Moving Our Church Forward

Fort Miller Reformed Church Consistory

Our Committee Members

Jan Peterson, elder Laurie Flanders, deacon 
Allan Rice, elder Priscilla Sanderspree, deacon
  Randi Sheffer, deacon
Congregation: Committee Secretary:
Tina deJong Mac Sanders
Jim Rowland  
 Madison Squires  

“Faith is confidence in what we hope for and
assurance about what we do not see.”
Hebrews 11.1 (NIV)        

Where have we been?

The FMRC has been in decline since 2014, the year our long-time pastor Reverend and Mrs. Charles Bailey retired.  While we have maintained a faithful Sunday worship service, other important parts of our church life have either declined or gone away.  Average Sunday worship attendance has shrunk by 2/3 and offerings by 1/3.  We no longer have a Sunday School or youth group.  Our women’s group, the Vereengheit Circle, has, at least temporarily, suspended its regular meetings and holding our long-standing, community-wide suppers.  Our church consistories since 2014 have focused on maintaining regular Sunday worship services with guest ministers and speakers (very important), but they have not taken on the crucial task of thinking about what actions are necessary to try to insure the long-term survival of our church.  As a result, we have no vision for our future and, most importantly, no action plan to try to insure it.  Since we do not have an installed minister, we have been under the supervision of the Schenectady Classis, the local governing arm of the Reformed Church in America.  Our supervisors monitor the actions that we take and the decisions we make to be certain that they comply with the RCA’s Book of Church Order, doing things “decently and good order.”  But there has not been any emphasis from our classis supervisors to focus on our future; that’s the consistory’s (our) responsibility, we need to take the initiative.  We are still dealing with issues that continue to divide us, taking the focus away from thinking about and dealing with our future.  Lastly, we are still feeling the effects of the Covid pandemic meaning some people not returning to in-person worship.

This past fall we formed a committee of consistory and congregation members and tasked it to set a vision for the future of our church and, most importantly, develop an action plan to put us on the path to start to attain this vision and long-term viability.  That brings us where we are currently.

Where are we now?

We have become too internally-focused, seemingly satisfied having guest speakers and watching as our church declines and our programs close or wither.  We have not tried to systematically connect with the new people in the community around our church and give them a reason or an incentive to join us.  This insular mindset has to change or else we will close at some point.  We need to get better, become more relevant.

As a way to start us down this path, we have chosen to use the Fresh Expressions program as the model to start to provide this external focus.  The Church of England started this program about 20 years ago.  This program brings the CoE to where people gather, such as their work place, much as the early church did, and hold some form of a church service there.  This program has now been brought to the US.  The RCA and the Christian Reformed Churches are supporting and using it.  From the RCA Website:

“Church Multiplication Teams from the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Reformed Church in America have signed a contract with an international ministry called Fresh Expressions to help them move forward in a newly-imagined North America church-planting initiative.

In this effort, existing churches will be encouraged to open themselves to help foster, support and expand ministries that can take various forms in the communities and neighborhoods in which they are located.”

Now, we certainly are not intending to plant new churches.  We are trying to connect with new people and have them join us.  The Fresh Expressions program has a Website listing programs and ideas to help established churches connect with new people.  That’s what we’re using, those ideas for new ways to connect with people and then modify and apply these ideas to our specific situation around Fort Miller. 

Before we implement any new program, we ask ourselves 3 questions:

  1. Is the program externally focused enough and does it have a reasonable expectation of connecting with the people around us?
  2. Do we believe that some people participating in these programs will eventually “associate” with our church and hopefully become members?
  3. Is the program doable with existing resources, money and people or do we need more of either one or more of both?  (The key issue is – Are our members willing to commit the time and effort to do these programs?  The issue is people, not necessarily money as we have funds in a dedicated building fund and savings to do these programs.)

Here’s how we assess where we are now.

Our strengths:

Our weaknesses:

Our opportunities:

Our Threat:

With no actions to try to insure our future, we remain on the path to close our church.  The question is the timing.  (We are committed to never getting to the point to face this eventuality.  We’ll do everything possible to maintain our covenant with the preceding 7 generations to keep our church open, viable and witnessing.)

What’s our plan of action for 2022?

  1. Continue to be a witnessing, all-welcoming church.
  2. Implement our version of the Fresh Expressions program.
  3. Continue participation in the Albany Synod Mediation Program to get rid of this lingering division.
  4. Start our pastor search by the mid 2nd quarter.

Here are our 2022 projects and a preliminary budget to begin to connect with the people around us.

Project                                                        Estimated Cost
Chapel on the riverbank (site preparation, pulpit platform, electrical, PA system, maybe)                                                      $ 2,500.
Communications with community (“Red Flag” marketing program materials, eg church brochure)                  1,000.
Summer community event (eg, strawberry social)                500.
200th Birthday Celebration (programs, momentos)            1,500.
The future of our Moving Our Church Forward committee

We will continue to meet through out 2022 and beyond to evaluate how our programs are working and make any changes necessary.  We will likely be adding programs as we gain experience and see our results and have a pastor. The limiting factor, at least in the near term, is people.  Do we have a sufficient number of people who will commit to making these programs work?  That’s the question.  If not, we’ll prioritize and continue to move forward.  Continued complacency is not an option.  We are all trying to make our church better and more relevant as we move into our 3rd century.

The Committee