I Hope It is Not an Epidemic – Mission Church Replaces Divine Service with Small Groups, by Pr. Rossow

An LCMS mission church in Norfolk, Virginia is replacing its church service with small groups. I will give the details below but first I want to share that I have had a helpful and fraternal e-mail exchange with the pastor. He has shed some helpful light on the issue but it still is a problematic matter.

Here are the details from their website:



Crossway is growing smaller!  Not getting smaller, but growing smaller!

As many of you know, this past October we were dealt with the fact that our church space at 401 Granby was no longer a safe environment for us to have a church.  After our third flood, the leadership team of the church came together and decided to make an exciting and fundamental change on how Crossway will do ministry in Norfolk.

The vision is twofold:  The first is that we need to maintain a presence downtown.  The second is that we will spend our time/energy/gifts on creating and multiplying small groups – so much so that we will not be having weekly Sunday evening worship anymore.  We will now have a celebratory worship service 4 times a year: Christmas, Easter, Spring, and Fall.

To continue our presence in downtown Norfolk, we have created a new space which is small, warm, and inviting, and it is literally around the corner from our old location.  We are not planning on having worship services in the space, but using it truly as a ministry hub where people can grab a coffee and a book and have some quiet time, host a small group Bible study or activity, or have a session with our recording studio equipment.  As of Nov 1st, we will continue to have free coffee and wifi and be open Monday through Thursday, 9am to Noon.  Our new address is 102 Freemason Street in Norfolk, VA.

To focus on small groups, we will be dedicating our time and staff to accomplish this goal.  We are currently looking to start up the following small groups in the near future:

  • General Young Adult Small Group
  • TCC Student Small Group
  • Young Adult AA Group
  • Young Homeless/Struggling Group
  • Creative Arts Small Group – Creative Writing
  • Creative Arts Small Group – Music Composition
  • Prayer Group 

This is from Crossway, Norfolk, Virginia a subsidized church/ministry of the Southeastern District of the LCMS. (I guess they are a church since they did have services but they do not identify themselves as a church on their website: http://www.cwnorfolk.com/.) They have a fine statement of belief on their website although it ends up being a bit fundamentalistic since it does not mention the sacraments. That may explain in part why the staff thinks that the Divine Service could be foregone for small group meetings.

The pastor, Rev. Timothy Utton, did assure me that this was a temporary solution. That is encouraging. He also said this was not an ideal situation and that he encourages all those reached at Crossway to attend weekly worship at another area church that he serves.

I encouraged him to reconsider this approach and return to a once a week liturgy for Crossway. He took my advice fraternally in the spirit that it was offered. One of the concerns I shared with Pastor Utton is that it is logically problematic to do this. There is to me a built in bait and switch. I have discerned this from of old, back when Willow Creek liked to claim that the showy, pop-culture oriented Sunday service was for seekers and that after a while they would be encouraged to attend the deeper Wednesday night service. I attended the “deeper” Wednesday night service and it was still very much oriented to entertainment and pop culture. (For that reason I like to call it “the ‘ol’ bait and bait.”) Willow Creek has admitted through the years that they have always struggled to move people from the Sunday service to the Wednesday service. Even if they did, it is still a bait and switch. I am convinced the church will be better served for the ages if we never bait but simply offer the richness of the 2,000 year old liturgy to people from the get go. Of course there will be one on one conversations and the like but the church needs to be anchored around the Divine Service. The church has survived all these generations without a bait and switch. What makes us think it is necessary now.

If I had one word of critique for the press release above it would be the sloppy use of the word ministry. Ministry is done primarily through the means of grace in the Divine Service. When a church says it is going to do “ministry” in another way I think it has lost its moorings. Is “ministry” bigger than the Divine Service? Yes it is. Is the Divine Service the anchor of our ministry? Yes it is.

I have other issues with small groups theory and practice, primary of which is that they are built around a relational model instead of a proclamation model. The Gospel forgives my sin whether I relate to it or not. As a matter of fact, that is the Gospel. I really don’t relate to it. I relate to the seductive words Satan spoke to Eve. But thanks be to God, there is no condemnation for Eve and me because the Holy Spirit has worked faith in me and he did so before I was even capable of a relationship – on the eighth day of my life. God proclaimed me his child.

Speaking of “relationships,” I think it is high time we take Dr. Norman Nagel’s advice and ban the word from our vocabulary. This would help us do away with small groups because they are based on the “relationship model.” Dr. Nagel said the “relationship” is a fiction. There is no third thing called a relationship between you and me. There is you and there is me. There are your actions and there are mine. Don’t work on your fictitious “relationship.” If there is a problem between you and me, identify the bad behaviour and change it. But I digress. We have only just begun to scratch the surface of the small group issue. There is much more to come and much more “splaining” to do.

Thanks to Dr. Meyer from the St. Louis Seminary for encouragement to be more fraternal. My e-mail exchange with Pastor Utton was very helpful. I fear we may end up disagreeing. I shall not give up the quest to maintain the historic practices of the church that are faithful to Scripture and have preserved the church all these years. May God have mercy on His church.

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