“Successful” “Failures”

My district (Northern Illinois) convention featured occasional videos of “New Believers” that came from “New Starts” in the district. What I noticed in the videos was that most of the congregations featured were in affluent, predominantly white suburbs. Many offer “contemporary” (sic) worship. One individual even noted in her video “testimony” that the person wouldn’t have trouble now that the person is a Christian. Because the person is a neophyte, I am willing to have mercy on the incorrect statement.

The videos, while well meaning and intending to rejoice in the Lord’s bountiful harvest of the elect, were quite off-putting to me. As you’ve read before in my previous posts, I serve a small congregation (average worship attendance 50-55) in a small town of approximately 3,000 people. The majority of my members are over the age of 60, if not 70. The community where I live is, for the most part, a churched community. People still go to church. When you serve a small, aging congregation, it is difficult to begin or maintain a “new start” in order to gather “new believers.” This is not to say it cannot be done, but it is difficult because the resources are not there.

We are not alone. I can think of other congregations in my district that struggle to hold on to the blessings of Word and Sacrament ministry. I recall my last post at Steadfast Lutherans, where an anonymous letter from a pastor serving a “dying” (literally) congregation wrote of his frustrations. I think of another brother in the Office whose congregation will de-charter on September 2. His parish is swimming in debt. He also is taking care of his ill mother while trying to serve the remnant of his congregation in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Chicago. Then there is another brother who serves a struggling mission congregation in my district. Another LCMS congregation would like to plant a congregation in the community next to his. They plan a sort of “emerging” congregation with an SMP pastor. What might this do to my brother pastor’s barely established congregation?

These are what one might call “successful” “failures”. They succeed at failing to live up to the expectations that the world and church bureaucracies set. They go forward even in the midst of what seems to be an unpardonable sin: failing to get big. They rejoice in the occasional baptism and confirmation. They struggle with small Sunday Schools and even smaller Bible Studies. The pastor may spend as much time visiting the sick and home-bound as he spends preparing his sermons. Nevertheless, the people of God he is charged to serve are fed. Once, perhaps, they were large and mighty. Now they put one foot in front of another and do what they can as they are able.

I would like to see occasional videos at a future district convention of “successful” “failures”. It would be nice to let pastors and congregations with seemingly unlimited resources take a look at their neighbors in the inner-city, in the small towns, and in the rural areas. Not all of us are blessed to have “new believers” or are even able to have “new starts.” As for me, I am blessed to stand before my flock each weekend and deliver the Gifts. That’s what God has asked me to do through my congregation. That is what I do.

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.


“Successful” “Failures” — 41 Comments

  1. Good thoughts. Here’s a break down of parish size based on what I believe to be the single most important parish statistic: average worship attendance.

    Sorted by average attendance, then number of congregations that fall in that range, then percentage of congregations reporting the statistic. The largest single group of congregations fall into to the 26-50 average worship attendance category.

    0-25 572 / 10%
    26-50 1114 / 19%
    51-75 884 / 15%
    76-100 737 / 13%
    101-125 498 / 9%
    126-150 375 / 6%
    151-200 524 / 9%
    201-300 499 / 9%
    301-400 254 / 4%
    501-600 188 / 3%
    601-700 41 / .07%
    701-900 51 / .08%
    901-1200 38 / .07%
    1201-1600 11 / .01%
    1601-2000 6 / .01%

  2. Pastor Juhl,
    Have you asked the LCEF to do a demographic study of your community of 3,000 (I believe it is free of charge). I think that you would be surprised at the percentage of your community that is unchurched, does not attend worship, and questions the value of Christianity.
    It is easy to think that everyone in a small commuity is “churched”, but that is rarely true.
    The district in which I live is very rural, yet we have found that half of the rural population has (contrary to the 1950s) now become secular in mind and heart.
    The field may be more full than you realize.
    I don’t say this to encourage you to have contemporary services, but to suggest that there may be many in your area who really don’t know Jesus.
    Blessings to your work!

  3. @Sue Grabe Wilson #2

    No, we have not asked LCEF to do a demographic study of my community. I maintain that there are many “churched” people here, but also a large amount of what could be called “underchurched” people. These are people who once attended a congregation, but now do not for one reason or another. I have a large number of people who once attended here, but have shown their neglect of the Gifts through the years for one reason or another. I’ve heard their excuses. I’ve given encouragement. Still the Lord waits for their return.

    I need not rehearse what I have written before about my congregation. What needs rehearsing, however, is the constant drumbeat of being told that pastors like me are not doing “enough” to try new things or bring in new believers. This is not helpful. What is helpful is what I’ve seen recently from President Harrison encouraging small town and rural congregations to remain faithful while being salt and light in the community when and where they can. That kind of encouragement brings me joy.

    Every blessing in Christ to you!

  4. From the data presented in #1, 57 percent of the 5,800 LCMS congregations included in the data have an average worship attendance of 100 or less; 81 percent of the congregations have an average worship attendance of 200 or less; 90 percent have an average worship attendance of 300 or less.

    In terms of a total average number of people worshipping at one of the LCMS churches, 60 percent are at churches with an average worship attendance of 300 or less, with approximately 15 percent being at churches with an average worship attendance between 201 to 300.

    It would be informative to be able to view the demographic average member age distribution data provided along with the category of average worship attendance.

  5. District conventions should get rid of these videos all together until they can afford the time to allow for more substantive discussion of theologic and practical concerns.

    Also, is it possible for a District Office of the LCMS to gather offerings for needy pastors and churches on the verge of closing or must they stick to the role of messenger of the law?

  6. It would be informative to be able to view the demographic average member age distribution data provided along with the category of average worship attendance.

    It would be interesting/helpful, but unfortunately, congregations do not report the age of their members.

  7. I would be interested in seeing a breakdown of financial contribution of funds to the synod according to congregation size. Do a handfull of big churches contribute more than multiple small ones? Is the LCMS business model more like McDonalds or Ferrari?

    I’m sorry, but “Successfull Failures” are depressing. I would hate sitting through a district convention highlighting churches that will most likely be closing within the decade. Embracing and celebrating the coming demise of the denomination seems morbid and more stoic than Christian. Despair is a sin. Surrenduring to despair is nothing less.

    However highlighting successes in disadvantaged churches is different entirely. Showing examples of life and growth in places in the organization where before there was none could be very helpful and encouraging to those in similar situations. Even if these successes are small compared to others. One talent turned into two is a blessing of the Lord just like 10 talents turned into 20.

  8. Who is it that determines success? God. Who is it that adds to the church? God. Who is it that takes away from the Church? God. It seems silly to look at what we call “success” and then think that we can reproduce it in every place. That is animism (If I do it this way, God will have to respond this way; man holding the puppet strings over God), not Christianity.

    I like Luther’s take on “The Gospel is a passing rain shower”. It comes, downpours, and moves on. All under God’s direction.

    The fact of the matter is this – examples are not conclusive, only the Word of God is that. So as we look into a given situation (a success), it may actually be a complete failure. Our eyes and units of measurement are never absolute, but the Word of God is always absolute.

    Perhaps we should use the Word of God to encourage faithfulness, whether it is faithfulness in admitting new members through baptism and teaching; or faithfulness in transferring members to the church triumphant.

  9. Dear Pastor Juhl,

    Thanks for an excellent post. As I have mentioned before on BJS, your type of situation is mostly the type of parish work I have known, except for my first two years (1984-86). Here is what I have concluded after twenty years or so:

    FIRST – We have a real problem in the LCMS with (let me put this in the frank vernacular) “blowhard” pastors of large parishes. Because some of them are (more vernacular) “braggarts” covered up with a very thin veneer of piety, they make all pastors of large parishes look bad, to anyone who has eyes for what a Lutheran pastor should be.

    This causes envy and suspicions within the ranks of pastors, especially between very-large-parish and small-parish pastors. I am certainly not saying all pastors of very-large or large parishes have this problem. I am saying that the FEW that have this problem make them ALL look bad. It’s just like the FEW pedophile priests in the Catholic church make them ALL look bad. I count the vast majority of the large parish pastors among my friends and brothers.

    You know, it is easy to think, when you are called to a large or very-large parish, that you are called there because of your outstanding abilities, charisma, or good looks. And if things keep going well, that just proves it even more. So I can see how these egotists get that way, but they need to learn to “nip it in the bud,” for the sake of their own parish and the larger church.

    SECOND – When these egotist pastors talk about church growth or outreach, they have the benefit of size or growth curve to give credence to whatever they say. So if they say that a certain technique or program works – well, then, “obviously” it works, because they have (or had, before they became a consultant) the biggest church or best growth curve.

    The flip side is if you have a small church or a declining growth curve, you better follow what they do or head into oblivion. And who would ever listen to a small church (or declining church) pastor talk about church growth, even if he said exactly the same thing as the large-church guy? This proves that church growth talk doesn’t have anything to do with “truth,” but with prestige.

    The truth is “one size doesn’t fit all.” We all realized this in the Northern Illinois District decades ago, which is why the district stopped publishing “one size, fits all” programs. Even the synod realized this, and occasionally says it in print.

    THIRD – Most of the laypeople–and some of the pastors–are (more vernacular) “suckers” for egotist pastors and their church growth talk. They have hardly any critical thinking in this area. These same laymen and pastors are extremely intelligent in other areas of life or the church; but when it comes to church growth talk, all those smarts go “out the window.” I continue to be amazed by this. Why are they “suckers” for church growth talk and repeat whatever is said verbatim, without any critical thought at all? I don’t know. It’s like some Jedi mind-game.

    FOURTH – Every congregation is different. Causes for growth and decline are complex. Social networks are, by their nature, very complex; and effective outreach depends on tapping into social networks in communities. No pastor is going to figure out how his parish and town networks operate in two years; he might figure out some of that in five years.

    But there are often forces at work within a congregation that make any outreach impossible. I remember DP Theodore Laetsch talking to the NID about this problem at a District Convention, sometime in the 1990s. A layman stood up and strongly disagreed, and Laetsch said something like, “You are wrong, sir. There are congregations in this district that don’t want any more members. They are a closed club.” I confirm that what he said is the truth!

    There are also often forces at work within a community that frustrate all outreach efforts. For evidence of this, see the excellent book by Richard O. Ziehr, “The Struggle for Unity” (Milton, FL: CJH Enterprises, 1999) [used to be available from CPH]. He shows how Lutherans struggled to make headway in the states included in the Southern District. Why? Because Lutherans didn’t believe in segregation, and Southerners did.

    Many communities have dominant religious elements that are antagonistic to certain aspects of the Lutheran church. Mormons in Utah and the West reject the doctrine of the Trinity and have their own “BOOK”, among other things. Restorationists reject creeds and catechisms. Most heirs of Puritanism reject historic liturgy, vestments, paraments, and church art. New Englanders tend to be Unitarians in thought, if not in creed. Southern Baptist types reject any sort of church heirarchy and creeds. Catholics think Luther was an associate of the devil. So when these type of sentiments prevail in a community, folks “won’t even give you the time of day.”

    FIFTH – We need to recover the notion that the military has of “doing your duty.” Christians used to understand that their pastors and priests were like military soldiers. They got assigned by the church and did their duty, as best as the could, under boring, miserable, or hellacious conditions. Not every soldier got to beat the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge. Most of them were behind the scences.

    I think of my Uncle Buster, U.S. Army, who was stationed in World War II, driving a truck on Attu Island. There actually was a small battle there, but you never hear about it. Mostly it was cold, miserable, boring – but he did his duty, and got honorable discharge after the war. Most of our pastors will have careers like Uncle Buster. Laymen should be thankful for this, because it means THAT man is YOUR pastor. That is how the means of grace are distributed in this world, by God’s intent and plan.

    Thanks again, Pastor Juhl, for a thoughtful post and for your faithful service!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  10. Rev. Paul T. McCain :
    Good thoughts. Here’s a break down of parish size based on what I believe to be the single most important parish statistic: average worship attendance.
    Sorted by average attendance, then number of congregations that fall in that range, then percentage of congregations reporting the statistic. The largest single group of congregations fall into to the 26-50 average worship attendance category.
    0-25572 / 10%
    26-501114 / 19%
    51-75884 / 15%
    76-100737 / 13%
    101-125498 / 9%
    126-150375 / 6%
    151-200524 / 9%
    201-300499 / 9%
    301-400 254 / 4%
    501-600188 / 3%
    601-70041 / .07%
    701-90051 / .08%
    901-1200 38 / .07%
    1201-160011 / .01%
    1601-2000 6 / .01%

    Very interesting numbers! It would also be interesting to see synod financial support broken down by congregation size. Another interesting statistic would be the percentage of our 2.3 million members who attend the larger churches vs the smaller congregations. Just curious.

  11. Rev. Juhl’s small town has the bad luck of being too far away from most employers. The closest urban center to Momence, IL is Kankakee, IL, which is is economically dead. Too many college grads leave the south suburbs of Chicago to find work in the northern or western suburbs. Only the old people and a few high school grads remain. Small towns everywhere are aging and shrinking. I would wager that most churches are suffering as a consequence of this societal trend. We are slowing turning into a 3rd world country. Who can afford to pay a pastor (who has student loans to repay) and maintain a church building? Sad.

    Rev. Juhl wrote: “It would be nice to let pastors and congregations with seemingly unlimited resources take a look at their neighbors in the inner-city, in the small towns, and in the rural areas.”

    Regarding the inner-city, people who have the money to support a congregation have been fleeing for the suburbs as well:


    The non-denominational congregations have the advantage of not having to worry about maintaining church properties in the economically dead zones of dangerous inner-cities and isolated rural areas.

    Imagine Bill Hybels engaging in a new mission start in an economically depressed area. It would never happen. To be as successful as the non-denominational churches, Lutheran churches need to follow their parishioners to the suburbs, too.

  12. This discussion has both personal and practical impact for me. I recently (a few months ago) accepted a call to my current parish. I was the senior pastor of a congregation that is, I now discover from Dr. Noland’s numbers (thanks), among the top 10% in weekly worship attendance when measured by sheer numbers. My new parish has a regular attendance in the vicinity of 100 souls.

    Many people — good, Christian people — have seemed perplexed by this acceptance. One even asked my wife why I was going to “Retirement Row.” These are not the stereotypical “Growthers” or whatever perjoritive is in current vogue for those who measure a congregation’s success numerically. Numerical growth is a great thing — a blessing from God. Since such growth is the result (at least in part) of new converts, or wandering sheep returning to the fold, we should all rejoice greatly.

    However, this summer’s drought gives us an object lesson that may teach us a thing or two about growth. Jesus describes delivering the gospel into the ears of unbelievers in terms of sowing seed. Likewise, the farmers of this region sowed their seed this spring. The seed germinated and spung up. As spring gave way to summer, the rains grew spare and the plants became crispy around the edges. Some crops that began the spring looking as beautiful as any you can imaging have been chopped to serve as feed for the cattle. there will be no harvest. Promising beginnings have given way to crop failure. It is a devastating thing.

    My point is not to disparage the successes of those who are receiving many new members. Nor am I suggesting that the faith of all these new Christians will wilt in the course of their lives — God forbid! In fact I also love new “plants.” I am already elated in anticipation of the Baptism to be celebrated here at Good Shepherd this Sunday. I am ecstatic at the nice turnout for the adult membership class I have begun (thanks to my predecessaor for laying the groundwork). I had many of my happiest moments in the ministry in the school at my last parish, teaching and living the faith with children.

    But the real success, the real test of any planting, is in the harvest. The Church’s ultimate success is the funeral of a faithful Christian. There the grain has ripened and matured, there the full corn has appeared, as the hymn says. In the funeral we celebrate the entry of God’s Own Child into Paradise and the body of Jesus’ little lamb is tucked in to sleep until the Good Shepherd Himself wakes her.

    What does all this mean? First and foremost it means that I have not entered early retirement. It means that, as Rev. Juhl suggests, we usually measure success the wrong way — or at least we limit it by only measuring one aspect of it — the beginning of the race, to the exclusion of the middle and the end. It means that Sue Grabe Wilson is right — there are lost souls in the rural parish (which Pastor Juhl has said, too, both here and elsewhere) and so we all have some sowiong to do. But most of all it means that if we want the full picture of God’s unbounded grace to His chosen ones, we should see videos of the victories in small parishes, like Pr. Juhl’s — like mine. And it means we should see videos of the victories in large and/or rapidly growing parishes, too.

    Missions and evangelism is not all that Christ does in and through the Church. We can celebrate some of His other works without that meaning we neglect these.

    Maybe in addition to reports of Pr. So-and-so receiving X number of adult converts we might receive with equal joy the report of Pastor Juhl as he “holds the cross before the closing eyes” of one of our older brothers and sisters.

  13. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32

  14. @Pastor David Juhl #3
    Hmmm, I still think Sue’s sage advice is sound. There is nothing wrong with knowing the lay of the land, and who is in that land. It also helps you as you build relationships with your people, and that is just one way to share Christ. Besides the sound preaching, teaching, etc.

  15. One of my favorite all-time quotes I have posted in my study,

    “The humble preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the simple Sacraments are the greatest things that can happen in the world. For in these things the hidden reign of Christ is consummated. He himself is present in these means of grace, and the bearer of the ministry of the church actually stands in the stead of Christ. That certainly puts an end to any clerical conceit. We are nothing. He is everything. And that means that the terrible sin of pessimism, which is the pastor’s greatest temptation, is finished with as well. It is nothing but doubt and unbelief, for Christ the Lord is just as present in His means of grace today as He was in the sixteenth or the first century. And “all authority in heaven and on earth” [Matt. 28:18] is just as much His today as it was when He first spoke that promise to the apostles. And it remains so into all eternity. Do we still believe this?”

    Hermann Sasse, The Lutheran Doctrine of the Office of the Ministry
    in The Lonely Way: II, St. Louis: CPH, 1992, pg. 139.

  16. Indeed!

    Does it never cross the minds of some that the Confessions’ “when and where He pleases” might actually be true? That you could “do everything right” and still not see your church grow leaps and bounds?

    Well, I’ll volunteer to be the data point. I’m also a small town pastor, and I’ve “done it all right:” the mailing to new households, the cookies and welcome baskets to same, the community involvement, the Friendship Sunday, and the reaching out, the “changing the perception of the community to let them know they are welcome,” the community parade float, the Bible Study in a bar, etc.

    Results? Plenty of good has come of all of it: I’ve gotten to know my people better and have less surprises in my ministry because I know the connections better. I think I have a “good reputation among outsiders” as far as that goes. One time a guy at the bar gave me a pyx he found in a hospital parking lot (cum Hosto!).

    Some bad: the Welcome Committee got burned out pretty quick.

    Church growth? Not so much. In fact, I can’t think of one new believer that’s come of any of the above.

    So why bother with all of that stuff above? It serves the faithful in one way or another. They enjoy seeing their pastor “out there.” I know them better and I get a lot of free coffee, too.

    But no church growth, no new believers. So maybe I did it all wrong; if any world-beater church consultant wants to volunteer his time to show me how I screwed it up, I’ll buy the beer. Or maybe, the Lord creates faith through His Word and Sacrament “when and where he pleases” and I can’t control that.

    My advice to pastors is to review their ordination vows, repent, and seek to do better in fulfilling what you promised to do. There’s more than enough there to keep you busy, and that’s what the Church thought important enough to force you to promise to do. I certainly know that I need to repent and that if I were to keep those duties more faithfully I’d be one busy guy. And I know that nothing on that list matches up much with what the gurus are selling.

    Great post, Juhl.


  17. @Martin R. Noland #9
    When these egotist pastors talk about church growth or outreach, they have the benefit of size or growth curve to give credence to whatever they say.

    Some of them have been very good at jumping off at the top of the curve and landing in another “growth” area, too.

    There are congregations in this district that don’t want any more members. They are a closed club.” I confirm that what he said is the truth!

    We have them, too. Oh, they talk the CG line, and they would like a few generous contributors. But you could mail your check and they’d be just as happy.

    Thanks, Pr. Juhl and others.

    {Thanks, PTM, for a positive contribution and nothing more!}

  18. @Sue Grabe Wilson #2
    Pastor Juhl,
    Have you asked the LCEF to do a demographic study of your community of 3,000 (I believe it is free of charge). I think that you would be surprised at the percentage of your community that is unchurched, does not attend worship, and questions the value of Christianity.

    Hate to be a pessimist again, Sue, but is a demographic study “free” to a little congregation, or only to those in areas which might produce investors for LCEF?

  19. I would hate sitting through a district convention highlighting churches that will most likely be closing within the decade. Embracing and celebrating the coming demise of the denomination seems morbid and more stoic than Christian. Despair is a sin. Surrenduring to despair is nothing less.

    I am not sure I really understand this. If the people in the towns move to new areas, they don’t suddenly become lost from the synod because they or their children join different congregations in different towns. I mean if an area loses population and a church building is no longer occupied, all that is “lost” is that building. The people are just members of other congregations in other towns.

    Also, what percent of pastors serve the largest .24% of parishes? Because if it is less than .24% then we are seeing a sort of an economy of scale that may or may not be in the best interest of parishioners. Is there a concerted effort by larger churches to sort of help members who live far away to start new churches in their neighborhoods? My friend is Presbyterian PCA and she went to church with another friend of mine. I remember when they started the first church kind of in the southwest area of town about 10 years ago, and for at least a year that church has been working with members to start another about 20 miles away rather than just have their own church grow larger. I haven’t seen that among the LCMS churches I know of but it could be so elsewhere.

  20. I haven’t seen the video, but it seems to me that our synod, Districts etc. should center all videos/materials on what God has done for us and the gifts He gives to the church. They could show how these gifts are being used (big/small churches) and how His work is being done wherever the Word is preached and the Sacraments are administered. Too simple I guess.

    If you haven’t already, listen to the Issues Etc. program that was on recently (July 21):
    Measuring Success in the Church.

  21. @helen #20
    No, it is free and the NID Mission facilitators can also help get this information, NO CHARGE. Now what a little Church like mine does with it? Well, that is up to you. What did I do so far? I saw the lay of the land and some added opportunities to connect, and build a relationship with my community, and as a Pastor, then offer a relationship with Jesus, the Cross, the Gospel to those that the Holy Spirit would blow my way.

  22. It would be interesting to see the breakdown of the percentage of total membership that is at the DS for each of the categories Pastor McCain has listed out. Are members of a certain size congregation more or less likely to attend on a regular basis? I have no idea what we would do with that information, but I would be interested in seeing it.

    I have been in a 2,500 member congregation and a 250 member congregation and it was a lot easier to play hooky without anyone noticing in the big church than it is in the small church.

  23. @Joe Olson #25

    Our congregation falls within the top 10 percent in weekly worship attendance, according to the data above. Average attendance at the “DS” is 45% of baptized membership, and right at 50% excluding the summer vacation period. I do not know how this compares to other congregations, but we have been pretty consistent in that area for a number of years. I really don’t think congregational size has any impact on regularity of worship and communion attendance. The one thing I know for certain, however, is that our pastor has his hands full.

  24. @Rich #27
    Time for two Pastors?

    When I was a kid in a rural congregation, you were in church, or sick… Or maybe once in a blue moon, visiting distant relatives. Everyone knew which, or wanted to know, if they didn’t.
    50% attendance has always sounded pretty slack to me. 😉

    Those days seem to be gone forever…. 🙁

  25. @Joanne #28


    According to this, it will be August 31 about 9 a.m. CST

    @Krusty Kraut #29
    It’s interesting to see how few “reely big” churches Missouri has, (considering their attempt to get unconstitutional extra votes).
    Texas District had a “big church” pastors conference some while back.I wonder who was invited and what the cut off was. ;(

    They probably go by their paper membership rather than attendance. I don’t think a pastor can really know or serve more than 300 and larger churches are rarely staffed to that reality. Some have to “look out for themselves”. Guess who falls into infrequent attendance or off the roster!

  26. David, Heath, Martin, Josh, and others,

    Thanks for the well written words, as I go through one of the little congregations I was called to closing this Sunday it is always good to be reminded to focus not on the growth but on harvest. It is very easy to see “failure” when someone leaves because they refuse to repent or stops believing what the Word teaches and it is certainly not easy to see how the faith has grown in many people’s lives. A couple questions:

    @Pr. H. R. Curtis #18 How do you find out what people are new to a community? I thought that was a good idea.


    @Sue Grabe Wilson #2 and @rev. david l. prentice jr. #23
    How is a demographic study of your area helpful? Does it tell you who has no church home or simply that 42% have no church home?

    Thanks for the encouragement, continue confessing the faith!

  27. @Rev. Gerald Heinecke #32

    I have seen both things happen before my eyes. I have seen people rejoice in the Gifts after having been instructed in the faith. I have also seen people reject the Gifts because it is more convenient for them to walk in the way of the world rather than to hearken to the Word. The pastor walks on clouds in the former case and laments a jeremiad in the latter case. Perhaps the better response should be “What of that, and what of that.” We pastors are given the noble task of preaching the Word of God and letting the Holy Spirit take care of the rest. Where opportunities for outreach present themselves, let them be used. Where opportunities for enjoying each other’s company in social events present themselves, let them be used. Otherwise, the chief endeavor of the Church is the giving of the Gifts. In that we rejoice in season and out of season.

    Every blessing in Christ to you tomorrow as you rejoice in the many blessings the Lord has provided your closing congregation. That’s where the focus belongs, rejoicing in the Lord’s work there that now draws to a close. Who knows? A window might open elsewhere.

  28. @Rev. Gerald Heinecke #32

    Thanks for the well written words, as I go through one of the little congregations I was called to closing this Sunday it is always good to be reminded to focus not on the growth but on harvest.

    When the church closes Sunday, what happens to the remnant who never left it?

  29. Dear BJS Bloggers,

    If you have not yet seen it, I recommend you look at the synod’s website for information about the new “Rural and Small Town Mission” program in the LCMS (mentioned above in comment #3). Click here for the main web-page: http://www.lcms.org/rstm

    This is long overdue. It is in place now because of the work of President Matthew Harrison and his administrative staff. Harrison was born and raised in Sioux City, Iowa, which is right in the middle of the LCMS farm belt; and his first parish was in small-town Westgate, Iowa. He understands the problems that family farmers and that rural and small-town parishes face from personal experience.

    Harrison has an excellent letter on this issue. It is worth a read and agrees with many of the comments on this blog post: http://www.lcms.org/Document.fdoc?src=lcm&id=1891

    I thought the synod would have come up with something like this after the Farm Crisis of the 1980s. LCMS sent charitable aid to the worst hit counties, but I don’t remember anything being done about the long-term effects on congregations. That was thirty years ago, and now those congregations are feeling the demographic effects, since there was an exodus of rural and small town young- and middle-age folks moving to the cities for economic reasons.

    I am very glad to see people talking about this and working on it. There are “solutions” to all these problems. No pastor or lay church officer has to carry these burdens by themselves. If problems are beyond the capacity or ability of a circuit counselor, the synod offers help in many ways, such as this “Rural and Small Town Mission” program.

    You still have two and half weeks left to register for the “National Rural and Small Town Mission Conference” at Storm Lake, Iowa in November. More information can be found here: http://www.lcms.org/page.aspx?pid=1406

    If you are serving a rural parish, or a small town parish in a farm region, you should attend this conference, whether or not you are feeling “pinched” in the members or dollars department right now. It will give you new ideas for outreach. It will help revitalize your parish and your connection to the people of your county and community. No excuses – sign up today! 🙂

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  30. @helen #34 Fortunately Danbury is only 9 miles away from Webster and as I begin to talk to the faithful remnant I so far understand that they will be coming to Our Redeemer in Webster. Thank you for asking.

  31. I’m glad that I wasn’t the only one “put off” by the “New Starts-New Believers” videos at the convention. Glory Theology in practice!
    What about our existing congregations that are struggling to remain faithful?
    BTW- Was Jesus “successful” on Good Friday? It sure didn’t LOOK like it. Was God in control on Good Friday? It sure didn’t LOOK like it. But was it a success? Of course it was.
    Christ Crucifed in Word and Sacrament- immersed in prayer- and NOTHING else!!!
    My two cents. 🙂 Colossians 2:13

  32. A GREAT book: “Renovation of the Church- What Happens When A Seeker Church Discovers Spiritual Formation” by Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken. This book is about two mega church pastors who became fed up with the “consumerism to get numbers” racket that they themselves were promoting, in order to pastor a congregation of reliance on Jesus only. I know that I can be chastised for reading a book from the Richard Foster organization Renovare, but it’s good stuff. These two pastors deliberately rejected the Church Growth-Mega cancer and lost a ton of members in the process. But they remianed faithful to Jesus and the Gospel, and ultimately, that’s all that matters. This is an encouraging book for all pastors who have “had it” with numbers and trying to “maintain” congregations by keeping the consumers happy. Worshipers, not consumers. My two cents! 🙂 Philippians 3:8-10

  33. @Bill Metzger #39

    Brother Bill, I’ve read Peter Scazzero’s “The Emotionally Healthy Church” so I could be lambasted myself! Regardless, there is something to be said about the pressure cooker of numbers and results.

  34. Numbers are meaningless. If they meant Anything then the most successful pastor in America would be Joel Osteen. The biggest failure would be Jesus (see John 6). Ministry is easy—for Jesus! Be faithful and let Jesus worry about how it turns out.

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