Just where are you teaching them to go? An overall question for pastoral and churchly practices.
Last night we had public examination of catechumens in the congregation I serve. The catechumens confessed the faith in good fashion. One of the questions that I asked had to do with having to move away from our area and go somewhere else (for college, work, family, etc.). I asked “what would you look for in a church if you had to move?”
Their answer was related to the preaching, teaching, and administration of the sacraments. They also have been taught the value of the liturgy and the Divine Service. They understood the value of the Divine Service in faithfully delivering the goods of God. Sad to say in our divided LCMS, the answer could not just be “a congregation of the LCMS”.
I remember a friend who once related to me the story of visiting an LCMS “Mega-Church”. When they discussed membership with the Administrative Pastor this friend asked “When people leave your church and move elsewhere, what kind of churches do they end up in?” The answer was honest: “Usually a non-denominational church”.
Just where are your church practices teaching people to go?
This relates to a lot of things in the parish. If the parish is set up as a house of busyness and activity, the moving parishioner will look for the busiest place to move to. If the church has taught its’ members that worship is chiefly the sacrificial act of the worshipper, then the moving parishioner will look for something similar. If the church models itself after the latest and greatest fads, the parishioner will look for the same (in that case it may happen within the same town when the church doesn’t keep up). If the church is about the atmosphere of emotional reactions (sensuality in its finest sense, which Paul warns us against following), guess what kind of church they will go to? If your church is all about the style of worship you have (extremes of CoWo or High Mass) then you may be teaching them to go non-denom or some form of “orthodoxy”. If your church is all about small groups, they will go to the church with the small groups. If you have taught them that doctrine is not of the chief importance, but rather some form of reduced Gospel with “more” and “less” important parts all really subordinate to matters of worship or activities, then they will not care much about the teachings of where they move (for a proper order of things, see Acts 2:42).
We live in a mobile society. Of the 12 children in my congregation who will be confirmed this weekend, many will not stay in our area to remain church members here. All kinds of situations will cause them to go elsewhere. The question for me has been: “Where have I been teaching them to go?”
This question should be included in every parish pastor’s considerations, but it’s even more important to consider in those “transient” church settings like campus ministries, chaplaincies, and our Concordias.