“They’ve had an encounter with Christ, but they don’t know what it means for them.”
This is how Pastor Jim Dykstra describes new believers at The River Church, a fifteen-year-old church plant in Allegan, Michigan.
“Allegan has a lot of issues in the community with drug and alcohol abuse,” notes Dykstra. “A lot of people have been struggling with these issues for years.”
Addiction recovery often includes engineering a turnaround for personal finances, as well. This challenge is compounded at The River Church by several women whose husbands aren’t believers or belong to other churches.
“How far do we prod them in giving to our ministry when their husbands may not be supportive?” asks Dykstra.
Since peeling back the layers to these complicated issues isn’t easy, church leaders are careful to frame discipleship around real-life issues. “We’ve been doing a lot of work in this area and helping people to look at their faith in practical ways,” says Dykstra.
This includes: Grace Walk, a biblically-based course for treating addictions; Marriage Strong, a course to disciple couples in their marriages; and an Alpha class for faith formation.
“We’ve even developed our own second-level Alpha course that is far more intensive,” adds Dykstra. “We’ve had 20 people go through both levels.”
Additionally, close to a quarter of the church has taken MoneyLife Personal Finance Study, an online course from Crown Financial Ministries.(Currently, this study is available at no cost to Christian Reformed congregations through the denomination’s Financial Shalom Project.)
“Right now, I’m teaching lessons on a weekly basis to a small group,” says Dykstra. “Folks are pretty open and honest. They ask each other, ‘So, how are you doing with this?’”
Linking faith-talk to money-talk takes courage, but there’s evidence it’s making a difference. The church’s annual operating budget has gone from $30,000 to $89,000 in four years.
“We’ve done a lot of work on our facilities too,” adds Dykstra. “Between volunteer hours and donated labor, we’ve put another $100,000 into our building.”
Objectives for The River Church going forward are clear. “Leaders would like to see worship numbers trending up,” remarks Dykstra. “They also want to add more leaders to share ministry responsibilities.”
However, they know these goals will be met only by staying true to the work already in progress – making disciples who are fully formed in their living and giving.
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