Found on the Internet: Burying A Church

My Northern Illinois District brother Hans Fiene posted this on his blog today. It’s called “Burying A Church.” I sympathize with the anonymous writer of this blog post.

I serve a small congregation (average weekly Divine Service attendance is 50ish) in a small town (population 3,063). Like the brother in the blog post, I don’t do many baptisms. I’ve been blessed to have a run of adult confirmands and a few youth confirmands. I do my share of funerals, too. When I look at my flock from the pulpit each week, I see mostly people over the age of 60, dare I say perhaps closer to over 70. I’m blessed to have my share of “seasoned citizens” who are still physically active. Remind me to tell you about my 89-year-old member who was on his hands and knees laying laminate flooring in our parsonage back in June while I was laid up with a bad back and leg!

At any rate, many congregations in the Missouri Synod are perhaps where this brother’s congregation is right now. There are few young people present who are able to take up the mantle of leadership, either as an officer of the congregation or as someone willing to help. There are few children in Sunday School and Youth Confirmation instruction (two of my three children ARE the Sunday School at my congregation). Many of my sheep pine for the “good ol’ days” when chairs were set up in the nave to accommodate an overflow crowd for Divine Service. Those days of the 1970s through the mid-1990s are over.

Do I see myself as burying my congregation? I don’t know. I see myself as a preacher serving a congregation in a unique situation. I hope this brother pastor sees himself in the same way. He is privileged to proclaim the Gospel no matter how large or small his flock. As the hymn, “Built on the Rock” confesses: “Were we but two His name to tell, Yet He would deign with us to dwell/ With all His grace and His favor” (LSB 645:3).

My concern (and I hope the anonymous brother pastor shares this concern) is the need for support for small, aging, yes, dying congregations. I appreciate the need for a Rural and Small Town Task Force in the Missouri Synod and wish I could go to Storm Lake, IA to hear what they have to say. Yet I fear that some of our districts focus so much time and effort on the large, growing, affluent congregations that they forget (wittingly or unwittingly) about brothers like the one who wrote this blog post. There are hurting congregations and hurting pastors who would like to hear from their district and synod that they matter just as much as the thriving congregations matter.

Toward the end of the post, the anonymous pastor writes:

Perhaps I should pray, “Lord, grant the congregation repentance and spiritual renewal.  And grant me to preach Your Word rightly, so that I don’t act as if our salvation is in our own hands.  And if it pleases You, let the congregation continue to proclaim Your Word and Your mercy to the next generation.”

I’ll pray for your flock and for you. I hope you will do the same for me, dear brother.

About Pastor David Juhl

The Reverend David Michael Juhl was born June 1, 1972 in Du Quoin, IL. He was born from above by water and the Holy Spirit on June 18, 1972 at Bethel Lutheran Church, Du Quoin, IL. He was confirmed on March 23, 1986 at Bethel congregation. He attended Du Quoin public schools, graduating from Du Quoin High School in 1990. He attended John A. Logan Junior College, Carterville, IL, and Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL, graduating with the Bachelor of Arts in Radio and Television in 1994. Before attending seminary, Pastor Juhl was a radio disc jockey, working for WDQN Radio in Du Quoin, IL and volunteering at WSIU/WUSI/WVSI Radio in Carbondale, IL while a student at SIU. Pastor Juhl is a 2002 graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN. He served his vicarage at Faith Lutheran Church, Tullahoma, TN. His first charge after graduation was Trinity Lutheran Church, Iuka, IL, where he was ordained and installed on July 7, 2002. He served Trinity until March 4, 2007, when he accepted the Divine Call to serve Our Savior Lutheran Church, Momence, IL. Pastor Juhl is married to the former Rebecca Warmuth since October 3, 2003. They have one daughter, Catherine, born September 3, 2004, and two sons, Matthew, born October 11, 2008, and Christopher, born August 12, 2010.

Comments

Found on the Internet: Burying A Church — 38 Comments

  1. Very interesting articles.

    We have been visiting Confessional Lutheran Churches for the past 10 months or so, as we moved from one place 4 hours away and are now close by the LCMS Mecca. We have recognized these same things from all 6, 5 being in Missouri. Many folks over 55, very few under.

    I am not about to generalize, but I will speak on my own behalf and what I have observed in my own family. If my wife and I do not expect much from our children, in ways of behavior, learning, training and discipline, they do not do well in any environment. When we settle matters in our home that are well ordered and work towards a training for now and the future, things go better for them. “Training them in the way they should go” is so very underrated in the church today, let alone the world. Most kids know a lot about video games and how to self-serve, and not much required of them on any ethical standpoint.

    How can we expect the church to be anything else that what we have trained it to be. I am wondering if most of the folks that are 55 or older were given training in the home when they were growing up that has everything to do with why they are and where they are now. Should there not be an emphasis on training our children to be leaders, strong disciplined leaders with integrity and wisdom. Lazy Leaders do not train followers, let alone leaders. Pastors and lay-members need to be exhorted to be pro-active and disciplined in their own lives and to teach their young to follow their leaders in the Way.
    This is part of our vocation, and I fail everyday at this.

    If we parents worked hard and spent our resources on our children to be integral leaders as much as we do other things like sports, music, etc, or worse letting them to themselves, we would only be loving them and doing our good work assigned to us in our vocations. I realize that most parents may not have the skills to do so, but it seems so many in the church that are over 55 do have them. They could teach us!

    I realize that this may be only a part of the issue, but I am sure it is no small part.

  2. @Graham #1
    You say “How can we expect the church to be anything else that what we have trained it to be. I am wondering if most of the folks that are 55 or older were given training in the home when they were growing up that has everything to do with why they are and where they are now. Should there not be an emphasis on training our children to be leaders, strong disciplined leaders with integrity and wisdom. Lazy Leaders do not train followers, let alone leaders. Pastors and lay-members need to be exhorted to be pro-active and disciplined in their own lives and to teach their young to follow their leaders in the Way.
    This is part of our vocation, and I fail everyday at this. ” and your point is well taken.

    I would point out that in my lifetime, I have experienced what I can only charecterize as a deliberate dumbing down of laity and their children within our church body, by many of the more liberal leaning Pastors. I’m 47 and was in my formative years, so to speak, during the Seminex tradgedy. My friends, siblings and myself were alloed (and dare I say encouraged) to be confirmed while remaining virtually uncatechized. I watched as a youth leader and then as a parent while the children in the congrgations I belonged to were catechized less and less. I didn’t even have the tools to recognize what was going on for what it was. I just had a general sense of misgiving about the direction thigs were going. Sadly, most of my contemporaries didn’t even have that. After moving to a strongly confessional congregation, I received a big eye-opener. and have been working hard ever since to become more educated in our church’s doctrine, practice and history. Thankfully, my children have been well catechized.

    I believe (based soley on my personal experience FWIW) that in the years leading up to, and following, the liberal Pastors who remained in our synod took advantage of a layity left shocked, dazed and confused by the aftermath of Seminex, and began to simply stop teaching sound doctrine, and to hijack the church’s practice in a general effort to weaken the latity so they would be disarmed in coming fights over doctrine and practice. I don’t mean to say that there was a coordinated conspriacy; just a recognition among them, within their circles, of what was happening, and a deliberate effort to just go with it. The result is a layity who has accepted the liberal changes because they didn’t see any harm in them, and now it’s the status quo, or have moved to more liberal denominations where they can get what they want, better, faster and cheaper, so to speak, The rest have either dropped out or moved on. Now only their parents remain, and our congregations, particularly in conservative rural areas, grow older and smaller.

  3. Many parishes are like human beings in that they have
    a life-cycle. Some of our rural and small urban parishes
    have reached 90 or 100 years of existence. It is sad,
    yet like men and women who reach 90 or 100 year old
    their future existence is limited. Planting new parishes
    is the challenge facing the LCMS. When weekly worship
    attendance gets to be around 30 or lower, it might be
    time for a “church burial” or looking for another parish
    to make a “dual parish” situation. The Lord can open
    doors for new missions and we need to have good
    vision to see them.

  4. @Dave Likeness #7
    Many of our rural parishes were planted in locations well suited to their purpose 100 + years ago – right in the middle of farm country, some distance from town on a two lane county highway, a half mile minimum from homes and farms. They serviced a primarily agricultural community encompassing about a five mile radius. Look at the country schools of the last century and the changes now in consolidation. If my area is typical of others, the land was peppered with several small family farms at its height, probably around the 40’s and 50’s through the 60’s or so. However, for a whole host of reasons those family farms began to disappear. Larger corporate type operations took their place. Folks moved closer to the city, or began to build up a thousand cul de sacs that populated the new ‘sub-divisions’ on the outer edges of established metro areas. Depending on circumstances, these rural parishes can transition into parishes that serve a wider variety of people, many willing to drive some distance. However, convenience frequently dictates choice and driving 10 miles or more into the country just doesn’t suit a lot of our younger families.

    As President Harrison has noted, it’s time to plant new churches. I think that this call is not to plant churches radically different from their predecessors, but to find locations better suited to the changed demographic. As I’ve told people about my church, I wouldn’t plant it where it’s at if we were starting over now. I would move it closer to the edge of town, no less than a mile or two from the center, if possible. Same liturgy, same message, different place.

  5. My congregation is similar, a lot of older people and not enough young people and families in my opinion. I have always thought if we can build around young faithful members and get back some of the young families we could then try to reach outside our walls? Not sure what the answer is.

  6. Every time I open BJS today and see “Burying a Church”, I think of ULCMN, demolished as of this morning. Horrible.

  7. A time to be born, a time to die.

    I do not think we should ever regard a specific church building or location as “forever and ever, Amen” in fact, it is probably time to take a very long, hard look at congregations who are existing only because they have some endowment money, or are existing only because a VERY small few are willing to chip in toward a pastor, or unwilling to drive 30-40 minutes to another more viable congregation.

    A number of multi-point parishes exist due to horse and buggy driving distances, the advent of automobiles and modern roads makes that an inadequate reason to keeping a church open.

    On the other hand, we can not thank God enough for faithful pastors who are willing to serve dual or even triple parishes in order to bring Word and Sacrament to saints few and far between across rural areas. It is a direct correlation to our brave circuit riding pastors who rode horses around to bring the Gospel to people.

    The reality is that The LCMS, *used* to have a hard time comprehending that the VAST majority of our congregations are not suburban large parishes, but are “small” congregations with average worship attendance under 150 in worship on a Sunday morning.

    Pastor Harrison has corrected that unfortunate misunderstanding. The blessings of smaller congregations are truly not to be underestimate. They have, by far, the highest percentage of their members actively involved in the parish.

    The sainted Dr. Barry, a man of great and profound pastoral wisdom often referred to the “St. Louis syndrome.”

    That is, the problem that arises when most of the employees of the International Center attend relatively “large” congregations in the St. Louis area.

    Of course, I always have to chuckle when I hear that “mega churches” as commonly understood in The LCMS are those congregations that have, on average, more than 1,000 members in worship on Sunday.

    Here in St. Louis, the Roman Catholic parishes *routinely* have THOUSANDS in mass on Sunday and five or six masses every Sunday and weekend.

    So, it’s all relative.

    Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word!!

  8. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #12
    Who should take that ‘long hard look’? That is the difficult question. Who would we trust to do this? Who is appropriate to do this?

    Although there is much wisdom in what you write, delegating this task to anyone but the congregations themselves would be open to such severe abuse that it is inconceivable that we would do so. Particularly now, with the dust from the destruction of ULC this morning still in the air.

  9. Carol, unfortunately, I believe that that a congregation that has dwindled down to only a handful, and I mean, a handful of members, is probably not in the best position to determine their viability.

    I served a parish in Iowa that was, at one time, a dual parish, for many years. The “other congregation” was literally a 10-15 minute car drive away from the mother church. In the days of horse and buggy it made perfect sense to have a dual parish.

    They finally merged with the mother church. It was the right decision.

    That’s what I’m talking about.

  10. Rev. Paul T. McCain :
    The reality is that The LCMS, *used* to have a hard time comprehending that the VAST majority of our congregations are not suburban large parishes, but are “small” congregations with average worship attendance under 150 in worship on a Sunday morning.
    Pastor Harrison has corrected that unfortunate misunderstanding. The blessings of smaller congregations are truly not to be underestimate. They have, by far, the highest percentage of their members actively involved in the parish.

    Pres. Harrison’s article “Let’s Hear it for the Small Congregation” is worth reading in this regard. It is linked on the Synod’s website at: http://www.lcms.org/page.aspx?pid=1304. He writes:
    “I’m afraid that much of the material that we ‘Synod types’ have put out in the church in this regard, while well-intentioned and often very good advice, has disregarded the great blessings which Jesus brings people in the small congregation. When our talk is all about ‘grow, grow, growth, mega, meta, magnificent,’ we run the very strong risk of giving ‘inadvertently’ the small parish the message: You’re bad, you’re sick; you’re backward, your abnormal. Any pastor worth his salt, with a decade or two of experience under his belt, will tell you that one significant factor in whether or not a church grows is how its members view their parish. That was certainly my experience in the parish.”

    Regarding the percentage of Synod composed of “small churches,” Harrison goes on to further note that,
    “Of the some 6,150 LCMS churches around the nation: 73 percent (4,510, almost three-fourths!) have fewer than 500 members on their roles; 38 percent have fewer than 200 members; 35 percent have between 200 and 500 members. Of those parishes of 200 or fewer members, average attendance is 53. For those between 200 and 500 members, average Sunday attendance is 128. Yet nearly one-third of these small parishes operate schools! That, frankly, is amazing!”

  11. Yes, agree.

    I’m talking about congregations that have dropped below 50 in average worship attendance. Are they viable? Are they able to support a pastor?

    I think we need to take that long, hard look and ask ourselves some very tough questions.

    If the members of these congregations are within reasonable driving distance of a large congregation, why are we keeping them open?

    I am NOT talking about LONG distances between congregations.

    Can we possibly consider, realistically, these situations?

    I’m asking, seriously.

  12. There is something about this discussion that troubles me. Perhaps my uneasiness is rooted in knowledge of neighboring pastors and district officials telling struggling congregations that they should close their doors – as if these congregations are nothing more than branch offices of district or synod! I happen to know that his was done to one congregation (temporarily without a pastor) this past Palm Sunday by a neighboring pastor who had come to conduct the service. That strikes me as very cruel. I was always under the impression that it is the congregation’s prerogative to decide whether it wishes to continue or disband. To be sure, congregations and their pastors will sensibly seek the counsel of the brethren but surely the decision is finally up to the congregation. Every congregation no matter how small is in that place the Body of Christ and His Bride, His one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Our Lord never said, “Where two or three thousand are gathered in My name” but “Where two or three are gathered in My name.” Obviously there are prudential considerations but there is something unspeakably sad about giving up churches, especially church buildings noteworthy for their beauty as House of God and Gate of Heaven. I have also been told that it is a mistake to abandon properties except in the most dire circumstances because one can never tell what the future might hold for a given neighborhood. I have the distressing impression that so many districts are primarily, in some cases exclusively, interested in congregations which can fill the district coffers. I think there is much to ponder here.

  13. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #16
    “If the members of these congregations are within reasonable driving distance of a large congregation, why are we keeping them open?”

    1.You aren’t “keepiing them open”; the members are.

    2. Churches full of old folks who hoped to be buried with their friends and neighbors in the church owned cemetery have been closed by district… and the members told to “go to town” (20-30 minutes away). Old folks aren’t as anxious to jump in the car as young ones ($4 gas is a consideration, too). They often don’t drive at night, which robs them of evening functions in “town” churches (where there are few day meetings because “everybody works”).

    3. On the other side, the town churches aren’t anxious to have the old folks come, even if the town congregation is “daughter” church to the country one! Why? Old folks are going to need hospital and home visits which will use the Pastor’s time.
    Old folks may have been generous givers in their productive years, but in retirement the money isn’t as available and the medical bills mount. So a “town” church, indoctrinated with the CG [Concentrate on big Givers] philosophy isn’t interested in them now.

    So the end result is: the old country folk, robbed of their church, stay home.

  14. Sunday I am going to visit a little country church. It is going to dedicate a pipe organ, and a Vicar is going to preach.

    That church was slated to be closed back in the 60’s I’m told, but it wouldn’t die.
    A Concordia professor was serving them on weekends and when he not only did not close it but helped the church to grow a little, he was relieved of his job at Concordia.
    The professor/pastor got another “day job” at Texas Lutheran and continued.
    Others followed him; the little town became a refuge for people who wanted to get out of bigger ones. Eventually the century old building acquired transepts which doubled its seating to nearly 200. Currently it has a full time pastor.

    Don’t sell the little rural church short, PTM. Too small for the “transformers” and the “revitalizers”, the dumping ground for confessional pastors the district would rather be rid of, the little rural church may be the last bastion of Lutheranism in the LCMS.

    [If your thing is a garage band, don’t go there.]

  15. @helen #19

    Quote of the Day:

    “Too small for the “transformers” and the “revitalizers”, the dumping ground for confessional pastors the district would rather be rid of, the little rural church may be the last bastion of Lutheranism in the LCMS.”

  16. Pr McCain….”viable” I think the word you’re searching for is “Lebensunwertes Leben” While the thought of combining churches seems a logical answer, there are ramifications.

    Here in Michigan when they close, the District, to a very large degree, receives the net proceeds of the sale of the property. And because of our system of governance those monies can be utilized in any way the District seems fit, like unrestricted grants to fund “coffee” houses. In this case the monies came from one congregation who was trying to combine with another and it was not approved. And yes they both wanted to combine and the congregation would have been “worshipping” (another obnoxious term and worthy of discussion in another thread) more than 50. So Word and Sacrament Ministry traded for coffee.

    I know this is but one instance in one area, but I can give examples from several other districts that are even more questionable. The crux of your proposal is some should combine, and you’re right in effectively asking “who leads that closure committee?”
    But…

    Where does that endowment money go?

    Are the DP’s to be entrusted with that function, and if not they then who? (grab your lantern and start searching for an honest person)

    Are the congregations to sit in fear of the LCMS closure committee coming to their church should their attendance fall below 50, below 40, below 40, or 10? (and btw, statistics….I would gamble that about 90% of the statistics reported by congregations to the LCMS burearu of population and reported on the LCMS website are really reportng innaccurate membership numbers. That inaacuracy is correctable too by taxing the congregation by membership numbers, then watch those numbers drop by half. Silly comment? It’s already being done)

    Maybe the 50 remaining members are there because the big church in town stopped being Lutheran and these 50 know the difference between big tent Methodism and Lutheran theology.

    And is it a coincidence that the more conservative candidates are sent to those small congregations that are struggling? One of the simplest ways to get rid of someone or something you want is to send people to places that are “struggling.” As the times get rougher the pastor will quit from burnout, lack of pay, etc.

    I could write on but now just puking back standard responses we make to people who comment from 30,000 feet about the churches in flyover land and who aren’t on the front line, or who used to be there and know how you feel. These are the kind of people who have not sat in matins every single day with an attendance of 3 or 4.

    The article is correct, serve the people you have been called to serve. Even if that means, getting another job, or two, or three.

    As for me and my house we will serve the Lord…right down to end…and let the Lord decide if He will still be there where two or three are gathered to receive the Word and Sacraments and when the end IS.

    I must stop…

  17. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #16
    “If the members of these congregations are within reasonable driving distance of a large congregation, why are we keeping them open?”

    Because the large congregations in our area suck. What is it to you if our 2 or 3 gathered can keep our little church open and support a pastor? What business is it of yours? Who Divinely Instituted you to the holy office of parish consolidation consultant?

    We could go to the big congregation, but they offer AD-style ministry solutions that we would have to tolerate (cause if we claim it is false, we are unloving, uncharitable, divisive, etc).

    There’s a better way…

  18. As a pastor in a rural area I can appreciate the value folks do place on their own local church. The comments about the elderly are pretty much ‘spot on.’ Evenings are hard, and driving is difficult, even the few miles that would be nothing for a younger or middle aged member. And I understand the need for the alternative to the big city church. People sometimes “come back home” after spending some time in the big city church where they went when their children were young and they needed a youth group, or because of a day school, or some other program the little country church just didn’t have. But years later, now with the children grown, they feel a need to go back to their ‘roots’ and recapture the joy of the small church fellowship and the traditions they have longed once again to relish and enjoy. Some years ago when I would go home on vacation to see my mother I would struggle to find a church like the one I pastored; you know, a church with a regular hymnal and a traditional service out of the hymnal. Our family once traveled north of the area about 20 minutes or so and worshiped in a tiny country church where we practically took up an entire pew. I am grateful for that church, small as it was. Our family felt ‘at home’ and worshiped as we wished. Perhaps for this reason alone there will always be a need and a place for these little churches….

  19. I’d like to offer one possible reason why membership is dwindling and it’s really quite simple: “The love of many will grow cold.” – Matthew 24:12

    When the members of a parish don’t care enough about inactive members to call them to repentance and urge them to return to the divine service, what should we expect the results to be, especially in dwindling parishes?!

  20. @helen #18
    So the end result is: the old country folk, robbed of their church, stay home.

    I forgot to say: “The district reports more ‘dwindling numbers’ but never says why.” [Irrelevant; they were going to die anyway.] 🙁

    @Carl #25
    When the members of a parish don’t care enough about inactive members …

    What makes you think they don’t try? Why “especially dwindling parishes”?
    [The few that aren’t dwindling are stealing members from the surrounding smaller churches.]
    How much effort do larger churches put into reclaiming “back door losses”?

  21. @Helen #26
    “What makes you think they don’t try”

    I’ve asked them. They dont want to have to deal with the ramifications of upsetting family members and friends in the community.

    Good point about larger churches!

  22. It’s sad that they are more afraid of losing “favor with men” than they are about loving their neighbor who is starving from lack of contact with Word and Sacrament.

  23. @Rev. Larry Wright #21
    You made many excellent points, Rev. Wright. The one that resonates the most with me is:

    “Maybe the 50 remaining members are there because the big church in town stopped being Lutheran and these 50 know the difference between big tent Methodism and Lutheran theology.”

    (And isn’t it a small world – I just “googled” you and read where you are serving. Your neighbor St. John’s is where I grew up – baptized, confirmed, attended school, and married there.)

  24. Yes, indeed! It’s too bad that the majority of those who call themselves “Lutheran” really are Methodists, Baptists, etc. and agree more with their false teachings!

  25. Kathleen
    For the record, St. John’s Midland has two very faithful pastors 😉

  26. @Rev. Paul T. McCain #16
    Well, it’s pretty easy in our polity: it’s their business. “We” are not keeping them open (I assume we are not talking about congregations that are receiving district subsidy, that’s another matter).

    When I arrived on the ground in the dual parish I currently serve, I thought for sure that the only thing that would make sense was merger. I was wrong. Dead wrong. I didn’t understand the people, the culture, the place, the “niche” of each parish. I learned a lot by experience: chiefly that every place is unique and that none of us can judge other parishes sitting in our studies miles and miles away. This is the genius of our largely congregational polity.

    And no, I don’t buy into the “but we could be using those resources in better ways. . . ” Those are not “our” resources. Let’s stop coveting each other’s buildings (ULC anyone?). If I were starting a new parish, I would be sure to not follow the normal LCMS constitutional language about giving the property to district in event of closure. I’ve been very blessed to serve under DPs who want to help parishes be faithful right where they are. I’ve plenty of friends and acquaintances who are no so blessed. . .

    +HRC

  27. I made a decision a long time ago to be a 1 Corinthians 2-4/ 1 Thessalonians 2 pastor: Christ crucified in Word and Sacrament- AND NOTHING ELSE. The “results’ have been mediocre to dismal, but that’s not what’s important. What I have learned in my 29 years of parish ministry is this: there are consumers and there are worshipers. The consumers are all about “Me” and the worshipers are all about Jesus. We simply MUST give up on satisfying the consumers (carrying coffee into the sanctuary while wearing short blue jean shorts and a Chicago Cubs T-shirt-hoping to hear a “relevant” sermon with lots of funny and heart warming stories- all UNDER one hour) and remain faithful as we hold up Jesus and His Cross AND NOTHING ELSE. The statistics don’t matter. If they did, then Islam and Mormonism are at the top of the list for “successful” growth rates. I LOVE what Walther says concerning ministerial “success” in his thirty-ninth evening lecture,”Whoever is engaged in this preaching of the pure Gospel and thus directs men to Christ, the only Mediator between God and men, he, as a preacher, is doing the will of God. That is the genuine fruit by which no one is deceived or duped”. (Law and Gospel- p. 413). Living in the shadow of one of America’s great mega-churches, and hearing NO Gospel/Jesus/Cross in our one time attendance of the same, let’s keep our eyes on Jesus and the Cross-AND NOTHING ELSE! Those who stay will produce 30, sixty or 100 times what was sown. My two cents. Colossians 2:13

  28. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    Interesting discussion! I like the post by Pastor Juhl and feel sympathy for the anonymous blogger who started the discussion. I know all about small congregations with 90% elderly members – that has been most of my ministry.

    I think it helps this discussion to consider LCMS history. We were founded with two distinct types of mission-ministries, which are still our core constituency: 1) urban churches in cities of 100k or larger; 2) rural churches serving German-American family farmers.

    The German-American family farmers got their start, before the LCMS was founded, in the countryside around Philadelphia, up to the western and northern edges of the Great Valley in Pennsylvania. You can see remnants of that original farm culture today in the Amish communities east of Lancaster, PA.

    The “family farm” was different from the southern backwoods farmer and the southern plantation farmer. The latter two depended on slaves, the former depended on large families for manual labor.

    Settlements with this type of German-American culture and economy headed west; staying north of the Greater Appalachians/Ozarks, and petering out somewhere around the western borders of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas. This “Midwest” area is where we have 85% of the LCMS population today; thanks to the genius of home-missionaries like Frederick C.D. Wyneken.

    Things have changed in that Midwest rural area, and continue to change today. But the private family farm, passed down generation to generation, is still the backbone of that rural economy and community. They don’t have as many kids, because they don’t need as many to run the farm. If LCMS neglects the Midwest family farmers, and the small-town-folks who serve the farmers, we neglect 50% of our traditional mission, and will only be hurting ourselves.

    Questions about whether to keep a rural church building, or how to staff it with a pastor, is secondary to the first priority of serving the family farmers and small-town-folks in that area. Those are the people that should decide what works best for them and their children.

    In my opinion, we could use more pastor-and-wife-teams who either come from this background, or who are sincerely willing to work in this setting as their life’s career. A lot of problems arise from a cultural mis-match between the pastor-and-wife and the congregation; such problems are not unresolvable, if the pastor and his wife are willing to become like the people they serve.

    Thanks Pastor Juhl for the thoughtful post!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  29. Folks:

    Please let me be clear. I’m a fan of small churches, I mean, really small. It was my privilege/honor to pastor one in Iowa.

    My concern however remain, when do we, and yes Pr. Curtis, I use “we” intentionally since I do not think our congregational polity makes us congregationalist autonomists, I ask when can we have a talk about when it is time, as Pastor Juhl has put it, “bury a church.”

    Is it painful? Heart/gut wrenching? Absolutely.

    But there may be a time for everything under heaven, a time to be born, and a time to die.

    What is, and bear with me, just hear me out, what if congregations that were established in the days of horse and buggy distances, decide *for the sake of the Gospel* to pool their limited resources and become one parish, one congregation, one pulpit/one altar and then doing so revitalize their outreach into their communities/areas.

    I think we should be able to have that conversation without people trying to cast aspersions on that suggestion.

    That’s my .02 as a guy who has been there, done that.

    PTM

  30. Due to sinful human pride it is possible for the
    120 yr old rural parish in Iowa or Minnesota to
    worship the church building. Some families
    can trace their heritage to charter members and
    do not want to close the doors of the church
    where relatives were baptized, confirmed, married
    and buried.

    As long as 30 members show up for Sunday worship
    and a retired pastor is willing to conduct Divine
    Services…..then it will try to stay open. Farmers
    like everyone else can be stubborn when it comes
    to property. Can they drive their cars 15 minutes
    to the next closest LCMS parish?

  31. @Dave Likeness #36
    “Due to sinful human pride it is possible for the 120 yr old rural parish in Iowa or Minnesota to worship the church building.”

    @Rev. Larry Wright #21
    “Maybe the 50 remaining members are there because the big church in town stopped being Lutheran and these 50 know the difference between big tent Methodism and Lutheran theology.”

    I don’t believe this is an either/or situation, but both situations exist.

    @Rev. Paul T. McCain #35
    “what if congregations that were established in the days of horse and buggy distances, decide”

    I am please you said “congregations” decide. It’s too soon after the demolition of ULC’s sacred space to speak of bureaucrats deciding for congregations, even if they claim to be doing it *for the sake of the Gospel.*

  32. @Carl #28
    It’s sad that they are more afraid of losing “favor with men” than they are about loving their neighbor who is starving from lack of contact with Word and Sacrament.

    You have a point, especially if the inactive left over a squabble with someone who is himself not in the area any more. In such a case, it’s high time for an active member to invite the inactive back. Or if two are “sitting out in the cold” to invite them to resolve their differences inside the church.
    But sometimes the hearts that have grown cold are those that have exiled themselves from services. The church can be ever so cordial, but you can’t force them to come back.

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