When it comes to differences in worship practices and attitudes among Synod congregations, a 2008 survey of two groups of LCMS congregations on that topic found “it’s less about what they do and more about how they communicate,” said Rev. David Johnson, executive director of the LCMS Commission on Worship.
The commission developed and analyzed the survey in collaboration with LCMS Research Services, which administered it.
“This is the most comprehensive survey on worship practices that I am aware of,” said Dr. John O’Hara, senior research analyst with LCMS Research Services.
A group of 300 LCMS congregations was specifically selected to participate in the survey — those with both the highest number and highest percentage of adult confirmations reported for 2006.
“This double criterion was essential to isolate and identify not only large congregations, but all congregations that reported a significant percentage of growth,” O’Hara explained. “Only churches that met both criteria were defined as the top five percent.”
For comparison purposes, 300 other randomly selected LCMS congregations also participated in the survey that was sent, completed, and returned by mail or online. For both groups, 56 percent of the selected participants completed and returned the survey, which profiled a broad range of worship practices across the Synod.
Questions on the survey explored the congregations’ diversity of worship services offered, musical styles, liturgical practices, worship planning paradigms, “people” resources, musical resources, and use of multimedia in worship.
Johnson said that in addition to gathering factual information about worship practice, “many questions sought to understand underlying attitudes about worship that inform and shape worship and musical practice.
“The survey reveals an ardent desire to remain Lutheran,” he said, “particularly through preaching the Word and celebrating the sacraments. Communicating the Gospel remains paramount within the distinct context of the local community. Divergent practices were unveiled in those communities that intentionally seek to engage not only lifelong Lutherans, but also [that] seek contextually to embrace and invite those who are unchurched.”
He said the survey found that the “top 5 percent” congregations are “deliberately adaptable – open to navigating changes in worship life, [such as] moderating generational concerns, considering the needs of visitors, creating a defined aesthetic, and making worship accessibly understood by the unchurched, as well as [by] established parishioners.”
“Congregations largely committed to undergirding the treasury of our hymnody and liturgy seek to preserve our historical identity,” Johnson added. “No singular [worship] attitude or practice stands out as a significant key to numerical growth.”
He stressed that although there are differences in worship style between the two groups of congregations surveyed, “they are not significant.
“In general,” Johnson pointed out, “the survey found that top 5 percent congregations are more likely to conduct blended or contemporary services, while congregations from the random sample are more likely to have a higher percentage of traditional services.”
He said the commission conducted the survey “to be informed about the actual worship practices and to help determine the care taken by our congregations as they purposefully seek to balance heritage, theology, doctrine, and mission.
“The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has always professed an unwavering commitment to the truth and a passion for missions,” Johnson told Reporter. “Worship is the intersection in which all of our attitudes, passions, and commitments merge, shaped by the proclamation of the Word and administration of the sacraments.”
The survey does not indicate any “silver bullets for the vitality, health, and growth of congregations,” O’Hara said, “but it does provide the commission and the Synod with valuable information.”
For the complete survey results, go to http://worship.lcms.org/worshipsurvey.
Posted Aug. 18, 2009