Mission: Inreach, Outreach, and the Small Catechism

President Matthew Harrison of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod speaks about 40 years of declining membership in the synod. In his President’s Report, 2016 Convention Workbook, pp. 2-3, he presents information from several demographic studies. As he says, the demographic information dispels myths with facts.

An important piece of the demographic information is that Missouri Lutherans do not have children at even the replacement rate of 2.1 per family. Marriage is delayed. Having children is delayed. The number of children is reduced. He mentions prioritization of education, the expenses of having children, and the strain of debt among the contributing factors.

Some have criticized President Harrison’s use of this kind of information saying, for example, that it is just an excuse. I am not in that camp. These facts are real, and we need to change them.

But once I have said that this demographic analysis has validity (not necessarily to the exclusion of other complementary analyses), then I must realize what goes along with that. I must face what is part and parcel of ascribing validity to the low birth rate. I must face the other demographic fact, our high death rate. Low birth rate, and high death rate.

Our high death rate is not marked by the number of funerals in the synod. Our high death rate goes unmarked.

Three pastors got together for coffee one day and found all their churches had bat-infestation problems. “I got so mad,” said one, “I took a shotgun and fired at them. It made holes in the ceiling, but did nothing to the bats.” “I tried trapping them alive,” said the second. “Then I drove 50 miles before releasing them, but they beat me back to the church.” “I haven’t had any more problems,” said the third. “What did you do?” asked the others, amazed. “I simply baptized and confirmed them,” he replied. “I haven’t seen them since.” Reader’s Digest, July, 1994, p. 64.

We do not retain our own children in the faith at a sufficient rate to even go sideways, let alone ahead, and we don’t count the deaths by apostasy.

I see nothing reported from the demographic studies about the number of children we confirm who then depart the faith. In the 6 points of concentration to address our losses mentioned in President Harrison’s report, I don’t see one that addresses the internal weakness of defections by our offspring.

Don’t inject tone into these declarations that I did not put there. I support everything President Harrison said in the report about this. I just want to see one more thing added.

Strong outreach is dependent on strong inreach. We can’t give away what we don’t have. The shortest and simplest confession of our Christian faith is the six chief parts of Christian doctrine in the Small Catechism. If we do not have a grip on this in the family and in the congregation, our outreach to the community will be weak.

The one thing I want added is to strengthen our inreach with the Catechism in the family and in the congregation for their own sakes, and then for the sake of outreach to the community.

What man who cannot so much as read the Ten Commandments and Dr. Luther’s explanation of them to his 7 and 9 year old children is likely to be outgoing to his coworkers, neighbors, and friends when his vocation presents him with opportunity to give an account of the reason for the hope that lies within him? Sure, some here and some there might, but how many are likely to do so?

What’s the hang-up? Why can’t he read that to them? Are his children so intimidating? Is the material so complex? Has he too little time for something that takes about 3.5 minutes to read? Are his coworkers, neighbors, and friends less intimidating for a religious conversation than his children are? Would the discussion with adults be less complex than with children? Does he have more time for them than he has for his children?

Why don’t we know the rate of heads of families who teach the Catechism in the home? Where are our demographics on that?

How do our children view the Catechism? For that matter, how do our adults view it? Was it a stage we had to get through to be confirmed? Is it something for children, but not adults? Is it information, not a confession and not a prayer?

Unless we think outreach should begin with saying something outside the six chief parts of Christian doctrine, outreach should share what the Small Catechism teaches. When we are vague and faint on the Catechism, that debilitates outreach.

We are vague and faint on it because heads of families are not teaching it at home in sufficient numbers. We are vague and faint on it because at the church, we give the appearance that after a class of confirmands is confirmed, stick a fork in those potatoes, they’re done.

There are bright spots. For example, my former pastor used the Small Catechism as responsive reading during the Divine Service. It is remarkably suitable as a responsive reading. This showed everyone that the Catechism is for all ages, and can be confessed as an act of worship.

For another example, my current pastor, upon his arrival, immediately instituted Catechism review class on Wednesday evenings.

For another example, on Palm Sunday this year I visited at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Pensacola, Florida and attended the adult class between the services. The class was studying through Acts. Although the class material for that Sunday was in a chapter of Acts, after the Invocation and opening prayer, the class began with the pastor leading everyone reading aloud one of the six chief parts of Christian doctrine from copies of the Catechism that were placed on the tables at every seat.

There are lots of things like that we can do for inreach with the Catechism in the congregation. If we have strong inreach in the congregation and strong inreach in the family at home, two things can happen:

  • We can become convinced that the Small Catechism is a prime tool for outreach to the community.
  • Being strong in the Catechism, we can be strong in outreach.


The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod needs to get more in gear in evangelism and outreach. While much of this is done through the pastoral office, pastoral preaching and teaching, the Divine Service, and the Sacraments, a necessary part of this belongs to lay Christians in their vocations.

For lay outreach, we have a tremendous advantage. Unlike so many Christian denominations, Lutherans have this outstanding tool, this gift Christ gave to us through Dr. Luther, his Small Catechism. This Catechism has so many virtues that distinguish it from any other catechism. These virtues make it effective everywhere. It is effective in the home. It is effective in the congregation. It is effective in the community.

Look how simple and unifying using the Catechism everywhere could be. Want inreach in the home? Small Catechism. Want inreach in the congregation? Small Catechism. Want outreach to the community? Small Catechism.

Yes, to be sure, there are other resources. Many of them have virtues. Many of them can be effective. But let’s face it. If we can’t be strong with the Catechism, how likely are we to be strong with additional things? If we want to use additional things, first be strong in the Catechism, and then, fine, use those other things too. But why give up the advantage of a simple, unifying approach?

How long should it be before that coworker I invited to my church encounters the Small Catechism? How long should he continue his exploratory attendance before he is presented the six chief parts of Christian doctrine?

For outreach, we need to get the Small Catechism woven into everything we are doing.

About T. R. Halvorson

T. R. Halvorson was born in Sidney, Montana on July 14, 1953, baptized at Pella Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sidney, Montana on November 8, 1953, and confirmed at First Lutheran Church in Williston, North Dakota in 1968. He and his wife, Marilyn, are members of Trinity Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Sidney, Montana. They have three sons and six grandchildren. T. R. farms at Wildrose, North Dakota, and is Deputy County Attorney in Sidney, Montana. He has been a computer programmer; and an author, conference speaker, instructor, and consultant to industry in online legal information. He is among the authors of the religion column in the Sidney Herald at Sidney, Montana. He is the Editor of LutheranCatechism.com.


Mission: Inreach, Outreach, and the Small Catechism — 19 Comments

  1. My husband is a young LCMS pastor, insured by Concordia Health Plans. Likewise, I am a staff member of a CUS school, and am also insured by CHP. We have been married for six years and struggling through infertility tests and treatments for a year and a half. CHP has absolutely zero insurance coverage for these procedures. I am deeply hurt by this and cannot believe the current administration continues to blame and yet not help us, those who desperately wish to become faithful, catechizing parents.

  2. Becoming confirmed as a young adult in 1961 I can attest that catechism was not something that was routinely continued after confirmation (I lived in CA). No reminders about how as a young father I should be teaching my young children, etc. It was a conflicting time as we quickly approached the “walk out” and all that followed. See the last article at http://lutheranclarion.org/images/NewsletterJul2016.pdf for more details.

    I think what the author of this post is struggling to name what is commonly called “back door losses.” These losses come from a number of sources not just our errant children, but they are a big part of it. (By the Grace of God all three of our adult children are still attending a LCMS church, yet I know I did not do a good job of catechizing them as children.) More to the point we need to develop a rubric for measuring these back door losses in our annual statistics. I developed one several years ago for my own knowledge and it is not a pretty picture. When looking into this you will also find that many churches do not keep good records, especially for their membership rolls. Look at your own church membership rolls and I would estimate that you will find anywhere from 5 to 15 percent haven’t been seen in church in two or more years. I have seen higher percentages. Some go to other Christian denominations (we should be ashamed), some move away and are never heard from again, some drop out and are still around town(we should be more ashamed).

    I will use a marketing term here to make my point, “We as Lutherans, often do not take the needed steps to develop “brand loyalty” among our members.” How do you develop this loyalty? It starts with orthodox Word and Sacrament ministry, and from that point continuous education for the adults in the BOC, Bible studies, and a host of other Lutheran religious topics. Don’t forget that you will have “beginners” the new Christians, which need something easier to start on than what may be the current study in Revelations. I personally witnessed this when a couple who had never attended Bible class before were encouraged to come and they did. However, they did not know their books of the Bible and couldn’t look up Scripture. They were basically too embarrassed to come back. Think about the need for a beginners class on How to Use a Study Bible and give them a set of indexes for their Bible so they can find the books readily. You won’t regret it.

    Sadly, some Lutherans are more prone to leaving your congregation because of a perceived slight or offense than they are for bad doctrine, etc. They lack the basic skills to deal with the “bumps in the road” encountered along life’s pathway populated with man’s sin. Development of brand loyalty among the adults is key to retention of adults and I would submit also their children. We need to take the same care in what the youth are receiving during their high schools years as done for adults. Are we teaching them how to become active Lutheran adults in our congregation, engaged in our educational efforts, or are we focusing on teaching them how not to be Lutheran? Just as bad would be a culture of basically ignoring them, like they have no worth and are only passing through before they go off to college or military service, etc. There is an excellent chance you won’t see them again, if such is the case.

    I give credence to the need for higher procreation activities and this should be discussed openly and honestly with the young adults in every congregation. I believe the 2.1 children per family is also the number needed to basically retain a culture, so it is very important to start to turn this number around. Really folks, you can’t just leave this for the Preus clan to do all by themselves!

  3. @Alex Guggenheim #2

    Alex, that’s rude! It’s a problem, for them, even if you don’t understand it.

    People can be insensitive at both ends of the spectrum. At one, it’s, “When are you going to join the diaper changing club?” At the other it’s, “When are you going to quit?” (as detailed on “Sisters” over in the right hand column).

    In both cases, mind your tongue.

  4. @Joyce #1

    If you are not pushing 35, perhaps the best thing would be to relax, put those “treatment” expenses in the bank, and remember that, as the Preus clan says, “God gives children.”
    Stress doesn’t help the matter.

    Friends of mine fostered and then adopted. My aunt & uncle adopted a girl and then had two boys biologically, not the only time I’ve heard that story.

    I’m afraid this is turning into “Sisters” material; well maybe the “young pastor” needs to relax, too.

  5. @Joyce #1

    Joyce, I am sorry to hear that you and your husband are going through such difficulty. As a young pastor, I can sympathize with you and your husband in that there are certainly times where it feels like there is little support in Synod for young pastors families. When it comes to insurance though, it won’t matter what administration is in place. There are reasons why we have the coverage that we do. To put it bluntly, our insurance is sufficient. There are things that we have to deal with because of the insurance companies. There are things that we don’t have access to because of Biblical reasons – legitimate Biblical reasons (e.g. No need for abortion coverage in our Insurance Plans). We have two young daughters, and our insurance didn’t cover a number tests and what not due to out of network issues and so forth. There is no such thing as a perfect insurance plan. We make do with what we have. At least we have something, and that alone is enough to be thankful for.

    I don’t know what the testing that you and your spouse need involves. I don’t know what options you and your spouse are trying to consider. Try to be patient and leave it to the Lord. That’s the canned response, and it sounds dull when your heart is heavy. The fact remains: If it is His Will, you and your husband will conceive. If it is not, then perhaps the Lord is pointing the two of you in a different direction. It isn’t easy, especially on account of the fact that we all hope to ‘start a family’ of our own (I’ve heard that phrase is no longer politically correct – but I’ll use it anyway). To carry a child for 9 months, to give birth and hold that child in your arms, to raise children of your own flesh and blood, to raise them up in the faith, to watch them grow and learn, and to pass on the traditions of your family (start some new ones as well), these are the dreams of every couple (well, not so much in this age, but… you know what I mean). It may be that the Lord has a different plan for you and your husband, a child or children who need a home are out there and you might be the right folks to show the love of Christ to them. As hard as it is, be patient and hold to Christ and His means of Grace. The Lord will work it out. You and your husband will be in my prayers.

  6. @Joyce #1

    Sorry that you and your husband are going through this.

    Of course, in vitro fertilization is out of the question, since it frequently involves destroying a fertilized oocyte (egg).

    There are other options beside IVF, however, including adoption.

  7. The article bringsup something I’ve said here again and again: if you want to see outreach that is scriptural, teach vocation.

  8. @helen #4

    Save your sanctimonious rebukes for your your friends who are impressed with them.

    The complaint was utterly self-centered and precisely symptomatic of the narcissistic state of the American Evangelical and Protestant church.

    Here is a discussion about the survival of a denomination and she wants to rebuke the LCMS for not providing a health insurance that provides infertility treatments? What?

    Someone needs rebuked, alright, maybe two people seeing she has a head at home who apparently permits an intemperate domestic life and has failed to teach his wife about contentment and faith. No wonder pulpits are failing when we apparently are failing to pass on faith to our family.

    I’d hate to imagine what is being said about the LCMS to people she knows more intimately, and as a Pastor’s wife.

    Don’t think I lack sympathy for childlessness but it does not justify selfish excoriating of the LCMS’s oversight and it does not prevent a justified confrontation of such selfish modeling and unrighteous finger wagging.

    I’ll be, “you know what”, if I’m going to sit around wringing my hands in push back on this utter selfishness, worried I might hurt someone’s sensitivities for the sake of righteous principle.

  9. @Alex Guggenheim #9: “Here is a discussion about the survival of a denomination and she wants to rebuke the LCMS for not providing a health insurance that provides infertility treatments? [sic]

    This statement misses the relevance of what Joyce stated to the topic of this thread even though, in her case it is a personal issue. Of all the LCMS members covered by CPH, others are probably dealing with the problem.

    As noted in “Demythologizing the Mission: The Brutal Facts of the LCMS Forty-Year Decline” in the President’s Report (2016 Convention Workbook), the membership rate in each district/state corresponded to the population birth rate in that distrit/state area. The LCMS congregations are not having enough children.

    So the LCMS complains about the lack of children within the LCMS and doesn’t have anything in their medical plan to cover correcting the problem for its members. The point that Joyce brought, while not spanning the entire topic, is relevant to the discussion.

    Now there may be reasons for why infertility treatments are not covered, and those would have to be answered by someone who is familiar with the administration of CHP.

  10. @Carl Vehse #11

    So the LCMS complains about the lack of children within the LCMS and doesn’t have anything in their medical plan to cover correcting the problem for its members. The point that Joyce brought, while not spanning the entire topic, is relevant to the discussion.

    The Preus clan is noted for large families. At least since Robert Preus was President of CTS, there has been overt pressure on married seminarians to start a family before they were out of school.[That’s most of them. My son graduated in 1984; he discussed it. (And their first child was born on vicarage).]

    Since Harrison has tied decline directly to the birth rate among the LCMS (ignoring the state of the economy in middle class America) I’m sure the pressure to “start that family” is still there for pastors, whether they can afford it or not.

    All Joyce said, really, was, “Look, we’re trying. If it’s so important to LCMS, why isn’t there any help?”

    [I don’t think speculating on the reasons for the Concordia Plan omission is part of this topic. If I were spending money at Synod, I’d try to figure out a way to reduce the stress of student debt for the students. It might have happy “side effects”]

  11. @Phil #15

    Many have relationships and want to evangelize, but self-report that they don’t know what to say. In that situation, assuming for the sake of discussion that outreach begins with relationships, realizing that fact does little good. It only leads to relationships in which little or nothing is said. The Catechism is a highly efficient and essential “what” that people in relationships can say to their family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers.

  12. Dear T.R.,

    Thanks very much for this excellent post. You have found something here that is truly Lutheran–i.e., it follows Luther’s attitude toward the Catechism, though strangely has little resonance in modern Lutherans.

    Part of Luther’s way with the Catechism was to institute Sunday afternoon sermons on it. We can see this in the Braunschwieg-Wolfenbuttel “Church Order” of 1569, just published in English by CPH. I don’t know the subsequent history, because a lot of things were disrupted by the 30 Years War, but I am guessing that at least up until that war, the Catechism was preached from the pulpit on a regular basis in Lutheran lands. So it wasn’t just seen as a textbook for the kiddos, but as a doctrinal summary for all ages–which is what it is.

    Could we reinstitute Sunday afternoon sermons on the Catechism? Maybe in some congregations, but probably not in most. In those days, i.e., 16th century and following, Sunday was devoted to religious exercises, at least among the faithful. So you would have divine service in the morning, a bit of lunch at mid-day, Catechism sermons in the afternoon, and maybe a Vespers before going home.

    Who would ever give up that much of a Sunday today? Our pious forebears of all denominations–Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Reformed, etc.–all shame us in this way in their pious dedication to the Sabbath observance.

    We could institute Catechism sermons for midweek services, in those congregations that have them. This is a practical possibility, and is maybe something to work toward in a future district or synod convention resolution.

    As to the business about the Catechism as a basis for evangelism, that is not a new idea–but I am very glad you are restoring it. Just be aware that this was part of the controversy at Fort Wayne that led to the termination of Robert Preus.

    Steve Scheiderer, a Fort Wayne sem student and one of the first graduates of Christ College-Irvine, was developing a program for using the Small Catechism as a basis for evangelism by Lutheran laymen–in a way very similar to what you are describing. His basic idea was the renewal of the catechism in the home, which would naturally lead to catechetically-aware Lutheran laymen sharing their faith at work, at school, in their neighborhood, among relatives, etc. He started a small organization called, I think, “Confessional Evangelism Institute,” or something like that. I have the materials from his organization someplace in my files.

    Then Steve and Kurt Marquart ended up in conflict with Dr. Waldo Werning over the Church Growth Movement (see Waldo Werning, Making the Missouri Synod Functional Again [Fort Wayne: Biblical Renewal Publ, 1992], 188-202). Waldo fought against Steve, and everything Steve was working on got lost in the battles. Waldo hounded Steve after he was ordained, and interfered in his parish ministry, until Waldo’s dying day, and he opposed everything that Steve had worked on. Werning was one of the founders of the Jesus First organization, so if you find resistance from former Jesus First members or sympathizers, the Werning-Scheiderer battles are the reason why.

    Keep working on this. I think there is a lot of potential in it.

    If you are thinking about publishing materials to help people use the Catechism in this way, you might want to look at several of the LCMS related organizations that do similar things: Concordia Catechetical Academy (Sussex, WI; Peter Bender, director, http://lutherancatechesis.org ), Confessional Lutherans for Christ’s Commission (Rob Jarvis, director, http://theclcc.org ); and Church Matters (Gene White, director, http://churchmatterssolutions.org ).

    The CCA has published the most material on the Catechism, so I would go there first. Talk to Pastor Bender, attend one of their CCA conferences, and learn more about the rich materials developed in the last couple of decades in this area.

    I hope this helps a bit.

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  13. @Martin R. Noland #17

    Dr. Noland, thank you for showing me the terrain. That is so important to know, and I had no idea of that history. Also thanks for pointing me to those who already having been working on this. While I am aware of a variety of efforts, your direction helps me prioritize where to look first, and your appraisal carries great weight.

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