The Challenges of Church Growth and Decline

Martin NolandWhen my wife Karla and I were first married, over twenty years ago, I invited her to join me for the banquet at our annual LCMS district pastor’s conference. The food was great, but the banquet speaker was not. His topic was on “church growth,” how the Missouri Synod is in decline, and how if we don’t do something about it—like being more ecumenical, having women elders and lectors, having women pastors, and introducing contemporary worship—we won’t have a church to pass on to our grand kids.

Karla has a lot of common sense and is a good judgment of character. Till that point she had never heard a “church growth” speech. Her evaluation of the banquet on our way home that evening was something like, “Do you pastors have to listen to that sort of speech all the time? I don’t think he really knows what he’s talking about.” I had to agree.

Everyone knows that the number of people who claim to be members of mainline churches in America is suffering a significant decline. Even more significant is the fact that the number of people who claim to be “Evangelical” is enjoying numerical growth. The Pew Research Center Religious Landscape Survey of 2007 found that these two general trends continue to hold true (see Religious Landscape Study, Chapter 1, pp. 17-18 here). The same survey reported that, among American Protestant denominations, the Missouri Synod is now among the top ten in membership and is ranked at #7 overall (see ibid., Chapter 1, p. 16).

More to the point of that banquet speech twenty years ago: How are we Lutherans doing in retaining our children in our churches when they become adults? The same survey reported that the best faiths in the category of retention rate are the Hindus (84%), Jews (76%), Eastern Orthodox (73%), Mormons (70%), and Catholics (68%) (see ibid., Chapter 2, p. 30 here:.). Lutherans are among the top three Protestant Religious groups, when it comes to child-to-adult retention rates, with Baptists at 60%, Adventists at 59%, and Lutherans at 59% (see ibid., Chapter 2, p. 31). I think our LCMS dedication to children’s ministry, with parochial schools, high schools, Sunday School, and catechism class, has a lot to do with that, though I would like to see how we compare to the ELCA on that score.

I think this should put at ease most fears that our grandchildren won’t have a Lutheran church to attend. After all, after twenty years, many of those grandchildren are already attending our churches. 

Still it is true that most congregations are faced with issues that are a result of decline in membership at their place. There are not as many volunteers to staff Sunday School, committees, guilds, and service groups as there used to be. Some congregations are eliminating an extra service on Sunday. Some congregations have had to close their school or form a multi-parish school. Some congregations have to “downsize” their staff. Some congregations have even closed permanently. All congregations are feeling the “pinch” due to the recession.

What should we do about this decline? Blame the preacher? That is the natural response, I think. I have been reading: Durwood Dunn, Cades Cove: The Life and Death of a Southern Appalachian Community 1818-1937 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1988). Chapter 4 is titled “Religion and the Churches,” and it tells the stories of the three congregations that were in Cades Cove, now part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These were a Methodist, Missionary Baptist, and Primitive Baptist church. One of my distant relatives was a vacancy preacher at the latter church before the Civil War, which is how I became interested in these churches.

Dunn points out how the Primitive Baptist congregations had an independent-congregational polity. The tendency was to blame the preacher for any problem in the congregation; and the solution to that problem was always to fire the poor guy and find a new one. Since the preachers were illiterate, held other jobs, and were rarely paid, finding another illiterate guy who already had a paying job was not that difficult. Not surprisingly, with this sort of system, few preachers had a long tenure. Not surprisingly, the real root problems in the church and community were never addressed. Not surprisingly, Cades Cove and its churches remained a living stereotype of backwards illiterate “hillbillies” until the National Park service bought up the properties in 1937.

What should we do about decline, where it exists in our congregations? Blame the lay leaders? That doesn’t do any good either. Pastors and lay leaders need to face their problems together. Our pastors who have an M.Div. degree–even the guys straight out of the seminary–have lots of knowledge that is useful to a congregation, not just about theology and the Bible. All our pastors have practical classes not only in worship and preaching, but also in evangelism, counseling, religious education, missions, administration, organizational management, and religious pluralism. They have also been taught how to analyze community situations in order to determine the best ways to minister and deliver the Gospel.

Lay leaders have the advantage of knowing “the lay of the land” in a community. They have connections to community leaders and organizations. They know who is the best person or company to turn to for help or contracts. They know how communication actually works locally; and how the religious history of the community affects the work of their congregation. In addition to these critical matters of local wisdom, lay leaders also bring their talents and strengths to bear through volunteer service, work on boards, as officers, etc.

We don’t need to “be more ecumenical, have women elders and lectors, have women pastors, and introduce contemporary worship” in order to hold our own, or even grow. Compared to our fellow Protestants we are already holding our own, and in fact, passing up other mainline churches in total membership! Could we be doing better? Of course.

I think the biggest improvements that we could make at the present time is for: 1) pastors and lay leaders to stop blaming each other for problems in their congregation, and start working together on them; 2) congregations stop being so independent, or even hostile, to their fellow LCMS Lutherans, and start working together for their common good. An outward-focused congregation that works together to serve its own members, as well as non-members in the community, will always survive the hard-times and grow in the good times, because that is the sort of congregation that most people want to join.


Comments

The Challenges of Church Growth and Decline — 139 Comments

  1. Big Boy :@ Tim Klinkenberg
    Be happy to, Tim. I’ll call you next week.
    But, you should be able to answer the question right here. How about a good old fashioned confession that demanding the removal of a Pastor as you did is sinful, and you repent.

    This is off-topic. Regardless of the practices of the “mega-church” pastors in the LCMS to conspire with each other via email to compose a complaint to the President and Council of Presidents in response to Pr. Wilken’s Facebook post, there was already a thread for that topic elsewhere. Furthermore, there was nothing in that ridiculous letter suggesting that anyone remove a pastor.

  2. As an avid (or rabid) anti-church growther, I think there are a few things that need to be said. The statistics in the LCMS should be an indication to all of us that 40 years of CG have been a failure. That hasn’t stopped the CG purveyors from practicing their quackery, however. Witness this LCMS website:

    http://www.redofitness.org/

    On the other hand, no matter what you want to call it, we need to look at our churches/congregations with “church growth eyes,” to quote one CG guru. If you want to call it something else, be my guest. How about “Welcoming Attitudes.” Whatever…

    There are any number of barriers to “growth” or “influence” or whatever you’d like to call it. A few examples:

    1. Physical impediments. How about clutter? What could be more uninviting than a church building that is filled with clutter? A cluttered narthex (narthecies?) is an offense. As are hallways used as storage areas for SS materials, Christmas pageant costumes, unused chairs and desks, etc. How about handicapped accessibility? We may as well face it–that’s a big issue. How about poorly lit and maintained restrooms? Or poor how about poor navigation/signage? When one visits a church on Sunday, and can’t find the Bible Class (as happened to a member of our district’s “Visitors”), there’s something wrong. How’s the parking? Is the exterior of the church clutter-free and welcoming? I’m not saying that the physical plant is a means of grace, but physical impediments can sure act to “quench” the Holy Spirit! I’ve read at least two dozen TCN prescriptions, and no matter what you think of TCN, this is almost always one of the “Concerns” they express. Starting in the parking lot, walk into your church building this week with your clip-board and start your list.

    2. Treatment of visitors. There’s enough material here for a master’s thesis, but you-all know what I’m talking about. Are we greeting the visitors, or ignoring them? How about confusing worship? (I don’t mean lack of screens, either.) Nothing about worship should be taken for granted or left to the imagination. Is the communion policy clearly delineated? I could go on, but you get the message.

    3. Pastor-teacher (refer to Eph 4:11). How’s your preaching, pastors? Are you proclaiming the Gospel or do you present it as information along with a “to-do” list? “Jesus died for you, so get to work” is not preaching. In the past year, I’ve had occasion to hear sermons/devotions by 10 different pastors. More than half of them barely mentioned the Gospel except as information, but were heavy on things we should be doing, such as trust, obey, rejoice, don’t worry, teamwork, and wait (that’s right–wait!). It’s hard to avoid the impression that the Gospel’s power is ignored, misunderstood, or discounted. One can get those sermons at Saddleback. How about your teaching, pastors? That’s in your job description, also, and it is just as important as preaching. Whether it’s confirmation class or Bible Class or any other class, do you “open scriptures concerning Jesus Christ” (see Luke 24:27 & 45) in your teaching as well as your preaching?

    OK, I’ve had my say. I know that the Holy Spirit works faith when and where he pleases, but why not facilitate His work, rather than inhibiting it? I’ll sit by my computer and wait for the incoming with my flak jacket on.

  3. Joe Strieter, I don’t understand your comment. Are you saying that cleaning up your church, being efficient, and being nice to people is an impediment to the Holy Spirit?

  4. Miguel :My observation is that we’re willing to teach them our correct views in catechism, but we treat these views as if they’re not really that important…

    That is also my observation, that we teach the children one “flavor” of Christianity, so carefully avoiding any criticism of false teachings in other “flavors” that our children are confirmed in the Catechism, but have been led to think they’ve chosen one option among many equally acceptable options.

    And we wonder why they leave?

  5. @Ted Crandall #3
    Pastor Crandall,

    I agree with you that we-

    ‘so carefully avoiding any criticism of false teachings in other “flavors” that our children are confirmed in the Catechism, but have been led to think they’ve chosen one option among many equally acceptable options’.

    This is so true. In a Bible Class I attend my pastor is very reluctant to constructively criticize other Christian denominations. I know he doesn’t want to hurt the feelings of people who either weren’t brought up in the Lutheran faith or have relatives in other ‘flavors’. If this attitude is carried too far, our people begin to think we are all the same. Are pastors taught this at the seminaries? I remember hearing Pastor Klemet Preus talking on Issues,Etc. last year and he said something to the effect that ‘we aren’t to criticize, but I disregard this because false doctrine must be challenged immediately when it is heard’.

    In Christ,
    Diane

  6. @Diane #5

    “Pastor Klemet Preus talking on Issues,Etc. last year and he said something to the effect that ‘we aren’t to criticize,”

    Was that the series on Evangelists? If so, he may be right in a certain context that it is not productive to criticize, e.g., a born and bred Roman Catholic on whom the evangelist is working might not criticize Mariolatry right away. Not that I’ve read a lot of Klemet Preus but I would be surprised if he were to say we should never criticize false theology.

  7. Hi R.D.

    I think I should have paraphrased better what Pastor Preus said. It was on Issues, Etc. The Task of an Evangelist, Part 4, June 11, 2013. His comment went something like this,

    ‘We’re told not to criticize, but I think we should disregard that. False doctrine should be challenged immediately’. He was saying that we should counter false teachings as soon as we hear them.

    I’m sorry if I wasn’t as clear as I should have been.

    In Christ,
    Diane

  8. @Joe Strieter #4
    Your #3 seems ok, so I don’t think you need the flack jacket, but based on your answer to Tim I have to ask: are you saying that cleaning up your church, being efficient, and being nice to people is a means through which “as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God”? Are you saying that we can make MORE disciples through a combination of cleaning up our churches, being efficient, and being nice to people AND Word and Sacrament ministry, than we can through God’s Word and Sacraments alone? (If so, that’s synergism.) Faithful Christians will do the things you suggest out of love, bait -n- switch CG-ers will do them out of “coup counting” or avarice, but it’s still and always the wrong question, and the wrong focus.

    If folks want to collect demographic data for kingdom of the left purposes (planning a budget, deciding if you can afford a new roof etc.) or even to decide how many (liturgical) Divine Services need to be scheduled weekly to reach our Lord’s sheep w/ His means of grace, well and good. Crunch the numbers w/ a clean conscience, but Jesus never plays the numbers game. Read John 6 to see our Lord’s total disregard for numbers. Cults grow through the means our CG proponents are pushing; the Bride of Christ grows through the means of grace, when and where it pleases God.

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  9. @Joe Strieter #1
    My main problem here is with the phrase “The statistics in the LCMS should be an indication to all of us that 40 years of CG have been a failure.”

    If (God willing) the next 40 years can be characterized as 40 years of Confessional Lutheranism, and that period ends w/ us a tiny despised Church body, marginalized by society, and mocked by those who have gone w/ the flow; (or if 40 years of faithful witness leads us to a place where our seminaries have been closed by the thought police, our leaders are being jailed, and the faithful remnant of the laity are losing our jobs) there will be folks saying: “The statistics in the LCMS should be an indication to all of us that 40 years of Confessional Lutheranism have been a failure.” How would we answer this hypothetical criticism? We need to be absolutely consistent saying statistics have uses, but they can never be used as a means to judge the effectiveness of the Church.

  10. Aren’t we talking about two different things?

    1.  Saving faith – the work of the Holy Ghost.

    2.  Participation and membership in our particular local congregation (as opposed to other local Christian churches) – keep the parking lot shovelled.

    Our local churches and schools have a lot to offer and I agree with Mr Strieter that it’s OK to make them inviting.

  11. @John Rixe #10
    From my perspective we are John, but that’s certainly not universal in today’s LC-MS. (Do you remember SP K ‘s ABLAZE talk w/ the “every time I snap my fingers another soul goes to hell” quote? (Then stop snapping your fingers!!!)

    I’m glad to hear that you consider these two different things. Now for the big question: “which of these two different things is properly the concern of the Church Militant?” Are we called to beef up the membership in our particular local congregations, or to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” ? You cannot serve God and mammon John.

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  12. @John Rixe #10
    “Our local churches and schools have a lot to offer and I agree with Mr Strieter that it’s OK to make them inviting.”

    Two word on this: I honestly believe that Churches where the focus is on Jesus Christ in Word and Sacrament will be “inviting,” because Jesus Christ in Word and Sacrament changes everything. That being said, lots of cults and heterodox sects make their churches appear “inviting” through deceptive advertising. For me this is a “roots vs. fruits” issue. People want grapes, and congregations that are a part of the true vine produce them. The answer isn’t get a bunch of clothes pins and attach grapes to the pine trees, but focus on those things that attach us ever more firmly to the true vine, our Lord Jesus Christ. Focus on the “roots” and you get it all; focus on the “fruits” and you get bait -n- switch hypocrisy and enthusiasm.

  13. Obviously making disciples.   Are the two mutually exclusive?

    On another topic, Matt, did you catch the good acquisition news from ULC last week?  buildulc.org

  14. @John Rixe #13

    @Matt Mills #12

    Matt, I don’t think that anyone suggested “pinning grapes to pine trees” but only that good housekeeping would demonstrate the members respect for their place of worship (for themselves as well as others, I might add).

    John, thanks for the buildulc.org link! As is my habit with links, I wandered on from there and read of an absolutely beautiful church just built in Wisconsin, using salvageable components of an old building and impressive new art in the interior. Thanks for that, too!

  15. @Matt Mills #9

    My comment re: the numbers was a reflection only on the failure of Church Growth.

    My other comments were directed at just plain common sense good stewardship. A dirty, messy, confusing building, parishoners who ignore visitors, and sermons preached a la Rick Warren (Gospel as information) are hardly conducive to reception of the Word. Please note that I did not neglect faithful preaching of the Word, nor did I say anything about “growing the church.” I did not say that it’s all about growth at all, except to criticize CG. I visited a Lutheran church several years ago, which physically was an embarrassment: Dirt, rust, clutter, cobwebs, poor lighting, and very confusing traffic flow. The preaching was adequate, but I wouldn’t go back there. If I had been an unchurched person, my first impression of Christianity would have been pretty lousy.

    I think you’re picking at nits. I could infer that you seem to be implying that it doesn’t matter if the church building is dirty and cluttered, if the grounds are unkempt, and the pastor preaches a la Rick Warren. I don’t believe that you think those things DON’T matter. You’ve read all sorts of things into my post that are simply not there. My reference to “Church Growth eyes” was not in any way intended to imply measuring numbers or playing the CG game. It’s simply good advice from the CG people that a confessional church can employ, while shunning the CG methodology.

    And even if the Pastor does preach faithfully, a poorly maintained building and unfriendly congregation do not enhance the hearing of God’s Word.

  16. Let me add to your list, Joe; a preacher/sound system which can be heard. I like the proper lighting comment, that is important. If I can’t see the words on the page how shall I sing the songs of praise? Joe has good ideas about making God’s House beautiful (i.e. clean and user-friendly), however all of this without sound doctrine and practice are useless. @Joe Strieter #2

  17. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    Thanks for all your comments, in spite of the occasional tangents. You regular commenters have gotten better about staying on subject.

    I agree with Joe Strieter here: @Joe Strieter #2

    There is nothing wrong, and in fact much good, that comes from attending to the various details of the church as an institution. If there was something wrong with this, then there was something wrong when our Lutheran forefathers attended to things such as: proper accounting, audits, budgets, endowments, financial and institutional planning, erection and maintenance of buildings, maintenance of church grounds and cemeteries, church constitutions and bylaws, church records of official acts, orderly meetings and elections, public relations, etc.

    As useful as all these things are–and they do reflect the care that church members have for each other and for God’s work on earth through visible means–even more important is the treatment of visitors, which is Mr. Strieter’s point #2.

    This is really part of “outreach” into the community and it needs to be done consciously by laymen. The pastor is too busy trying to field complaints and requests before and after the service from his own members to do this effectively. Assigning a group of greeters (i.e., “handshakers”) is fine, but you really need people who are dedicated to the task of searching out visitors and engaging them in conversation. You also need someone to write a personal follow-up letter to visitors and welcome them back. People will not come back to your church if they are not welcomed in these ways.

    Even more important than greeting visitors is congregational “outreach,” in whatever way that works for you, so long as you are not changing Lutheran doctrine or Lutheran practice in order to “please the crowds.” But if you invite visitors to church, and then no one spends time talking to them before or after the service, you rarely “reap what you sow” in outreach.

    My second-biggest complaint with the “church growth movement” crowd in the LCMS is that they redefined “evangelism” when they came into positions of leadership. “Evangelism” used to be “person-centric,” i.e., the development of personal relationships between members and non-members. I was involved with Key 73 in my high school days and it worked in concert with Lutheran ideas. “Church growth movement,” which came later in the 1980s, focused on method and statistics, which made it susceptible to modern sales and marketing methods, which pervert the Gospel and manipulate people. How can you sell something you are giving away for free?

    My biggest complaint against the “church growth movement” crowd is that they used the pressure of statistics to convince people to abandon, first, Lutheran practices, and then later, Lutheran doctrine. It was a two-step process that led to eliminating Lutheran doctrine and identity and replacing it with generic Evangelical doctrine. What else can you say about those LCMS churches that have dropped “Lutheran” from their name?

    Since Lutheran doctrine is nothing more or less than the full counsel of God in the Scriptures, without deletion, addition, or reintepretation, “church growth movement” is really a three-step process that ends up eliminating Scriptural doctrine.

    We see that process now going into “step three” among Evangelical “church growth movement” advocates and followers like: C. Peter Wagner who teaches that he is a new “apostle,” Rob Bell who is a universalist, and Joel Osteen (along with many others) who teaches “health and wealth” as part of the Gospel.

    A couple of you have talked about the importance of “Word and Sacrament” ministry and the pastor’s work of preaching and teaching—and I would add visiting the sick, shut-ins, official acts, etc. This is, of course, the unique work of the pastor; and nobody but him can do these things.

    But there is also work in the church that laymen can and should be involved with. There are many things that layman can, and should do, in their congregation, their circuit, and if appointed or elected, in district, and synod. The church is a community, not a “service station” where you pick up some gas and drive on.

    CFW Walther talks about the rights, the duties, and the exercise of the rights and duties of laymen in congregations in his classic The Form of a Christian Congregation (CPH English edition of 1963, from 1864 2nd German edition; order here: http://www.cph.org/p-2930-the-true-visible-church-and-the-form-of-a-christian-congregation.aspx ). The chapters include attending to these matters under the headings of: 1) congregational meetings; 2) the Word in the congregation; 3) purity of doctrine and congregational discipline; 4) human care for its members; 5) doing all things decently and in order; 6) seeking to work in harmony with other orthodox Lutheran congregations; 7) assisting with the church’s work-at-large.

    Under chapter 7, Walther includes: section 64–the production and distribution of Scripture, and books with Scriptural exposition and defense (e.g. CPH); section 65–sharing the Gospel with unbelievers, whether near or far, through its own work (e.g., congregational Boards of Evangelism or Outreach and their teams of volunteers); and section 66–sharing the Gospel with unbelievers through joint mission work by means of membership in an orthodox synod (e.g., LCMS Offices of National and International Mission).

    From the evidence in this early “handbook” for laymen, nobody can say that the LCMS has not been concerned about missions and evangelism from its beginnings. The LCMS’ first mission was to native Americans in the region of Saginaw Bay, led by the Franconian colonists in Frankenmuth and surrounding villages. Our history books tell hundreds of stories about our missionaries and evangelists, who were sent to serve all sorts of people, including African-Americans, Hispanics, the Chinese in America, immigrants of all types, and every imaginable foreign mission.

    If you have not visited Saint Louis recently, stop by the International Center during the weekday, office hours. Wave hello to the radio announcer at KFUO, then head to the CHI Museum downstairs. You can’t help but be impressed how our church-body has been focused on outreach in its 160+ year history; and only a fraction of the stories are told in that museum.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  18. Beggar :
    Let me add to your list, Joe; a preacher/sound system which can be heard. I like the proper lighting comment, that is important. If I can’t see the words on the page how shall I sing the songs of praise? Joe has good ideas about making God’s House beautiful (i.e. clean and user-friendly), however all of this without sound doctrine and practice are useless. @Joe Strieter #2

    Thanks, “Beggar.” Your additions are helpful. I believe my comments re: preaching and teaching reflected the necessity of sound doctrine, if not practice, which ought to follow sound doctrine.

  19. @Beggar #17
    Just like they had in the catacombs right? Or like my great grandparents had in their church, because the Holy Spirit of God is shackled like a condemned man on a gurney until we spend enough money on facilities and grounds. (sigh)

    You say “all of this without sound doctrine and practice are useless” which gets you close, but when you add this fluff you’re basically saying that Word and Sacrament ministry PLUS something else creates faith, and that way is 20 miles of bad road.

  20. @Ted Crandall #3
    …our children are confirmed in the Catechism, but have been led to think they’ve chosen one option among many equally acceptable options’.

    Diane :
    Are pastors taught this at the seminaries?

    My class in comparative religions had two texts. One listed nearly every “church” imaginable, and described it in neutral terms. The other was Lutheran and described how each “church” strayed from Scripture. We were taught as Pastor Klemet Preus was taught — and by his father.

  21. QUOTE FOR THE DAY

    Martin R. Noland :My biggest complaint against the “church growth movement” crowd is that they used the pressure of statistics to convince people to abandon, first, Lutheran practices, and then later, Lutheran doctrine.

  22. @Diane

    “Are pastors taught this at the seminaries?”

    — from what I know of St. Louis Seminary, the systematics courses are very keen on instructing about the various heresies, where/when they came from, and why they’re important. The history department speaks to this as well in pretty much every one of their classes. I know it also happens in their world religions class, a class specifically on other christian denominations, as well as a class on theological movements for 4th years. They’re seeping in it as far as i can tell.

    The seminarians i know from there are quick to point out said doctrinal issues, and i’ve seen them be firm about such things without being overbearing.

    that being said,

    In my meandering, it’s only been on here where I’ve heard that church growthers want to drop “Lutheran” from the name. Up till now, I’ve mostly heard confessionals calling for the departure from the name Lutheran. The reason, as they present it, is that the LCMS has the true and orthodox understanding Scripture, to which all others should conform. To be called Lutheran can carry the connotation that Luther is the focus (as opposed to Scripture, or Jesus, etc) and that the title of Lutheran can be juxtaposed with Calvinist, Presbyterian, Zwinglian, etc etc etc. It becomes, by its title alone, one of many sets of theologies that people think may be the right understanding.

    I’m not suggesting the reasoning is right. Just interesting to see how people see different the same thing as helpful or hurtful.

  23. Seems to me as a layperson that concerning ourselves with numbers may perhaps by unnecessary. Shouldn’t our churches simply concern themselves with running services appropriately and allocating funds correctly?

    I am just wondering? Thanks.

  24. Joe Strieter #16 “And even if the Pastor does preach faithfully, a poorly maintained building and unfriendly congregation do not enhance the hearing of God’s Word.”

    If believers hear the whole counsel of God, believe that they are saved by the blood of the Lamb, and receive the blessed Sacrament often, they WILL strive to share the Good News in their daily vocations. This is evangelism. They WILL revere their place of worship and keep it – hopefully without going into million dollar debts to make it “more welcoming.” They WILL NOT be “unfriendly” because they receive the frees gifts of God in that place and are a part of the one holy, Christian and apostolic Church.

    The building and divine services are there for those who come to receive and believe. Changing it for “visitors” is the beginning of a slippery slope. I fear we are being led into the trap of “the Divine Service is for visitors.” At least one confessional pastor I know encourages his flock to invite visitors to the Bible study, but not the worship service. And this only after a layperson has had multiple discussions about their Lord with that guest. I have run this by several other confessional pastors, and while initially surprised, they often reflect on it and end up agreeing with that practice.

  25. Matt Mills :
    @Beggar #17
    You say “all of this without sound doctrine and practice are useless” which gets you close, but when you add this fluff you’re basically saying that Word and Sacrament ministry PLUS something else creates faith, and that way is 20 miles of bad road.

    Spending money on building and grounds is a good work which follows justification. It is simply good stewardship, not adding anything to the means of grace. Or did I miss Jesus’ teachings on stewardship? A welcoming attitude is another such good work. Such things are co-operating with the Holy Spirit. You’re picking at nits.

  26. @quasicelsus #23
    Yes, they are taught it in the classroom in some, but not all classes. As the changing of the guard happens (older profs retire and younger guys step in) this changes and it was already happening when I was there. But more importantly is what is taught outside the classroom. The encouragement and facilitating of small groups, placing of students in church growth steeped congregations for field work, placing vicars in such churches, and so on. So in the classroom, sure they hear about how in theory this is what happened and this is what is wrong. But then they go to a field work church every Sunday where the pastor tells them, “No it can work! Just make it ‘Lutheran’. See, look at our praise band! Look at our small groups!” I think one comes out confused at best with such a bombardment of conflicting teaching. In the end, which teaches you more? One semester on worship with Dr. Brauer (now retired) or three years of every Sunday at St. John in Ellisville?

  27. “Another major duty of a Synod that wants to be and remain an Evangelical Lutheran Synod is that it not seek its own glory, but only the glory of God, being intent not so much on its own growth, but rather on the growth of Christ’s kingdom and the salvation of souls. You see, dear brethren, we are assembled here not for our own sake. We are in the faith, and by this faith we hope to be saved! But there are still many millions who have no faith!  This is why we are here—so that we might bring salvation to as many people as we possibly can, so that the sad situation in Christendom and the corruption of the poor, blind heathen might be remedied. Only for this reason does our gracious God allow Christians to live on earth, that they might bring others to the saving faith. Otherwise God would immediately take a Christian to heaven as soon as he is converted.”  

    CFW Walther
    Essays for the Church
    CPH: 1992
    II:262

    Not concerned with numbers?

  28. @LadyM #25
    Exactly. A focus on the “roots” necessarily produces the “fruits” The Word and Sacraments are effacacious. A short-term, and frankly dishonest focus on “fruits” will only produce the fake wax kind.

    Thank You!

    @Joe Strieter #26
    Spending money on building and grounds, being welcoming etc. are not bad as fruits of salvation, but they are bad as means to the end of “growing our Churches.” Read Lady M above. Why we do things is important Joe, and if I’m picking at nits, so was Walther:

    Thesis XXIII.

    In the nineteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when an attempt is made by means of the demands or the threats or the promises of the Law to induce the unregenerate to put away their sins and engage in good works and thus become godly; on the other hand, when an endeavor is made, by means of the commands of the Law rather than by the admonitions of the Gospel, to urge the regenerate to do good.

    @John Rixe #28
    I’ve asked it of others before w/o getting an answer so I’ll ask you now John, if “through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel” (AC V), how can focusing on those very instruments through which God has promised to create saving faith possibly be seen as assembling for our own sake only? Is there another way to grow Christ’s kingdom or save souls John?

    I’m assuming you’ve already read enough Walther to see how this did and did not play out in his own ministry. (I’m assuming you’ve read him rail against so called Lutherans who dared to use Methodist hymns in Sunday School etc.)

    Still puzzled,
    -Matt Mills

  29. @LadyM #25
    Exactly. A focus on the “roots” necessarily produces the “fruits” The Word and Sacraments are efficacious. A short-term, and frankly dishonest focus on “fruits” will only produce the fake wax kind.

    Thank You!

    @Joe Strieter #26
    Spending money on building and grounds, being welcoming etc. are not bad as fruits of salvation, but they are bad as means to the end of “growing our Churches.” Read Lady M above. Why we do things is important Joe, and if I’m picking at nits, so was Walther:

    Thesis XXIII.

    In the nineteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when an attempt is made by means of the demands or the threats or the promises of the Law to induce the unregenerate to put away their sins and engage in good works and thus become godly; on the other hand, when an endeavor is made, by means of the commands of the Law rather than by the admonitions of the Gospel, to urge the regenerate to do good.

    @John Rixe #28
    I’ve asked it of others before w/o getting an answer so I’ll ask you now John, if “through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel” (AC V), how can focusing on those very instruments through which God has promised to create saving faith possibly be seen as assembling for our own sake only? Is there another way to grow Christ’s kingdom or save souls John?

    I’m assuming you’ve already read enough Walther to see how this did and did not play out in his own ministry. (I’m assuming you’ve read him rail against so called Lutherans who dared to use Methodist hymns in Sunday School etc.)

    Puzzled,
    -Matt Mills

  30. @Matt Mills #30

    I believe everyone around here agrees with your focus on Word and Sacrament as the only instruments of the Holy Spirit to save souls and grow Christ’s kingdom.  Who denies this? 🙂

  31. @Matt Mills #33

    Which one? #28? Response to Dave’s good question regarding whether we should be concerned with numbers. “This is why we are here – so that we might bring salvation to as many people as we possibly can.”

    In our circuit it is a high priority to reach out with invitational opportunities to hear the Word through food banks, parish schools, tracts, summer and after-school programs, etc, and especially personal relationships.

  32. @Matt Mills #29 I wasn’t sure to which post I should reply, but here goes! 🙂 I might add that sometimes spending money on grounds and buildings can actually be sin. Whenever the needy among you suffer while building programs thrive, this is bad. Whenever a congregation becomes so badly indebted to a creditor that it must beg members to contribute beyond their means, this is bad. Whenever the facilities become a point of pride to the pastor or members, this is bad. Whenever a pastor uses building projects to promote himself for district or synodical offices, this is bad. I can probably think of more, but these came to mind.

  33. @John Rixe #34
    bringing salvation to as many people as we possibly can has nothing to do “w/ numbers” because we agree that Word and Sacrament ministry, and not our methodology, are the only instruments of the Holy Spirit to save souls. Bringing salvation to as many people as we possibly can is not about numbers, but about loving sinners for whom Jesus died.

    Like Jesus, we feed the hungry, because they are hungry, not as a bait -n- switch program to save them. Bologna sandwitches are not a means of grace.

    This is my frustration. You say “everyone around here agrees with your focus on Word and Sacrament as the only instruments of the Holy Spirit to save souls and grow Christ’s kingdom” and then you say that your circuit believes teaches and confesses that food banks, parish schools, tracts, summer and after-school programs, etc, are the things that actually make a difference in reaching people. That fails the Sesame St. “one of these things is not like the other” game.

    No time now, I’m not ignoring any answers, but regardless of how many times you say “everyone around here agrees with your focus on Word and Sacrament as the only instruments of the Holy Spirit to save souls and grow Christ’s kingdom” you honestly either don’t understand AC IV, and V, or you disagree w/ it.

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

  34. @Rev. McCall #27

    Considering it’s more than just semester of worship with Dr. Brauer. it’s worship (taught by Kent Burreson, who from what I know is pretty stellar) – systematics 1-4 (4th year being post vicarage formation)

    and classes like “lutheran mind”, the bulk of the history department, the denominations class, the world religions class, the theological movements class, several electives from those departments, not to mention the practical department on how to speak these things…

    3 years (which sounds like 156 sundays) is more realistically at 7 ten-week quarters (as it’s not immediate, and 4th years can float around). That’s about half the time.

    And from what I understand, the students talk about their experiences. With each other, and their professors.

  35. Let us examine two congregations that both preach the Word properly and administer the sacraments purely.

    1. In one congregation visitors are given a friendly greeting by the members, the order of divine service is either printed with the propers or it is explained so it can be followed, the pastor seems interested in what he is doing, the sermon is clear and winsomely presented, the hymns are played at the proper tempo, the congregation is noted for its concern for the people of the community.

    2. At the second congregation, the opposite is true.

    Would it be “synergism” to notice that the Holy Spirit seems to work more efficiently through the Word and Sacrament through the first congregation?

    I once knew a pastor who read his sermons without inflection. His stated reason was that he didn’t want to get in the way of the Word and the Holy Spirit. He obviously didn’t want to be accused of “synergism.”

    Is it synergism to let your light so shine that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven? Someone here actually called it that when a circuit promotes that.

    Is teaching children God’s Word in school, after school, and during the summer synergism? Someone actually called a circuit that promotes those things as being synergistic and not understanding AC IV and V.

    The doctrine of election can be abused and misused.

    Dr. Siegfried Becker once said that anyone who claims to be able to explain election logically is committing a heresy.

    Calling anyone who disagrees with you either a synergist or ignorant is not helpful.

  36. @Matt Mills #36

    You say “everyone around here agrees with your focus on Word and Sacrament as the only instruments of the Holy Spirit to save souls and grow Christ’s kingdom” and then you say that your circuit believes teaches and confesses that food banks, parish schools, tracts, summer and after-school programs, etc, are the things that actually make a difference in reaching people. 

    They make a difference only in providing opportunities for sharing the saving Word.  It’s not complicated.

  37. Richard,

    I understand your comment but an not sure it is helpful or addresses Matt’s point.

    I am a firm believer in parish planning. I think it is good when parishes set goals although I do not think it is necessary. I lead my parish through a goal setting process every few years but I am not sure that it really helps the Holy Spirit.

    I think asking the question you do already shows that you are missing Matt’s point. We cannot say when and where the Holy Spirit is working more effectively. If we could, we could bottle up the Holy Spirit and market the church which is exactly what the Church Growth Movement does.

    This is a hard thing. We need to use our First Article gifts (reason, planning, common sense) but to say that they make the Holy Spirit more effective is just not kosher.

  38. @Richard Lewer #38
    Would it be “synergism” to notice that the Holy Spirit seems to work more efficiently through the Word and Sacrament through the first congregation?
    It’s a hypothetical, but yes, because you’ve said the means of grace are equally present in both places, and something in addition to the means of grace is making the difference.

    Is it synergism to let your light so shine that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven?
    No, but it would be synergism to say that the Holy Spirit works more efficiently in places where people were letting their light so shine.

    Is teaching children God’s Word in school, after school, and during the summer synergism?
    No that’s Catechesis (but teaching them that Jimmy the squirrel is going to bring them to Jesus’ magic tree house probably is synergism.)

    In general, I think you’re mixing up cause and effect, and it matters a lot.

    I’m off to pack for my son’s college graduation (not pouting).
    Have a good week!

    -Matt Mills

  39. @LadyM #25

    Perhaps you misunderstood what I wrote. I will admit that I used the word “inhibit” with reference to the Holy Spirit’s work. I was wrong. But no place–repeat NO PLACE did I talk about “growing the church” by means of maintaining the property and welcoming visitors. What I said was/is that such things are good works–stewardship, if you will–that flow from justification. I said that not to maintain the building/grounds, and having an unwelcoming persona are barriers to the reception of God’s Word. I doubt that you and Matt Mills are not concerend how your facility appears or how visitors are treated, but that could be inferred from your comments. I gave the example of the church where the facility was tacky at best: certainly not conducive to hearing–the mess was a distraction and a turn-off. It’s fine to say that believers WILL do the things I mentioned, but it doesn’t always happen.

    NO place did I say to CHANGE the Divine Service for visitors. The building is a different matter–quite often the building could be made more visitor-friendly. In my use of the “church growth eyes” term, I offered a substitute. NO PLACE did I endorse CG–my use of the term was either dismissive or sarcastic (the “statistics” comment).

  40. @John Rixe #39

    The Holy Spirit works more effectively wherever the saving Word is actually shared.   “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

  41. @Matt Mills #30
    You said (to me):

    “Spending money on building and grounds, being welcoming etc. are not bad as fruits of salvation, but they are bad as means to the end of “growing our Churches.” Read Lady M above. Why we do things is important Joe, and if I’m picking at nits, so was Walther:

    Thesis XXIII.

    In the nineteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when an attempt is made by means of the demands or the threats or the promises of the Law to induce the unregenerate to put away their sins and engage in good works and thus become godly; on the other hand, when an endeavor is made, by means of the commands of the Law rather than by the admonitions of the Gospel, to urge the regenerate to do good.”

    Where did I say that we should do any of the things Walther enumerates? As I said to LadyM above, I was wrong to use the word “inhibit” with reference to the Holy Spirit’s work. But NO PLACE did I say that any of my recommendations “GROW” the church. If you don’t like the term “church growth eyes,” fer cryin’ out loud, change it. I’m open to your suggestions. But please don’t put words in my mouth (or text).

  42. @Rev. McCall #42

    A good construction would be concerning the topic at hand of speaking against heresies, particularly in what makes Lutheran “Lutheran” and knowing that there are multiple people in the departments that can (and do) speak on the topic in ways that I have confidence would please the readers here.

  43. @quasicelsus #46
    There are some. There are also some who fall short of that. Perhaps it may suffice to say that I don’t think church growth is quashed or spoken out against nearly as much as you profess. Look up who used to be in charge of all fieldwork assignments and almost all first year required P-101 classes for incoming seminarians and then look at what he is still doing now with church growth and then tell me how against church growth the seminary is. 🙁

  44. Rev. McCall :
    @quasicelsus #46
    There are many. There are also many who fall short of that. Perhaps it may be suffice to say that I don’t think church growth is quashed or spoken out against nearly as much as you profess.

    That’s the thing, I don’t think I’m saying what I’m hearing you say I’m saying.

    I’m sure there are church growthers in CSL faculty. What I’m saying, concerning the issue of Lutherans being taught Lutheran things (particularly that which distinguishes Lutherans from other denominations – and why they matter) are extensively taught in numerous classes and across departments.

    This does not imply that it’s fixed, fine, immune, etc etc. I would be implying that there’s a lot of confessional instruction and communication in AMOUNT compared to field ed mishaps and vicarage. I would be implying that there’s other influential factors going on as well. I would speculate that if the faculty was replaced by every pastor on the right-hand bar of this site, there would still be CG within the seminarians.

  45. @Matt Mills #41
    @Matt Mills #36
    @Matt Mills #33
    etc., etc.

    As always, Mr. Mills, I admire the surgical precision and sharpness with which you stick to whichever Theological topic you are currently addressing, and ignore red herrings and rabbit trails.

    Your readers would do well to understand that exactly this is what you are doing; that whatever you say, in other words, you say with reference to what you are talking about, and not with reference to something completely different – or even to something somewhat related, and yet not quite the same.

    Generally I do think that it would be a good idea for everybody to read pretty much everything under the assumption that a statement says what it says, and not something else – except that there are cases, of course, where a such assumption would stretch the limits for what “the best construction” can bear, either due to poor writing, or because the thoughts someone is trying to express are not themselves very well thought through, or not very organised, or simply do not make any sense, and never could, no matter how well articulated. I have never, however, seen any comments bearing your name that would fit that description.

    With regards to your comments specifically, I always find, and do so also in this case, that when read with this basic common-courtesy-and-common-sense-understanding in mind that a statement says what it says, with reference to the topic which it addresses, one will see that what you say is really not all that difficult to comprehend, as some seem to think, nor nearly as outrageous.

    I am, of course, aware of the irony of stating all this in a comment which, though formally addressed to you, might actually, on second thought, primarily be intended to make a point for the benefit of others. Be that as it may; there we are, and there it is.

  46. @Joe Strieter #43
    What do you mean when you wrote: “I said that not to maintain the building/grounds, and having an unwelcoming persona are barriers to the reception of God’s Word.”? Because it reads a lot like the word “inhibit” which you’ve already retracted.

    Neither of us like the way the CG folks “Change the Divine Service for visitors.” I think their music is bad, and their liturgical innovations are lame, but the real problem is that they think that their own programs either enhance or inhibit the Holy Spirit of God’s work in Word and Sacrament. Most theological disagreements come down to AC IV.

    Both of us like having a nice church, and value having a nice church, but we are just as wrong as the CG folks if we start thinking that our human works of love help the Holy Spirit, or that our lack of those human works (or money perhaps) are “barriers to the reception of God’s Word.”

    People are gathered to God through the Word and Sacraments in ghettos, concentration camps, and the LC-MS church I attended a few years ago that was basically a double-wide trailer, and there are folks going to hell in beautiful cathedrals. You need to get your mind around “when and where God wills” and resist the urge to “help.” By grace through faith period.

    Pax Christi+,
    -Matt Mills

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