The denomination currently counts nearly 300,000 members in over 1,000 congregations across the United States and Canada, and has its roots in the Dutch Reformed churches in the Netherlands. The church was founded by Gijsbert Haan and Dutch immigrants in the 1857 Secession. CRC churches are predominantly located in areas of Dutch immigrant settlement in North America, including Brookfield, Wisconsin, Western Michigan, Chicago, the city of Lynden in Washington State, British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Alberta, Iowa, suburban southern California, and northern New Jersey. The church has grown more ethnically diverse with some congregations predominantly Native American, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, African-American and Hispanic. All together, Christian Reformed Churches speak around 20 languages and over 170 congregations speak a language other than English or Dutch. Many churches, particularly in more urban areas, are becoming much more integrated. Emerging from its role as primarily an immigrant church, the church has become more outward focused in recent years.
The CRC subscribes to the Ecumenical Creeds, including the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. The church also uses the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort. In 1986, the CRC formulated a statement of faith entitled "Our World Belongs to God: A Comtemporary Testimony" which addresses issues such as secularism, individualism, and relativism. These issues were seen as "unique challenges of faith presented by the times in which we live" .
The Dutch Reformed churches have a long history of mergers and schisms, and the Christian Reformed Church has not escaped these. The Christian Reformed Church split from the Reformed Church in America in an 1857 Secession, which was in part the result of a theological dispute that originated in the Netherlands. Some other denominations later merged with the CRC, most notably the True Protestant Dutch Reformed Church in 1890. Other churches later split from the CRC, including the Protestant Reformed Church (1924-1926), the Orthodox Christian Reformed Church in 1988, and the United Reformed Churches in North America in 1996.
In the closing decades of the twentieth century, the Synod of the CRC enacted changes that were troubling to the more conservative members of its constituency, especially its 1995 decision to ordain women to ministerial positions. One result of this decision was that the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church broke fraternal relations with the CRC in 1997. The membership of the CRC in the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council, the single largest gathering of conservative Reformed denominations in the United States, was suspended in 1999 and terminated in 2001. This gradual doctrinal shift has spurred more conservative congregations to leave, and a significant number of these have ended up in either the PCA, OPC, or the Orthodox CRC and United Reformed Church mentioned above.
In 2007, the CRC commemorated its sesquicentennial, themed "Grace Through Every Generation: Remembering, Rejoicing, and Rededicating".
The ecclesiastical structure of the church involves three levels of assembly: the church council (local assembly, composed of a congregation's deacons, elders, and ministerial staff), the classis (regional assembly, of which there are 47: 36 in the United States, 12 in Canada, and 1 straddling the international border), and the synod (bi-national assembly.) The church's Synod meets annually in June, with 188 delegates: two ministers and two elders from each classis. Central offices of the church are located in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Burlington, Ontario.
The denomination supports Calvin College as well as Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the denomination's North American headquarters are located. Most ministers ordained in the denomination's churches trained at Calvin Seminary. Other colleges associated with the denomination are Trinity Christian College, Dordt College, Kuyper College, Redeemer University College, The King's University College, and the post-graduate Institute for Christian Studies.
Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church and founder of Willow Creek Association, was raised in the Christian Reformed Church, but left, and was a critic of the CRC's apparent lack of evangelistic focus. In later years, Hybels has softened his stance, noting that the CRC has made progress in evangelism and that many CRC members attend the evangelism conferences hosted by the church he founded. Others, such as novelist Peter De Vries and filmmakers Paul Schrader (Raging Bull, Taxi Driver), Leonard Schrader (Kiss of the Spider Woman) and Patricia Rozema (I've Heard the Mermaids Sing, Mansfield Park) were raised in the church by CRC-member parents and attended denominational schools, but later left that tradition. However, the influence of CRC origin can be detected in their later work, especially the films of Paul Schrader, who has publicly stated that "a religious upbringing... never goes away.