New Church Plant in the Netherlands
New Church Plant in the Netherlands
Baptist Union of the Netherlands
The beginning of Baptist movement in Europe is traced to 1609 when a group of English believers sought refuge in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
The first Dutch Baptist church was planted in 1845 when a German Baptist named Köbner baptized a group of believers together with their leader Johannes Elias Feisser, former Reformed minister. After his baptism Feisser became pastor of the first ‘Church of Baptized Christians’. This took place in a time when the Reformed churches were very rational and Feisser reacted against this rationalism. The goal of pioneering Baptist movement was to offer an answer to spiritual needs of people.
During the 19th century there was a steady growth which resulted in the founding of the Baptist Union of the Netherlands in 1881. In 1912 the Union had 20 churches (1470 members), 50 years later there were 62 churches (8800 members) and now the Baptist Union is comprised of 78 churches with about 11000 members.
Because of a highly secularized society Dutch churches find it rather challenging to attract new members. The research shows that many churches are focused on the ‘inside’ and communicating their faith with the ‘outside’ world comes rather difficult. Therefore a missional church strategy has been developed and its goal is to help the existing churches in doing mission.
During the last five years eight Baptist churches have been planted in the Netherlands. Some are daughter churches that sprout from the mother churches. Others are pioneering in areas where there are no churches. It is challenging task in the secularized culture where strong individualistic mindset prevails. But the Dutch Baptists believe that God can use them in His plans for their nation.
One of the Dutch church planters, Dirk-Jan Horjus from Utrecht has agreed to share his valuable experience in a form of interview.
Interview with church planter Dirk-Jan Horjus from Utrecht, Netherlands
Can you introduce yourself and your congregation?
My name is Dirk Jan, I am 34 year old, married to Marieke and we have two small children. We live in a Christian community which provides natural opportunity to help some young people. Ever since my conversion at the age of 13 my deep desire has been to serve God in full time ministry that eventually motivated me to study theology and concentrate on church planting.
We have been involved in planting a new congregation since about 5 years ago when the Utrecht Baptist Church asked us to initiate a new church in a community that was growing. The present congregation is a warm fellowship that tries to reach out to its neighborhood. Our church is comprised of people who show real dedication and the involvement in ministry.
How did your church plant start?
Our congregation started from the vision of a large existing church. The new work started 4 years ago. The church planting team was then formed from the members of our mother church. The mother church is called the Rank (in Dutch: ‘branch of a wine’) which is led by one pastor, draws about 700 people in attendance on an average Sunday and employs a number of staff.
In the beginning there were 6 people on the core group and about 40-50 volunteers eager to help. Substantial help has come from the mother church. The senior pastor is still coaching me as we meet every week and the other staff are helping occasionally. The youth work is done together, some educational programs, children retreats, camps etc.
Our goal is to create a Christian community where people know each other well. In a small church everybody is naturally more involved while larger congregations often times tend to be anonymous. The dream is that more people come to faith and more churches will be planted in Utrecht and in the Netherlands. We also are open for new ways of being church, not necessarily replicating the traditional model.
There are about 30% of the congregation who joined in the last few years. Some were baptized in our church and others had already been Christians looking for a new fellowship.
What are the biggest blessings in your ministry?
Most rewarding for me is to see the spiritual growth in the church. This can be measured by dedication in mission and ministry. I love to see growth in discipleship and practical love. For example, not long ago a woman died of cancer and our people were helping and caring for the bereaved family. This was very moving…
We also make efforts to influence the immediate community. For example, the church members organize biking tours to visit some interesting historic places which is regular, annual activity. Usually about 250 people from the vicinity join in. Young people do some charity work helping the elderly, cleaning their houses, courtyards. They try to reach out by spotting and appropriately answering the needs.
Another blessing is that there is very good spirit of cooperation between different churches in the area. We enjoy a good deal of trust and regularly meet for prayer. This enables different pastors to preach in congregations of other denominations.
What are the most urgent challenges?
The biggest challenge for us is connecting with people who are un-churched and finding some common ground with them. Non-Christians visit our church only occasionally and building bridges with them is our big task. We often experience something like a ‘holy discontent’ because too few people come to faith in our age.
The other challenge has to do with making the right choices and listening to God. For instance, when someone would like to specialize in one particular aspect of Christian ministry. I have someone in mind who would like to start a Christian day care center. It is important to follow God’s direction.
The lack of our own building is also challenging because there is a lot of work to set up all the equipment every time before services and take it down afterwards. Certainly even this work binds the people together...
What are the most efficient methods of evangelism in your nation?
We have done the Alpha course several times and found it very relevant. Although the unbelievers think that not all questions were answered in Alfa course… Eventually I decided to write a new course based on Tim Keller’s book ‘The reason for God – belief in an age of skepticism’. This attempt has been well received as it stimulates small group discussion about faith including also some issues of apologetics. Most of our people have high education and we need to find methods suiting their needs.
We also tried some methods that failed. For example, we really wanted to do something with the students from the school where we meet but it has not worked. We also did some singing in the neighborhood near to church (a sort of open air service) which was tiresome and not effective. We also distributed Christian leaflets but discovered that most people did not want them. We gave out invitations for special services and even some guests came occasionally but did not stay.
The work with children has been very effective. Three or four times a year we organize special services for children and they draw many people. The children and youth camps are organized together with mother church. The most effective are personal relationships when people invite their friends.
What is the distinctive culture of local people?
The neighborhood is typical average Dutch, most of the people are middle class, well off materially and also well educated. The majority of them are in their thirties with some children. Usually both parents work a lot and have not enough time for their children. Broken and dysfunctional families happen too and we are trying to reach out to them.
Many of our neighbors prefer to stay anonymous and are not very open for starting new relationships. They usually work downtown and even spend free time there. That’s why there is not much social life going on here apart from a few fitness and sport clubs. The typical Dutch perception of Christianity is skepticism and agnosticism. Prevailing attitudes are: individualistic show off and self-assurance, but at the same time precaution for the church which is often viewed as being outdated and currently not relevant. Younger generation may be more open than the older. Probably the reason is that the youth have nearly no knowledge about Christianity.
What are your prayer requests?
Pray that God would show a distinct ministry that would be most accurate for us. Also that God will move in the country and create a hunger for God in the nation. And that people would be ready to pay the cost of ministry. We as the church need the wisdom for the right pace in our growth and decisions. Our dream is to plant another church in future…
Thank you for sharing about your faith, church, blessings, challenges and prayer requests. I’m sure that many Christians around the world will uphold you in their regular prayers.
To help planting reproducing churches!
To help growing healthy churches!
For the glory of God!