Hopefully the title clarifies a concern of many clergy and laity within Lutheranism over a trend of the last few decades. All those concerned can clearly see the need for reversal of the trend. Allow me to clarify what this title means from my personal interaction with clergy and laity over the past five years serving with CLCC. These observations are not representative of the so-called “missionals” as I have had no interaction with them in this area.
Specifically, what is the problem and how do we proceed with a solution, or more correctly, a number of solutions? The problem must be addressed on the basis of the local congregation, as we shall see; the “symptoms of the problem” are not all the same. One “size” cannot fit all situations. It is important to first identify the symptoms for two very important reasons. 1. To make sure you are trying to fix the problem and not one of the symptoms, and 2. To make sure you have all the symptoms identified in your particular congregation.
Because what is being shared in this topic is gathered from a number of different conversations and observances in a number of different congregations, I cannot claim to have a complete list of all symptoms. For those of you intrigued by this topic it will be up to you to make a list of all the symptoms for your congregation. Here is my representative list to get you started.
- We have a good representation of all age groups in our congregation, but it seems only those 50 or older (fill in your own number here) are active in the inter-workings of the congregation, such as serving as ushers, greeters, members of boards, etc. (A lack of a “committed servant” attitude in the majority, or a large number, of your confirmed members.)
- Our younger families show up on Sunday morning for services, but they do not attend adult Bible class while their children are in Sunday school. (A form of social behavior where perhaps brunch with other adults is more important than feasting on God’s Word.)
- We do not have any younger families in our congregation and the older members are getting physically unable or tired of doing all of the work associated with “doing church.” (A symptom of poor congregational demographics that is associated with a long history of past practices or perhaps culture.)
- Our members are so involved with sports, music and other extra-curricular activities with their children that their attendance at services, confirmation, Day School, etc., is often interrupted or precluded by these competing events. (A priority issue between church and secular activities)
- Our youth go off to college, military, or a job and then we do not see very much of them again unless it is a major event such a Christmas, Easter, a wedding or funeral. (A type of European syndrome)
- Following a marriage or baptism the adults are regular in their attendance for a period of time and then slowly drift away and finally disappear. (I call this a failure of the congregation to develop “brand loyalty” and to offer concrete steps to weave them into the fabric of your church.)
- Etc. Fill in your additional specific symptoms here until you have them all listed.
The most important point, so far, is to comprehend how these symptoms actually effect your congregation! These symptoms do affect us here at CLCC in two basic ways. 1. Congregations interested in hosting a seminar do not feel they have the local resources to make it happen or if they do host a seminar the attendance will be poor, consisting basically of the so-called “grey hairs.” (We love you too!) Our expectation is that the attendance at a locally hosted seminar is representative of the demographics of all the Lutheran churches in the area who have been invited and is reflective of the total number of Lutherans who were invited. That expectation is not always met due to the above listed symptoms being in play. I would submit that the same thing happens in your congregation when you look at adult Bible class attendance, Voters’ Assembly participation, and high school age children active in youth groups, Day School, etc.
If you have attended one of our Evangelism, Outreach and Affirmation seminars you may recall the main focus of lesson 1 is to develop the proper Scriptural references for Evangelism and proceed with the proper way to conduct evangelism and outreach. Word and Sacrament are the keys to this understanding. The lesson concludes with a graph that depicts the pathway for new Christians to be absorbed into the fabric of your church by continual education (maturing Christians) and eventually they will have the correct servant attitude to make evangelism and outreach happen, plus the other ministries in your church. It is these maturing Christians that form the vital core of your congregation that is active in your ministries in an Orthodox Lutheran manner. Hence the sub-title of this discussion is appropriate to address “Rebuilding the Laity Core” so the above symptoms go away. When the symptoms disappear we will have confidence that the “problem has been solved.”
One of the essential elements of your internal efforts to address the problem is to introduce the topic of the Doctrine of Vocation into the lives of your people. Without a proper understanding of vocations the laity will not be aware of how many of their personal decisions are actually contributing to the above symptoms. For this we recommend, at a minimum, each catechism class is immediately followed, or perhaps even preceded, with the CLCC Doctrine of Vocation Overview presentation. We provide a standalone presentation lesson for doing this, or perhaps using one of Dr. Gene Veith’s books on vocation as a Bible class study guide would better serve your needs. The important message here is that the synod and its churches have, for the most part, ignored this important teaching over the past decades and we are the worse for it. Thus this important teaching must be reintroduced and put into practice in order to begin to stem the tide and make an effective reversal. At some point you may wish to consider hosting the entire seminar on the Doctrine of Vocation.
In lesson 2 of our Evangelism, Outreach and Affirmation seminar we include many of the “tools” that can be applied to improve your evangelism and outreach efforts. Key to this progress is the need for continued education of the laity in the doctrines of the church and application of practical Christianity. Recalling the oft quoted “Christianity is an education, not an experience” by C. S. Lewis is very much applicable to this area of concern. The concluding graph of this lesson provides a visual explanation of the impact of Christian education on the “brand loyalty” of individuals over time. There is no end to the education stream offered, which gives rise to the need for adult Bible classes to be conducted for the beginning immature Christians plus those at various stages along the path towards maturity. (One class does not fit every one’s personal needs at the same time.) One big mistake would be to have your well educated laity suffer through a beginner’s adult Bible class because there is no alternative except “don’t attend.” Well trained lay teachers are critical to implementing this path. One of the signs in the Parish Hall of a church hosting one of our seminars was this, “Bible study doesn’t end until you meet the author. Signed, God.” We were so taken with this message that we incorporated it into the seminar.
Because CLCC believes the problem addressed in this discussion needs to be dealt with promptly, they are taking the following actions. The general theme of our 2014 and 2015 Regional Conferences will be organized to promote education and discussion of the need to “build up the body of Christ.” These two conferences will be “free conferences” as in open to all who wish to attend, for a small registration fee. Additionally, we are developing a new educational offering which will have specific educational and workshop sessions addressing this need through organizing your congregation to interact with your community. These conferences will be designed for one or more cooperating congregations to host the event, optionally led by a CLCC instructor. The proposed title for this offering is, “How to Serve Our Neighbor in Love and Mercy.”
In conclusion, the efforts taken to reversal of the symptoms noted for your congregation, requires well organized steps and actions taken to resolve them. It is truly a marathon, not a sprint.
Go in peace and serve the Lord, both consistently and continually.
Gene White, Acting Director of Education,
Confessional Lutherans for Christ’s Commission (CLCC)