Maarten Atsma of the Protestant Church of the Netherlands (PKN) recently spearheaded a research project “Pioneering: State of Affairs”, focusing on the impact of pioneering on social cohesion and religious development.

Shortly after PKN was established in 2004, it reached out to groups of people who do not feel connected to the church or to the Christian faith. The first pioneering spots emerged, with the support of Protestant congregations which bore the hope that the spots would contribute to church renewal as a whole. As of early 2020, the number of pioneering spots which have started or are in preparation have increased.

The goal of pioneering spots is to be developed into self-supporting congregations, and this project’s researchers spoke to people from pioneering spots to understand what pioneering means concretely in people’s lives. Most of the respondents have had to deal with personal crises, and these turning points played a role in their encounter with the pioneering spot, which functioned as a safety net for people who were socially or psychologically isolated in one way or another.

Majority of those surveyed had some form of Christian background, and around half said that their faith has changed after their involvement with the pioneering spot. This deepening and growth of personal faith was mostly attributed to the contrast to regular congregations, as well as the interactive methods used to engage participants to actively make sense of religion.

The conclusions of the research were that pioneering spots met the goal of reaching churchless people and non-practising members of the church; it is difficult to attract participants who have not encountered the Christian tradition at some point in their lives; and pioneering spots are important to the participants’ sense of social belonging and religious development with new and deeper relations formed.