The Utter Failure of the Church Growth Movement

Church growthIn what had been touted for decades as the movement able to rescue the American Christian Church from extinction, The Church Growth Movement (CGM) has itself become extinct.  Yes, the Church Growth Movement has lost its movement.  It had been suspect from the outset as making claims which many challenged were unbiblical and permitted authorities and practices from outside Scripture.  A look at the timetable of the movement up to today provides the shocking conclusion that this movement has never delivered what it promised and even guaranteed.

Since writing a book on the subject in 2002[1] and then casually following it up till around 2012, I recently looked into it in order to see where it was today.  The results were staggering: it’s become virtually extinct.  It has been an “utter failure!”  It has failed Christ’s Church in two major ways.  First, it has failed to remain faithful to Scripture and secondly, it has failed to provide the true growth in new church members promised.

I am but one of many who have contended in publications that the Church Growth Movement goes off the Scriptural rails at its fundamental outset by not being centered on Scriptural principles but on business and marketing principles.[2]  This charge can be summarized in this way: “Marketing is an overarching approach that seeks to please the customer, proclaiming the customer king.  True theology can have no customer sovereignty.  The precious Gospel must be sovereign.”[3]

This marketing orientation was brought into the CGM in the 1960’s when its founder, former missionary in India, Donald McGavran, began educating pastors at Fuller Seminary in California about using research to increase church membership.  Hence in short, it made overarching concepts and techniques its focus which are not found in Scripture front and center in how Christ’s Church should and ought to increase numerically.  Thus, CGM revolves around utilizing market research in order to expand the church’s market.  This became its driving orientation, what needed to change within the church’s approach to non-believers.  “Change” became the movement’s mantra, looking for strategies and tactics to meet unmet non-believers’ felt needs.  All of this speaks not to Scriptural statements but to marketing concepts.[4]

Central to what has been labeled by CGM as a needed paradigm shift is the pitting of the mission versus the message.  It sets in opposition the proclaiming the Gospel in its purity via the means of grace against getting this Gospel out, i.e. the Great Commission of Matthew 28.[5]  This unfairly and unbiblically posits an “either/or” situation where it should be a “both/and.”  However, this being said, the mission can never be placed more important than being faithful to the proclamation of the Gospel in its purity and the administration of the Sacraments as the Lord has mandated.[6]

Change is the mantra of the CGM and so they have emphasized this.  The Gospel and the means of grace have unfortunately come under this fervor for change for growth’s sake, purporting they need reprogramming, re-engineering, retooling.  Dr. Norman Nagel responds well: “No one admits to adjusting Christ. “It’s the Gospel we’re working on.”  The apostle won’t let them get away with that.  Adjusted Gospel is adjusted Christ.  And for an adjusted Gospel, you don’t really finally need Christ.  The apostle goes on to make that quite clear.  Can you talk about a Gospel if Jesus had not been crucified?  Then the stumbling block of the cross had been removed.”[7]  Again, if your main target is on the unchurched, your Gospel proclamation will shift away from pure Gospel proclamation to whatever they, the listener will accept and tolerate.  The Gospel purely preached is the only power of God for salvation to anyone of anytime (Romans 1:16-17).

On to the second significant failure of the CGM to break its promises to numerically grow the church.  Even their major market researcher, George Barna, has researched and admitted this: “Claims of prolific church growth have been grossly exaggerated; not only are most churches not increasing in size, but those that are expanding are doing so at the expense of other churches.  More than 80 percent of the adults who get counted as new adherents and thus as part of the growth statistic are really just transplants from other churches—religious consumers in search of the perfect, or at least more exciting or enjoyable, church experience.  Disturbingly little church growth is attributable to new converts.  All in all, it was not a good decade for church growth.”[8][1]   Barna deduces from this shocking conclusion that the CGM must even find new and more unique radical approaches to growing the church.  And so it has, in some radical directions as exemplified by C. Peter Wagner.    C. Peter Wagner of Fuller Theological Seminary has been touted as the standard bearer for CGM after McGavran’s death.  He has been acknowledged as influential in bringing more of the charismatic/Pentecostal element into the movement.  Going even further, he has been the main proponent of the New Apostolic Reformation.[9]  This movement does what prior to the apostles has never been done before: confess and practice that the office of the apostle in Ephesians 4:11-12 should be filled in our time.[10]  Yet another example of failure #1, unfaithfulness to Scripture!

While Wagner’s new CGM direction can be rather easily deemed as not just out of the proverbial box, but terribly outside the Bible, there are other new directions for CGM of a more rational theological nature.  This group of CGM advocates has even moved in a whole new direction and emphasis which their new name implies: Great Commission Research Network.[11]  The GCRN states that they believe the CGM has moved too far from McGavran’s initial focus on mission and wish to return to those roots.[12]

Not only has the CGM continually confessed that it has failed in its guarantees to numerically grow the church, but that most of its growth has not been from the unchurched, but from Transfer Growth, or what some have termed as “stealing sheep.”[13]  Rearranging the sheep from one congregation to another is not what the CGM guaranteed nor delivered.

Among us, LCMS President Harrison researched and published his findings that there was no discernible difference between CGM dominated districts and more Confessional districts over the last decades.[14]  This movement originated from outside us and imported within us by pastors primarily studying at Fuller Seminary.  Among us it has divided our synod and has not performed the promised numerical growth.  It has been an utter failure in remaining faithful to Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions.  We should jettison it and its unbiblical foundation and return to our biblical roots of the precious means of grace being practiced faithfully among us, and trusting the Lord of the Church for growth, where and when He wishes (John 3:8).

 

 

[1] Rodney E. Zwonitzer, Testing the Claims of Church Growth, (St. Louis: CPH, 2002).

[2] Ibid., 11-23 and my article “Is The Church A  Business?” found at: http://www.mtio.com/articles/aissar57.htm  (accessed on June 29, 2016)

[3][3] Ibid., 9.

[4] See the above references for more on this point.

[5] Ibid., 35-40 and 115-126.

[6] See Augsburg Confession, VII.

[7] Norman E. Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel, (St. Louis: CPH, 2004).

[8] George Barna and Mark Hatch, Boiling Point: It Only Takes One Degree; Monitoring Cultural Shifts in the 21st Century (Ventura, Calif.: Gospel Light/Regal Books, 2001), 236.

[9] See his books on the subject, e.g. Church Quake!: The Explosive Power of the New Apostolic Reformation

[10] See Thomas Winger’s take on this in his CPH Commentary on Ephesians, page 449-466.

[11] For more see: http://www.greatcommissionresearch.com/  accessed on July 1, 2016.

[12] See Ed Stetzer’s analysis here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2008/november/american-society-for-church-growth.html accessed on July 1, 2016.

[13] For example see William Chadwick, Stealing Sheep: The Church’s Hidden Problems of Transfer Growth, (Downers Grove, IL: 2001).

[14] 2016 National Convention Workbook, President’s Report, 2.

About Rev. Rodney Zwonitzer

he Rev. Rodney Zwonitzer graduated with a B.S. in Business Management from the University of Wyoming in 1971. From 1971 to 1975 he served as executive trainee for Westinghouse in Denver, CO. Then from 1975 to 1979 he was marketing director/administrator for Storage Technology Corporation of Louisville, Colorado. From 1979 to 1984 he was Product Marketing Manager for United Technologies/Mostek of Carrollton, Texas. Then another calling came into his life. After attending four years of seminary at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, he was called in 1988 to serve as Pastor of Peace and Trinity Lutheran Churches in Trail, British Columbia, Canada. He served there until he was called to be Senior Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Dearborn, Michigan in 1991. In 2012 he was called to be Director of Broadcast Services for the LCMS. The Rev. Rod Zwonitzer is author of Testing the Claims of Church Growth (CPH, 2002). He is co-founder of the Peacemakers Dialogue Group, has served on the Board of Directors of LATINO (Lutheran Action Improving Native Spanish Outreach), is a co-founder of the Ephphatha Lutheran Mission Society, and has served as an adjunct professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne. Rev. Zwonitzer retired in 2015 and resides in Florida.

Comments

The Utter Failure of the Church Growth Movement — 43 Comments

  1. But the CGM has morphed. Now the claims and promises are not so numerically oriented, and the proponents of the “new” have backed up a step or two. Now, things like PLI and IIM don’t promise great increase in numbers, 5/2 notwithstanding, but simply restructuring for more “effective ministry”, however a congregation chooses to define that. Still not focused on the clear, plain Word, the Wisdom of God, still not interested in teaching our people the Content of our faith.

  2. For the last ten years or longer, our church has embarked on revitalization and transformation, with the hope of reshaping it into a vibrant community,
    Turn Your Church Inside Out: Building a Community for Others
    by Walt Kallestad
    Copyright 2001 published by Augsburg Fortress

    reclaiming our faith from the American Dream and being challenged to unite around a gospel-centered vision
    Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God
    by David Platt
    Copyright 2011 published by Multnomah Books

    – all for the sake of attracting the unchurched in the community to make them feel welcomed. When membership and attendance plateaued, our Pastor then focused on hospitality and visitor follow up contact and small gifts.
    Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church
    by Nelson Searcy
    Copyright 2007 published by Regal Books

    Now membership and attendance is trending downward. Pastor’s latest template for growing the church: hang out with people and wait for an opportunity to join Jesus on his mission.
    Joining Jesus on His Mission: How to Be an Everyday Missionary
    by Greg Finke
    Copyright 2014 published by Tenthpower

    So the emphasis has changed over the years as different things were tried. We have journeyed from the Battleship mentality and motto, “It’s not about you!” to the Radical mentality whose motto is “American Christians are only interested in their own comfort” to the Seeker mentality whose motto is “Meet felt needs” to the Institutional mentality whose motto is “You’re most effective as a missionary apart from the trappings of church.”
    The main points to take away from all this is that we, the church, enjoyed a free ride in a much easier culture until now and that what worked to fill the pews in the past doesn’t work today. The mantra, “We must change to save the church,” alarmed many of us who were shown research that indicated the LCMS was clearly doing something wrong.
    It has all been a blowing in the wind.

  3. And yet a great many will still cling to it, much like Finney did with his perfectionism and gospel-absent revivalism.

  4. @Mark #2

    The sad thing is that a simple revisiting of the doctrine of vocation would accomplish so much more than any of the authors you cited. Missionalism and “radical” (read: legalistic) Christianity have come about precisely because vocation has been forgotten.

  5. @Mark #2
    Mark writes,

    The main points to take away from all this is that we, the church, enjoyed a free ride in a much easier culture until now and that what worked to fill the pews in the past doesn’t work today.

    The biggest problem is that what worked to fill the pews in the early years of the LCMS were the continued immigrants from “the Old Country”, then in the post WWII years were “the Baby Boomers”. We have neither now, and are struggling to adjust to this new normal.

  6. Indeed, “The precious Gospel must be sovereign.” Amen to that a thousand times, although I am convinced there are some things in our Confessions that prevent that from happening.
    Aside from that, I am a Lutheran who has spent most of his professional life in marketing industrial systems. As a devotee to marketing, I find that among laypeople (here not in the church sense, but meaning those who are not professional marketers) there is a great deal of misunderstanding about marketing. No true believer in marketing would agree with the statement, “Marketing is an overarching approach that seeks to please the customer, proclaiming the customer king. “ In business, the “king” of marketing is profit. Sometimes slogans are used, that the author knows to be false, but he also knows they are effective in enhancing profit. This is particularly true in retail marketing and impulse buying. Nobody will buy a factory because some salesman pleases the customer, proclaiming him king.
    The number one marketing principle states that one should do whatever possible to please the customer while maintaining a profit. The Christian equivalent is to do whatever possible for the Christian or the unbeliever, while maintaining the sovereignty of the Gospel. I will give you a very practical example: today I looked at the website of one of our churches in order to get their address. Neither the page with the worship schedule, nor the one about Bible class, had the address. Finally, when I hit “contact us,” there was the address. The point is that by everything we do in proclaiming the Gospel, we should make it clear that we care for the needs of the hearer. There are many needs people have that do not involve the sovereignty of the Gospel. St. Paul put it this way, Romans 10:14, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Marketing, as it is meant to be, will meet many of these needs. Christian marketing is nothing other than fulfilling our Lord’s commandment to love (and serve) one another.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  7. @J. Dean #4

    Amen. I will be “training” in the Re:Vitality program just getting underway. There is some value to such things, in the sense of self-examination to see if Christ in Word And Sacrament really is the the center of the congregations life, but in conversation with Mark Wood, from the ONM, heading up this thing, he sounds quite clear that numbers are not the real goal and measure of its “success”. Planning is a good thing, but *only* as we remember AC V, that Faith is given when and where the Holy Spirit wills.

  8. There are two directions a church can take. The first, in the CGM is to appeal to the sinful nature in man. That includes catering to the “felt needs” of “seekers”, which leads churches to focus on entertainment worship, small groups, children’s programs and activities, food courts, health and wellness programs, etc. etc. It certainly also includes the prosperity gospel, legalistic theology, which tells man feel that he can save himself with his works, and anti-nomian theological bent so common in the more liberal mainline churches.

    The other way is that the pure Gospel is preached, God’s word is taught in its truth and purity and the church is centered, on the worship, love, service, and glorification of the Lord Jesus Christ. The first way will have to constantly be changed and altered depending on the times and the boredom of people. The second never changes.

  9. @George A. Marquart #6
    George— I wanted to comment on your statement that marketing is not about the customer as king, but rather pleasing the customer to make a profit. While accepting that the making of profit is always on the mind of owners and managers, marketing is an approach which addresses how this is to be done, i.e. by capturing and maintain significant market share by filling customer needs. The goal might be bottom-line profit, but the means is meeting peoples’ needs, that is marketing. Having experience in just this very area before entering the ministry was what I did and all the marketing people around me in industry. Marketing was a correction to the once top heavy make a profit by selling what the maker wanted rather than being customer oriented. Just saying that I think you went a little overboard on the profit idea.

  10. @Rev. Loren Zell #8

    You’re right, Pr. Zell. The preached Gospel is the only true source of evangelism.

    I might offer, as others have over the years, that most western churches have ignored their most consistent and reliable mission fields in the last 80 years: having children. Large families, catechized by parents and gathered into faithful local congregations, grow exponentially generation after generation. As Christian families have bought into the various cultural lies of easy divorce and low numbers of children, they have cut off their own progeny from the pews of their churches.

    It’s not a get rich quick type scheme for church growth, but growing the church by growing the family– all in, with, and under the Word of God– is a tried and true historical model. Not likely to sell many books (maybe more copies of Luther’s Small Catechism) or make for more endless streams of consultants with studies and resolutions in hand… but it would be effective.

  11. Behind all the CGM strategies and methodologies is a deep-seeded lack of faith in the power of the Means of Grace to accomplish what God wants accomplished. They simply do not believe that the Gospel can work through His appointed means of grace…at least not efficiently to produce the “results” that men want to achieve. The Word and Sacraments must (in their view) be propped up by their gimmicks, catchy tunes, multi-media screens, etc.

    To justify all of this they point to declining numbers in the LCMS. They point to sociological studies that show that American culture is not responding to Christianity in general, and Lutheranism in particular. In reality, the only thing that such studies demonstrate is that we happen to be living in a deeply and increasingly secular culture. The CGM boys like to claim that if our numbers aren’t increasing, then either the pastor or the congregation or both are not doing their jobs and therefore must radically change what they are doing to reverse the numerical losses we all observe. In other words, they are claiming that we aren’t doing our job. In fact, any faithful pastor and congregation who preaches the Word of God in all its truth and purity and administers the Sacraments in accord with our Lord’s institution IS doing his/their job!

    Where in Scripture is there any suggestion that in the end times that the Bride of Christ will look “Triumphant” or “Successful” or “Big”? I simply can’t find it. CGM is a con-game! It is smoke and mirrors. Faithful pastors who preach rightly and administer the Sacraments rightly have no apology to make to anyone…especially the Almighty!

  12. @Rev. Richard A. Bolland #10

    A lack of faith is exactly what it is, Pr. Bolland, and a significant misunderstanding of what the church actually is. But then again, this is a horse long dead and flogged. Anyone who doesn’t understand yet that the LCMS is overwhelmingly compromised by Enthusiasts of nearly every stripe, either isn’t paying attention, doesn’t care, or is colluding with them.

  13. I had C.P. Wagner as a professor at Fuller back in the 1970s. In my years as a Baptist pastor, I utilized many of the techniques taught to me in seminary.

    It interested me greatly that after years of promoting the CGM, Wagner admitted: “I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with the church-growth principles we’ve developed, or the evangelistic techniques we’re using. Yet somehow they don’t seem to work.” C. Peter Wagner Ken Sidey, “Church Growth Fine Tunes Its Formulas,” Christianity Today, June 24, 1991, p. 47. He went in for the higher octane signs & wonders directions as delivering more (pragmatic) bang than the rather vanilla CGM.

    Now as a LCMS pastor, I try to remind my LCMS friends that we have a dumb habit of going ecclesiastical dumpster diving in the trash can of evangelicalism’s now discarded ideas. After pulling out a failed technique or two and polishing it up, we declare it a “fresh new insight.”

    Is there some value in learning from leadership literature, planning techniques, and the like? Absolutely! But, technique is no substitute for theology! Lutheranism offers a superior answer to the human dilemma than American evangelicalism. However, since evangelicalism has adopted and adapted so much of the cultural trappings of America (e.g., radical democratic ethos; emphasis on decision and choice; worship that mimics popular music, sporting events, and secular concerts; entrepreneurial leadership/management; etc.), it has a much easier time “growing” like a successful market driven “business.”

  14. Brad, I couldn’t agree more with your conclusion. It remains to be seen if we will be smart enough to realize that the treasure of Lutheran theology that we have is worth more than any permutation of a reincarnated Charles Finney could ever provide us. It is interesting to note that Finney insisted that Jesus could not have died for anyone else’s sin. No wonder he felt that it was all up to us.

  15. Regarding CGM: My wife and I recently left the Episcopal church and have been seriously considering attending a confessional Lutheran church. Based on the opinions I’ve read in this blog, I believe we could use the advice of the posters here.

    Of LCMS and WELS, which denomination has been *less* swayed by CGM?

    As a background, both my wife and I strongly favor liturgical service and are adverse to the “facades” used in most of the mainline-cum-megachurches we’ve visited. These “facades” include such things as the use of astroturf; the use of fake plastic flowers, fake candles, fake wood furniture, etc.; the use of padded banquet chairs in lieu of pews; the use of fluorescent lighting in the church ( particularly 6500k bulbs ); the use of office carpeting; the use of “catchy”, large-printed silkscreened slogans ( e.g. “It’s okay not to be okay”, etc. ); the overly-coordinated bombardment of corporate branding in the church ( e.g. modernist reductionistic streamlined logos al la Paul Rand, displayed everywhere ), the use of chrome-or-other-metal-plated-plastic fixtures and accessories; the use of projector screens or LCD monitors; the use of “colorful” powerpoint clip art with said projector screens or LCD monitors; the employment of “hip” rock and roll musicians in service; ad infinitum.

    Basically, we don’t want to worship at Wal-Mart, and sadly, it seems to us that there is not much of a choice left for Christians to “opt-out” in this day and age. Perhaps WELS or LCMS somehow have survived the CGM fad?

  16. @Gary #14

    THere are LCMS congregations who have not bought into CGM (probably WELS, too). Start by reading web sites; if there is a “blended” or “contemporary” service listed, move on.

    God bless your search!

  17. @Gary #14

    Gary,

    Helen’s advice is a pretty good rule of thumb. On the west coast, I didn’t see much difference between the CGM contagion in WELS vs LCMS; i.e., finding a traditional Lutheran congregation out there is rare. Others have expressed similar findings on the east coast, the deep south, and certain parts of the midwest (I’ve found a lot more CGM / Enthusiasm in Missouri than I expected, but then again, Concordia St. Louis is right here near the mother ship, so having higher hopes was my own ignorant fault.)

    It’s been my sad realization over the last 10 years or so, that the branding is almost useless. If you know your Scriptures and the Confessions, use them as a lens to see the local congregations in your area, and judge them accordingly. When you separate the brand loyalty of various bureaucratic structures from the actual doctrine and practice lived out in a local congregation, you may be surprised where that leads you.

    May God bless and keep you in your search. It is a radical indictment of the corporate failure of the LCMS that you should even have to struggle with this question.

  18. @Rev. Richard A. Bolland #13

    “It remains to be seen if we will be smart enough to realize that the treasure of Lutheran theology that we have is worth more than any permutation of a reincarnated Charles Finney could ever provide us.”

    Respectfully, Pr. Bolland, depending on who you mean by “we”, I don’t think it remains to be seen at all. If you are speaking of Lutherans in the western context, the vast majority are apostate. If you are referring to LCMS Lutherans, they show no signs of reigning in their Enthusiasm, but rather protect and nurture it through bureaucratic canon law. If you are speaking of small fragments of people (lay and clergy) struggling to remain faithful to Scripture and the Confessions while being persecuted by the apostates and Enthusiasts, perhaps some who have broken off into or formed the various shards of the micro-synods, most of them have some eccentricity that solidifies them in their sectarian hubris; i.e., they are so shaped by the conflict which formed them, that they don’t know how to play nicely with anyone anymore, substituting rebellious rage for love and compassion.

    It is my observation that the number of actual Lutherans left in the western world, as measured by individuals and congregations living out the Scriptures and the Confessions, is remarkably small, and their devolution has been pretty steady over the last 100 years. I’m not sure what’s left to be seen, other than the equivalent of a Lutheran Elijah in a cave, and the handful of Lutherans whom the Lord has preserved from bending their knee to Baal.

  19. Gary,
    What part of the country are you located? Perhaps I or others know of a solid LCMS congregation they can recommend to you.

  20. Gary,

    You may want to google Evangelical-Lutheran Liturgical Congregations. Most congregations listed there by state are LCMS.

  21. Unfortunately there are a number of Evangelical-Lutheran Liturgical Congregations that are not listed on that site. I go to one of them that is not on the site. We use LSB and have every Sunday communion. The sermons proclaim Christ crucified. That is why I asked Gary where he is at since I know that there are other congregations like mine that may not be listed on that site.

  22. @Gary #14
    Dear Gary,
    Plenty of good LCMS options for you, plenty of them. My counsel,

    01) LCMS.ORG and lookup a Church near you and start there.

    02) Simply attend one, look over the service, see if the people are inviting. Talk to the pastor, he should make time.

    03) Yes, sounds like you are very high Church and liturgical, we have them. Yet if one Church does have (and I dislike the word) blended, etc., do not dismiss it right up front. See how the sermons are, the Bible studies available, etc.

    04) Need more, email me.

  23. @GaiusKurios #20

    GaiusKurios writes,

    Unfortunately there are a number of Evangelical-Lutheran Liturgical Congregations that are not listed on that site.

    Congregation are listed (or not listed) there at the whim of the webmaster, so a listing (or lack of one) is not always a reliable indicator of the liturgical quality of the congregation.

  24. @Pastor Prentice #21

    I respectfully disagree with your advice to Gary. Instead, Brad and Helen have provided sage advice.

    First, I would not simply attend a church near me just because it shows up on the LCMS website. Many churches on the LCMS website are heterodox factories.

    Second, many heterodox churches make specific and deliberate efforts to be “inviting.”

    Finally, if a congregation is proud enough of it’s liturgical laxity to advertise it’s “Blended” service I recommend you run away. I have never attended a “blended” service that in some way didn’t alter purity of Doctrine.

    Remember, to “blend” is to combine two distinct things into that which is indistinguishable. Yummy heterodox shake anyone?

    Yes, check the website (if they have one – some small congregations don’t and are amazing) and make sure they offer Word and Sacrament via a Divine Service. Yes, visit and talk to the pastor.

  25. @Rev. Robert Fischer (Emeritus) #22
    I think that when a congregation is not listed, it is because nobody (neither the Pastor nor some other representative of the congregation) has bothered to select the “Add Your Church to this List” option on the home page.

    I might be wrong about this. But if I am not, then the untruthful reference to the “whim of the webmaster” should prompt not only a private confession of sin, but also a public apology.

  26. @Jais H. Tinglund #24

    Jais writes, “I might be wrong about this.” Yes, you are. Certainly, some congregations aren’t listed because they didn’t choose to be added to the list. In at least one other case however, a congregation was not listed due to the whim of the webmaster. I had already communicated with him about this. No private confession of sin or public apology is called for.

  27. I myself dislike lists, and the only true list I care about for noting my congregation is the LCMS.ORG list.
    All the congregations subscribe to the Synod and its ways, OK on paper. You then must decide upon a visit.
    I am not ACELC, so does that mean I am not confessional and liturgical, etc.?
    No, but I am LCMS so if you want to see, come to the Church, send me an email.
    That is how it works.

  28. @Pastor Prentice #28

    Pastor Prentice writes, “First off, Helen is wrong, do not steer a member to a WELS Church, we are not in fellowship with them.”

    I’m sure that Helen can be wrong, but I don’t see it happening very often; and certainly not in this case. It’s true that the LCMS isn’t (currently) in fellowship with WELS but it’s not due to any fault on their part:

    The history behind the break between the LCMS and the WELS was that from the 40s on through the 60s, the LCMS became increasingly liberal, as it adopted a higher critical hermeneutic (in contrast to the historical grammatical hermeneutic which we both again now use). At that time, things like the creation account and Jonah and the Whale were discarded by some LCMS professors and pastors as “metaphorical”, and in some cases, even central doctrines like the resurrection of the Body were denied. Citing Romans 16:17, the WELS withdrew fellowship in 1961.
    WELS and the LCMS

    While the WELS has had some problems with its church growth methods, the LCMS can’t claim to be “pure as the driven snow” in this regard. The WELS and the LCMS share a common adherence to the Lutheran Confessions. If the LCMS continues its slow crawl back to faithful teaching and preaching (ridding itself of liberal professors and pastors) it may again be at a point where the WELS will agree to be in fellowship with us.

  29. Regarding CGM: My wife and I recently left the Episcopal church and have been seriously considering attending a confessional Lutheran church. Based on the opinions I’ve read in this blog, I believe we could use the advice of the posters here

    Reminding ourselves of the original question, I did not tell anyone to “leave LCMS” [although there may be reasons in some places to do that]. If this couple can find a WELS congregation more faithful to the Confessions (and convenient to them) than the LCMS congregations in their area, why shouldn’t they go there?

    Thank you, Pastor Fischer, for summarizing the historical reasons WELS had for the break in fellowship.

  30. Thank you, Pastor Zwonitzer, for exposing the failure of the Church Growth Movement! I like to compare all of these theological fads, and gimmicks to the absurd and magical weight loss pills, and gadgets that we see on T.V.! They’re all gimmicks! The fads fail to fulfill their promises! Meanwhile, diet and exercise, which are free, are the tried and true way of losing weight! It’s a matter of discipline, not spending “$20 in the 15 minutes!”

    Many times, when I watch these ridiculous commercials, I wonder, “Is anyone actually buying this stuff?” Apparently, and sadly, they are! I say the same with all of these gimmicky, outrageous Church Growth Movement books, programs, and methods! I really can’t believe that pastors are buying into these fads! Not only are they unfaithful pastors, but they are incredibly gullible! The pastors who trust in fads are gullible; the pastors who trust in the Word are faithful.

    Thank you for predicting the failure of the Church Growth Movement, and for helping many who would have fallen for their gimmicks! Thank you for teaching us that the only thing that truly grows the Church is absolutely free.

  31. @helen #33

    “Thank you, Pastor Fischer, for summarizing the historical reasons WELS had for the break in fellowship.” You’re welcome, Helen; and I should have mentioned that the LCMS’s slow road to faithfulness involves not just getting rid of the liberal professors and pastors, but also the liberal DP’s. That should go without saying, but somehow they keep getting re-elected or replaced by similar ones.

  32. @Pastor Prentice #28

    As a layman, I’ll start taking the LCMS’s “Fellowship” roster seriously when the LCMS once again takes it’s role as Defender of the Faith seriously. Right now it’s not easy to find a confessional LCMS congregation. Doctrine and Practice in the LCMS varies significantly from congregation to congregation, ecclesiastical supervision and discipline based on scripture and the confessions are a joke in the LCMS, and accountability is all but lost. The synod is a bylaw-centric bureaucracy that has become more political than confessional. I sadly turn people away from several “LCMS” congregations in my area based on their heterodox doctrine and practice.

    I don’t want to get too melodramatic here, but the LCMS’s inability to openly acknowledge and address her error is somewhat like the liberal politicians who can’t call our enemy what they are – Radical Islamic Extremists. The LCMS can’t openly admit her sins. Therefore, she can’t properly address them.

  33. “… the liberal politicians who can’t call our enemy what they are – Radical Islamic Extremists”

    The phrase, “Radical Islamic Extremists,” should be retired to the Museum of Hackneyed and Feckless Politically Correctness to join other phrases like:

    “radical Nazi extremists”
    “radical Maoist extremists”
    “radical North Korean extremists”
    “radical abortionist extremists
    “radical Demonicrat extremists”

  34. @Carl Vehse #36

    The phrase, “Radical Islamic Extremists,” should be retired to the Museum of Hackneyed and Feckless Politically Correctness…

    A redundancy and a tap dance around truth, but aren’t some of the “by-laws” redundancy and much else a tap dance around truth, as I think Randy was saying? 🙁

  35. LCMS on the sign out from of a church does not at all make the congregation orthodox. It might be, but it might not be. In today’s Synod your mileage may vary. Several years back my wife and I decided to take a trip out to California to visit the wine country. Knowing me as she does, she told me, “Dick, I don’t want to listing to you groan and moan about the heterodox service you’ve attended, so please get on the phone and find out where we can attend an orthodox one.” So, I got on the phone and called five LCMS churches near Santa Rosa and asked if they could recommend a church in the area that was liturgical, Confessional, and practiced closed communion. All five referred me to the same ELS congregation.

  36. Lutheran Church of Our Savior (LCMS) in Cupertino is 1h 50m away from Santa Rosa.

  37. We’ve now visited both our local WELS and local LCMS congregations. It’s a tossup between the two. What follows are the superficial impressions of newcomers:

    In terms of worship, both are liturgical, however the local LCMS had a definite tinge of the seeker-churches we’d complained about earlier: 6500k fluorescent bulbs, padded banquet chairs in lieu of pews, off-purple office carpet, several cheap yet unnecessary furnishings, service conducted through a PowerPoint presentation via big-screen panels, absent exterior landscaping, and in general, big-box store aesthetics. The local WELS, on the other hand, had pews, a conventional altar, a modest attempt at stained glass which admitted natural light, a blessed absence of projection screens and LCD panels, cut flowers at the altar, hymn boards, etc. Both churches are stuccoed, brutalist/cubist monstrosities from outside ( is it really so hard for architects to design a symmetrical, rectangular-footprinted churchhouse with a steeple and a bell? ). People were friendly in both churches, though there seemed to be more joking and horsing around at the local WELS …the opposite of what we were expecting. The hymns were nice in both, though service at LCMS did include “Jesus Loves the Little Children”, which we personally associate with Baptists. Hymns were accompanied by organ at both churches; thankfully, no guitar, drums, or karaoke singing intruded service. The pastors in both churches gave tight sermons focused on grace. The WELS pastor is definitely from the Mid-West and has a regional accent which might take our South-Western ears some getting used to. The LCMS pastor was likely local to the region. The LCMS pastor’s sermon was straightforward and short, almost a homily. I honestly prefer short, direct sermons. Always have. WELS had several children present, including an infant, whereas LCMS had only one child approaching ten. As my wife just delivered our boy we consider more children to be a positive. Laity gave readings at LCMS whereas the pastor at WELS personally gave the Old Testament, epistle, and gospel readings himself. Responses were almost entirely sung at LCMS, spoken at WELS. Communion appears to be every other week at both churches, though we wouldn’t be able to fellowship with WELS for a while. Both churches had a book of worship which combined hymns and services and was much larger and less handy than our Book of Common Prayer and separate hymnal. There were several Gen-X couples at WELS, whereas we were the only ones at LCMS ( so far as we could tell ). Turnout was around 70 at WELS, 40 at LCMS. Demographics was skewed heavily toward over-50 at both churches.

    @GaiusKurious: Regarding our location: we live in Arizona. We’d rather not name the exact city as we don’t want our subjective opinions to sway potential attendees from visiting either church. Also, the distance between communities is such that attending out-of-town congregations would be infeasible for us, anyhow.

    @Pastor Prentice: Regarding our preference for high church: Perhaps this deserves clarification. For us, there’s a point where liturgy crosses the line and becomes too big-C Catholic; e.g. too much jewelry, rococo flourishes, gilt, or in other words, artifice. That’s what we associate, probably inaccurately, with “High-Church”. In terms of liturgical worship, there is something beautiful in simplicity, and I’m convinced liturgy can be enhanced by restraint; a modest organ, a communion rail, low lighting, and a tried and true service which takes one away from fad-based-opinioning and reactionary-politicking so often used to fill-the-time in non-liturgical worship. Perhaps “bare-bones Gothic” would best describe the essence of the style I’m attempting to convey. As tight budgeted Gen-X’ers my wife and I simply can’t fathom why churches aren’t more “aesthetically-frugal” and, consequently, less prone to be bankrupted by wasteful diversions such as CGM.

    Having said the above, perhaps we’ve been a bit unfair to the enthusiasts of CGM. While, for us, CGM has become synonymous with “tackiness”, perhaps the apologists/practitioners have, somewhere, managed to pull off an example tastefully. Do any here know of a dignified CGM church service, perhaps viewable on YouTube? We’re operating under the assumption that a CGM-influenced church service can’t even approach the spiritual inspiration of visiting a mildly prosperous used-car dealership. Perhaps this is an unfair prejudice, but, personally, I’ve never felt as close to God in any form of worship as when singing the Sanctus ( Holy, Holy, Holy ) and receiving communion. The CGM-influenced churches we’ve attended are just “flat”, we don’t feel the Spirit, cue the guitars and we can’t wait to leave.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.