My, What Big Cities You Have, FiveTwo

FiveTwo, the shadow Synod hiving out of the LCMS, likes to say that church planters must “start new to reach new”. The inference is that FiveTwo will succeed where the LCMS is failing because it knows how to “unlock communities” to receive the Gospel in a modern world.

Distilled to its essence, FiveTwo is simply a marketing strategy built around delivering watered down Lutheran theology without clericals and the traditional liturgy. Put another way, there is a gap in the market for praise band churches that are not cravenly synergistic. Think Rick Warren with a degree from Concordia Seminary rather than Fuller Theological Seminary.

That led us to analyze data on churches directly affiliated with FiveTwo in order to test a hunch that they cleave to a tight demographic that mirrors evangelical mega church profiles.

We examined 34 churches that are openly connected with FiveTwo via its “find a local” reference page. We then matched each church’s zip code with census tract data to provide a fine-grained picture of the “community” each church is “planted” in.

The results are not without a degree of error – some churches are located in poor tracts but draw from very wealthy tracts right next door; and vice versa. But the aggregate results smooth out most of the problems, and absent actual member data, can be regarded as reliable. Whilst 34 churches is a small sample to draw larger conclusions for the LCMS, we consider it sufficiently representative of the overall church growth faction within the Synod. Most of that faction is very sympathetic to FiveTwo in praxis and doctrine if not affiliation.

The data reveals that FiveTwo “communities” are:

  • Significantly affluent with large incomes and asset bases.
  • Mostly suburban.
  • Mostly early middle-aged.
  • Mostly white.
  • Mostly insulated from poverty and unemployment.

A typical FiveTwo church looks like this:

FiveTwoNetworkDemogs

This is a long way from the innovation and diversity aura FiveTwo likes to project. Poor, rural or inner city congregations are the exception, leaving the LCMS far more diverse than FiveTwo in nearly every respect. FiveTwo network churches are actually very similar in character and appearance to any evangelical mega church in any large city in the world. This movement and its churches are clearly a cultural rather than a Gospel phenomenon.

It is reasonable to conclude that the FiveTwo model has limited (if not fatal) application beyond wealthy suburban neighborhoods in big cities. In the long run, FiveTwo is most likely softening up Lutheran congregations to defect to American evangelicalism either through attrition or choice.

This is partly good news because it means that FiveTwo cannot succeed in its goal of establishing one million sacramental communities by 2044 without cannibalizing its evangelical cousins. However, the larger danger is that FiveTwo’s concentrated marketing could strip away the affluent congregations that the LCMS requires to subsidize the rest of the Synod, and which would destabilize its long term security. Likewise, if the LCMS loses those churches to Liberalism, its profile would shift significantly with a large hole in the suburban areas of major cities. It would be very difficult to plug those gaps.

Figure 1: Income and Home Value Variance to State Medians

IncomeHomeValues

Very few communities have a lower median income than their state median income, or have home values below the state median. Notably, where incomes or home values are lower, the corresponding home values and incomes are generally offsetting. When compared with national medians, the FiveTwo communities are even better off and move deeper into the desirable top-right quadrant.

Figure 2: Age and Median Income Compared with National Medians

AgeIncome

As expected when income and assets are significant, there is a corresponding higher age profile for FiveTwo communities. Where communities are younger than the national median, it is notable how wealthy they are. There is only one outlier in the group which is very young and comparably poor.

Figure 3: Unemployment Rate and Poverty Level Compared with National Medians

UnemploymentPoverty

Not one of the communities has an unemployment rate above the national median although three have higher poverty levels; one of them extreme. The clustering of communities is indicative of a strategy dependent on congregants having incomes and assets.

Figure 4: Income and Home Values Compared with National Medians

IncomeHomePrices

It would not be unkind to say that Figure 4 reflects an elitist movement. The data points are well above the national medians. Where home prices are lower, incomes are higher to make up for it.

Figure 5: Race and Poverty Compared with National Medians

RacevsPoverty

There is little evidence of reaching new by starting new in this chart.

Figure 6: Density and Median Income Compared with National Medians

DensityvsIncome

FiveTwo clearly flourishes best in low density high income communities.


Sources: FiveTwo.com; Three-Year-Average Median Household Income by State: 2011 to 2013 – US Census; http://morrisseyweb.com/2012/03/09/the-average-us-population-density/; Trulia.com; Zillow.com; SocialExplorer.com; City-Data.com

Comments

My, What Big Cities You Have, FiveTwo — 35 Comments

  1. Brilliant post Tim.

    As you have been harping in the comments in other strings, where is the outrage on 5/2? Where is the bureaucratic Facebook post against this “marketing strategy with watered down Lutheran theology?”

  2. Tim , I love it. Great illuminating research.

    These affluent LCMS churches should read their bible and partner with the LCMS churches in the cities. I know from personal experience that the churches who most try to reach the poor and needy, do not have the affluent money base to draw upon.

  3. I’m not sure if contemporary music correlates exactly with 5/2 but seeing the median age is about 40, that is smack dab in the middle of GenX. Does this mean the praise music phenomena is not just a baby boomer thing as is sometimes joked about? i was kind of hoping it would die out with that generation, but I’m not so sure now.

  4. @Ryan #6

    The problem is the damage the Boomers have wrought. Gen X and Millenials might not like it as much, but they have been deprived of traditional liturgy that they don’t know what they are missing or that it exists. So our older forms are foreign. Not being brought up in them, these lost generations will need extensive relearning. Sad. It will take longer, but the ‘contemporary’ worship will fade.

  5. Tim, I am so thankful for brothers (and sisters) like you who love data or work so well with it at least!

    I would like to say I’m surprised but I can’t. Follow the money as they say.
    If your motivations are not of the Spirit then they are of the purse.
    Great article, and thanks.

  6. @Ryan #6

    Contemporary worship changes to fit demographics. One good example of this: at a local Presbyterian (mega)church, they have four different services: a “traditional” service, a “liturgical” service, a “contemporary” service, and a “post-contemporary” service. I think that distinction in “contemporaries” (and in “traditional” type services, as well, actually) is a distinction that many folks on here are not aware of.

    At this church, the “contemporary” service is what you all would term “cowo.” The “post-contemporary” service, however, uses different sorts of music: the 20-30 year olds at that service wouldn’t be caught dead singing “Shine, Jesus, Shine” or “Our God is an Awesome God.” They would be more likely to have ensembles performing songs like “All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands” by Sufjan Stevens, for instance, and would sing more “indie” Christian hymns and songs. Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, MI is probably a good example of “post-contemporary” worship, but it can be even hipper than that.

    Anyway, I don’t go to any kind of contemporary service, but your comment prompted me to make this distinction. And if I were to go to a contemporary service, it would be a “post-contemporary” service, despite the stupid name. The “contemporary” service at the church I am referencing woulds probably see mostly people in their late 30’s-50’s. The “post-contemporary” service is more for “Millenials” and would probably also contain some liturgical elements, because that’s getting cool again for hipster Christians.

    For the record, I think the variety of worship types offered at this Presbyterian church is excessive and not at all conducive to a healthy, united church family.

  7. “Church growth” (by any of its many names) has always gravitated to the affluent side of town, often on the advice of District bureaucrats. “The lost” are only a finger-snapping exercise as souls; the real concern is that dollars are getting away.

    But thanks for the graphs to prove my “anecdotes”! 🙂

  8. @Pastor Tim Rossow #3

    Yes, I noticed that a FiveTwo congregation is located only a few miles from Naperville. There, a FiveTwo lay member runs the Small Groups ministry. I too wonder why the Northern Illinois District President remains silent on the issue.

  9. Todd,

    You are right. The Presidium in general seems unconcerned about these issues.

    Personally my time right now is spent engaging a local pastor, the District President and even synodical officials on the Beth Moore issue. These things will not get taken care of unless people get busy and do something. I have already had two meetings with the local pastor and four meetings with the DP and things are moving along. It may be the same congregation you are talking about.

  10. According to this May 31st 2012 Reporter article the Missouri Synod Council of Presidents has some members who support FiveTwo as part of their focus on ecclesiastical leadership in a post-church culture. The ecclesiastical supervisors (leaders) have not been silent about FiveTwo. They appear to endorse it.

    http://blogs.lcms.org/2012/council-of-presidents-assigns-first-calls

    FiveTwo

    As part of its continuing focus on ecclesiastical leadership in a post-church culture, the COP invited the Rev. Bill Woolsey, senior pastor of CrossPoint Lutheran Church, Katy, Texas, to highlight the work of “FiveTwo,” an organization dedicated to providing a personal how-to to sacramental churches and encouraging them to more effectively reach the lost in their communities.

    Woolsey said nine church planters created the organization three years ago in response to this question: “What would it look like to work with church planters around the Synod?”

    The organization’s name, he added, is a reference to Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves and two small fish.

    FiveTwo’s work is “built around our common belief that God provides mysterious life-changing power through Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and those gifts should be at the center of our mission work,” Woolsey explained in a handout to the COP.

  11. LW,

    That is really depressing to hear but thanks for keeping us in the loop. I fear that my DP may be one of those but as I said above, for the last six months I have been working on the Beth Moore issue in our district.

  12. The Northern Illinois District’s theme “New Starts New Believers” puts me in mind of FiveTwo. The NID president, whom I like as a person, uses FiveTwo lingo in his writing when he writes things like like “start new” as in FiveTwo’s “start new, reach new.” It’s not a huge surprise given the influence of the Pastoral Leadership Institute, Transforming Churches Network and FiveTwo on the Missouri Synod and many of her leaders. From what I’ve seen these three groups are a common thread among some LCMS congregations.

  13. Todd,

    I am not sure what your end game is. I wish you would just speak straight forward what your issue is.

    Clearly you want to back me into some sort of corner. You will win that game. You are smarter and more clever than me.

    I spend a decent amount of my time dealing with issues of false doctrine and practice in our synod. Not only that, but I have belonged to the Northern Illinois Confessional Lutherans for years and that group has been active holding the synod accountable for over 25 years.

    I have stated my frustrations clearly and in a straight-forward way about the LCMS today. We have had major doctrinal divisions in the LCMS since the days of seminex. Five years ago we elected a synodical president who we thought put us in a good position to bring greater pure doctrine and practice to the LCMS. Because in five years he has not articulated a plan to do that and the one he proposed before he was elected (Koinonia) has been poorly managed, is spinning its wheels, and is designed in such a way that he does not have to take a leadership position in it, we are left to wonder what the plan is and where the action is.

    Recently he made a Facebook post that properly criticizes the false doctrine of the Matthew Becker case. I have commended those words but have asked where the action is. I have also written three suggestions for action on another post on this blog.

    I am frustrated that the plan, if there is one, seems to be more by-laws. I have expressed this clearly and fairly. I plan to continue to express that frustration because we expected more from the synod president that we elected.

  14. I found it very interesting using the “find a location” link and inserting my zip code with a range of 200 miles. Interesting but not surprising.

  15. I think what surprises me is that with the election of more confessional leadership at the synodic level there seems to be little change in the general direction of the synod. It shouldn’t be surprised though because I’m used to republicans taking the majority in both the house and senate of the U.S. with little change effected in the direction of the country.

  16. In response to several comments: it is disturbing as a relatively recent convert to Confessional Lutheranism that the LCMS is suffering a multi-front insurgency. We need all our Confessional Pastors to join the fight – it cannot be left to a handful of men because the threat is too great and too diverse. Subscription to the Confessions is necessarily also a subscription to combat. False doctrine and error will always be with us, but we will not always have men with the fortitude to rebuke and reprove as well as exhort. Pastors without a dog in the fight: please don’t give in to the comity / koinonia pressures. Fight for pure doctrine and, thereby, you will save the LCMS from the insurgents so that sinners like me and my family can safely go to church to receive the means of grace. Let’s uphold the subscription to the Confessions rather than a subscription to the Concordia Plans.

  17. Closest one to me according to this map is in Troy.

    I’m not far from Frankenmuth, and while St. Lorenz (which I have visited a few times) is pretty confessional overall, I’m seeing signs of troubling things sneaking in (a CoWo service, books in the bookstore that are hardly Lutheran in substance, etc).

  18. Esau = CG.

    Mess of pottage = their whatever . . .

    We’re allowing it to happen to ourselves, and who is stopping it?

    No one.

    Imagine a mere parish pastor doing so – we just hope to survive the next voters’ intact in body and soul, and mourn our brethren who do not.

    We submitted to a hierarchal, democratic polity. It is not, I repeat, not confessional. It is a polity that was handed down to us, and it works as well as our gummint does, which is to say –

    Not.

  19. @J. Dean #29

    J. Dean,

    I’d stay away from St. Lorenz. Check this out. Their latest bulletin states that their women are using one of Karen Kingsbury’s works of fiction for their bible study. You just can’t make this stuff up. Below is a quote from their bulletin.

    http://stlorenz.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/2-1-15-Bulletin.pdf

    You are invited to join us on Wednesday mornings from 9:30 – 11:00 a.m. in the Heritage Room for Women’s Bible study. Our new six week study, The Family of Jesus by Karen Kingsbury, will begin on February 4th. The study will include discussion of a fictional view of six of the family members of Jesus, all anchored by Scriptural truth, creating a life-changing and unprecedented emotional connection to the Bible. The Family of Jesus not only provides a deeper understanding of the relatives of our Savior, but also helps readers acquire tools that will draw them closer to Christ, to the Scriptures, and to each other.

  20. @Randy Yovanovich #31
    Just as sad and tragic from that attachment, with 6 pastors and 1 vicar listed as serving that congregation, a theologian leads only 4 out of 21 weekly Bible studies. Lord have mercy, and shame on those pastors.

  21. @Randy Yovanovich #31

    Would this be as big of a deal if it weren’t billed as a “Bible Study”? Should women not be reading Karen Kingsbury at all, or is it ok that they read her, but they shouldn’t get together and talk about it?

    Interestingly, it seems the emphasis in this series of evoking “emotion” by asking readers to “imagine” Biblical scenes and stories is very reminiscent of the sort of “affective piety” popular in the later middle ages (and throughout the early modern period, to some extent). Originally a Catholic practice (I think it had something to do with Ignatian meditative methods), but also seen in much Reformation-era literature, as well (at least in England). This isn’t exactly a contemporary evangelical innovation, but I suppose it doesn’t have a solid, distinctly Lutheran history, so it should be discouraged…?

    I haven’t read the book in question, or any of Karen Kingsbury’s work (though my mom is a big fan); however, I do wonder if the general thought of folks here is that this sort of thing should not be written, or should not be advertised as “bible study,” or just that Lutheran women should not read/discuss it.

  22. @Leah #33

    I apologize for getting off topic. Tim’s article about FiveTwo is very important. Therefore, this is the last I’ll say on this topic.

    Leah,

    To use a book of fiction as a bible study is ridiculous. Next, Karen Kingsbury writes all sorts of material, including romance-type novels with a theological twist. Again, no big deal except one should be very careful not to take the theology seriously. I say this because Karen Kingsbury openly acknowledges the involvement of her pastor, Jamie George of the Journey Church in Franklin, TN (my neck of the woods) in her works like “The Family of Jesus”. Here’s a link to their website:

    http://journeyfranklin.com/communication/church-leadership/

    I hope this helps. The pastor(s) at St. Lorenz are derelict in their duties for letting things like this happen (as also stated by Pastor Weinkauf). However, other aspects of their website would also lead one to believe that their theology is a bit askew too. Again, I’ll stop here. Back to FiveTwo.

  23. I do find these numbers to be interesting. What is the average age of the LCMS? How do these numbers stack up against LCMS averages in general?

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