Who we are

The Protestant Church in the Netherlands is the largest protestant church in the Netherlands in terms of membership.

It is the continuation of three former churches, the Netherlands Reformed Church, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and it has existed as of May 1st, 2004.

A Protestant congregation can be found in nearly every city, town and village in the Netherlands. These local churches are faith-based communities of people who are united by their belief in Jesus Christ.

The Protestant Church in the Netherlands has 1.85 million members, making it one of the largest religious denominations in the Netherlands, with nearly 1600 local congregations and over 2200 ministers. About 600 of the Protestant ministers are pastoral workers in care facilities, at prisons and judicial authorities, and in the armed forces.

Brief history

The Protestant Church in the Netherlands is the result of the unification of three churches. The history of this unification process goes back to the early 1960s.

The Netherlands Reformed Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church emerged from the Reformation in the Netherlands in the 16th century and since then have existed side by side with each other.

The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands were created in 1892 by the merger of two groups of congregations which came into being as a result of schisms in the Netherlands Reformed Church: the Secession in 1834 and the so-called ‘Doleantie’ in 1886.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church had been an independent Church from the very beginning of the Reformation. In political and societal life the Lutheran church had been discriminated against for centuries. Like other dissenters (Mennonites, Arminians) they did not enjoy equal rights with the established Reformed church until the end of the 18th century.

The Netherlands Reformed Church and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands have grown closer together, especially since the Second World War. In 1961 nine ministers of each church gave further impetus to a ‘Together On the Way’ process, by jointly publishing the declaration of ‘The Eighteen’. Since then, the synods of both churches have sought rapprochement step by step. In 1986 they announced that they were ‘in a process of reunification’. From that year the Evangelical Lutheran Church was also involved in the process of unification.

So, in June 2003 the formal decision to unite could be taken in first reading, and again the minor assemblies were given a final opportunity to react.

The final decision on church unification was taken in separate synod meetings in three different churches in Utrecht, on 12th December 2003. An impressive joint service of thanksgiving and prayer was held in the historical Dom church of Utrecht the same evening. The united church became a fact as from 1st May 2004.

Membership of the Council for World Mission is part of the legacy of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands within the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. It is a legacy that is now part of the unified church and embraced wholeheartedly. Membership of the Council for World Mission offers a network of churches engaged in mission and in ecumenical sharing of resources. The Protestant Church in the Netherlands is very aware of her own position as mainline church in an increasingly secular country. Working together in the worldwide body of Christ is encouraging and support the missionary challenges we are facing in the Netherlands.

Mission programmes/ministries of the Church & where we are going

The Protestant Church in the Netherlands wants to make clear that there is ‘more’ than what occurs in daily life, ‘more than our possibilities and impossibilities, more than the dull repetition of moves’. This is the key-note of the vision memorandum ‘The heartbeat of life’.

The heartbeat of life

Through four topics the church wants to make clear that there is ‘more’:

  • Through content: ‘On the day of resurrection’: religious discussion, faith intensification; initiation in religion, missionary courses.
  • Through form: ‘Two or three in Jesus’ name’: new forms of being congregation; new forms of liturgy.
  • In society: ‘Political body’: diaconate; church as alternative society: ethics
  • With other churches: ‘Together with all saints’: migrant-churches; old and new ecumenism

 The concept vision memorandum starts with experiences with the present church for which the time of self-evidence has passed once and for all. Many people – also within the church – have doubts about the future of the church. It is about discovering the church again as what was Jesus talking about: people gathered in his name, in the belief that He himself is in their midst as the Living One.

 Church 2025

The main topic of the Protestant Church at the moment is focusing on the future. In the policy paper “Church 2025 – Where there’s a Word, there’s a way,” he outlines his vision on the future of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. It’s a subject on the agenda of every meeting of the general synod. In February 2015, the Protestant Church even held a public survey of church members to ask them about their opinion on the future. Around 18,000  people participated.

 When Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, He instructed them not to take anything unnecessary along with them. No money, no extra tunic, just a pair of sandals for the journey
(Mark 6:7-9).

Nowadays, Jesus’ words ‘just sandals for the journey’ take on a new relevance. As a Protestant church, we have become heavily laden. Along the way, we have acquired and achieved things that have influenced our way of following Jesus’ path, and on that path we have experienced much of God’s goodness. At the same time, we feel that the journey has become more and more difficult. It’s as if we have become trapped in our own church culture. Many see us as a governing church. How can we step forward onto the lighter path on which Jesus once sent his disciples? That is the challenge that this policy paper seeks to address. (Introduction policy paper Church 2025)

Pioneering

Pioneering has become a familiar term within the Protestant Church. For the past eight years the Protestant Church has supported pioneering, in the hope that more people will discover the value of the gospel. And in the hope that pioneering will be a fresh source of inspiration for existing local parishes.

The first generation of pioneering places started in areas where no church existed, such as in large new housing developments. In 2014, a qualitative research was undertaken into four first generation pioneering places, in order to learn future lessons.

The research identified two important conclusions:

  1. Sunday celebrations take an essential position in these pioneering places. However, these Sunday celebrations turn out to have less ‘missionary potential’ than weekday activities, but to (Christian) volunteers and peripheral church attenders, these celebrations certainly matter.
  2. Financially and organisationally it is not feasible to have a church grow towards independence within three years. More time and lighter concepts of church are needed.

At the end of 2012, the synod of the Protestant Church decided to establish another one hundred pioneering places. Thus, creating room for a second generation of pioneering places. The first step was nationwide, in thirty places from Goes to Scheemda, to hold special days to identify support and potential for pioneering.

New expressions of being church often result in embracing dozens of people rather than hundreds. This is why a paid minister for every pioneering place is unaffordable. Enthusiastic volunteers are increasingly playing a larger role in the pioneering. And so, over the years, we grow in our learning. As we look at these developments, we see a development from classic church planting towards contextual and ‘lighter’ working methods.

The aim of the Protestant Church was to have started up some one hundred new pioneering places by the end of 2016.

Council for World Mission

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