guests of members or they attend another CRC elsewhere. It’s a rare occurrence for new people from the community itself — with no prior connection to the church — to attend.
For those who regularly go to church, this might not pose a problem. Starting conversations with new people can be difficult, not to mention uncomfortable and awkward. Oftentimes it’s simply easier to continue going through the motions, even if the church isn’t growing. Yet membership in the CRCNA denomination as a whole has been on a steady decline since its peak in 1992.
This decline is one of the reasons that Joyce DeRoo, one of the two Ministry Coordinators at Bethany, began to ask questions.
Turning Over a New Leaf
“Our church is good at looking after each other with compassion,” DeRoo says, “but somewhat reluctant to stretch themselves into the community.”
This sentiment is what motivated her to attend a New Leaf Network event with Mary Bokma, her fellow Ministry Coordinator, in the fall of 2019. New Leaf Network is an organization that “supports and equips church planters, spiritual entrepreneurs and missional practitioners in post-Christian Canada.” This support comes through training, events and specialized coaching.
The event that DeRoo and Bokma attended, hosted at Trinity CRC in St. Catharines, was a seminar on how to find new ways to connect with those who have disassociated themselves from church or who haven’t been introduced to the Gospel.
“The event was uplifting,” reflects DeRoo. “But it left us wondering how we could get to know our small town.”
At the event, DeRoo heard about Community Opportunity Scans from a representative from Diaconal Ministries Canada who was also in attendance. DeRoo forwarded this new info on to Bethany’s deacons. After a quick phone call and an initial meeting with Diaconal Ministries, the church soon embarked on their own Community Opportunity Scan – otherwise known as a COS.
Starting the Scan
“We started with a prayer walk,” says DeRoo. This walk was the very first one that Bethany had ever done as a church. “It created a bond between those of us who walked and gave us a better view of Fenwick.”
This initial walk is an important way to ground the church community with the broader local community — all while connecting with God and listening to the prodding of the Holy Spirit. After the walk, DeRoo and the Community Opportunity Scan (COS) Team started talking with some local businesses and area pastors.
“We got a big map of our target area and marked where our church members lived,” says DeRoo. “Then, we asked each member to visit with their neighbours.” This next step, which for most can mean stepping out of their comfort zone, involves going door-to-door to discover what existing assets their community has, where there are gaps, and most importantly, where God might already be at work. From there, the church can discern what role they can play as they walk alongside their community.
Unfortunately, that’s as far as Bethany got before Canada entered a lock-down due to COVID-19.
“COVID-19 has really thrown a monkey wrench into how we wanted things to go,” says Steven VanLochem, deacon and COS Team Leader. “We didn’t think this was God’s plan for us. In the meantime, we trust that the Lord is in control and we’ll wait to see where He brings us.”
The Greatest Commandment
This whole process has opened my eyes to a new way of reaching the community. We’re here to work and walk alongside people, and join in their projects. It’s not about getting ‘them’ into our church, it’s about ‘us’ being a part of their lives.Joyce DeRoo, Ministry Coordinator at Bethany CRC
Even though a worldwide pandemic has put the COS process on pause, there’s still hope among Bethany’s congregation.
DeRoo puts it best: “This whole process, which is still ongoing, has opened my eyes to a new way of reaching the community. We’re here to work and walk alongside people, and join in their projects. It’s not about getting ‘them’ into our church, it’s about ‘us’ being a part of their lives.”
Seeing work commonly thought of as “deacon’s work” being shared amongst the congregation is at the heart of the COS process. This new way of doing ministry at Bethany is due in large part to the partnership that has developed with Diaconal Ministries over the last 12 years; through a NewGround partnership (formerly Operation Manna) in 2010 and various deacon training events. Diaconal Ministries’ staff have continually stressed the role of deacons as leaders and equippers in their congregations – not doing the work for their church, but WITH – both inside and outside their four walls.
“This is a new approach to community involvement and one that some are still unsure about,” DeRoo admits. “But for those of us involved so far, it’s an eye-opener to God’s plan to love our neighbour.”
There’s no shortage of enthusiasm to get to know the community amongst the members of Bethany Church, and with a COS on the go, they look forward to seeing what will happen next!
Is Your Church Ready for a COS?
- Is your church longing to create awareness of local issues?
- Are you ready to engage in community partnerships?
- Have you considered evaluating your existing programs and their effectiveness?
- Are you excited to begin new initiatives?
There’s a lot more involved in a Community Opportunity Scan — far more than the first steps in this story. Find out how your church can start one at diaconalministries.com/community-opportunity-scan or give us a call at (800) 730-3490 x4304.
(Feature Image: Summer Day Camp at Bethany CRC, 2019)