By Joe Isenhower Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Athough LCMS congregation members having more children might be one factor in reversing the 45-plus-years membership decline in the Synod, it’s certainly not the only one.
LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison makes that clear in his message for readers of the Synod’s March Journal of Lutheran Mission after a December special edition of that electronic magazine included two independent studies about the Synod and the demographics behind the Synodwide membership declines. The March issue will be available by mid-March at lcms.org/journal-of-lutheran-mission.
Noting that he is “amazed” by the “Synod rumor mill” to the effect that he finds “the answer to our decline of numbers in the LCMS is to have more babies,” Harrison responds in the March Journal.
“As I have repeatedly stated,” Harrison writes for that edition, “I doubt very much that any significant change in the childrearing habits of LCMS members will occur or greatly affect future numbers.
“That said,” he continues, “let me be clear that the Bible does say a lot about families and children, and it’s high time we open our Bibles and have a fresh look at it.”
Harrison begins his latest Journal message with a word of thanks “that so many of you” decided to access the December online edition — with more than 10,000 views, as of Feb. 9.
The two extensive demographic reports covered in the December issue were conducted by Dr. George Hawley, assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, and Dr. Ryan MacPherson, professor of History at Bethany Lutheran College, Mankato, Minn.
About the findings
In that December issue, Harrison provides six bulleted points concerning Hawley’s and MacPherson’s reports. They are summarized as follows:
- “This demographic decline is not only an LCMS problem.”
- “The retention of baptized and confirmed youth is a key area on which to focus.”
- “The [Synod’s] persistent, long-term decline manifests itself both in a massive decrease in child baptisms … and a smaller but still significant decrease in adult converts.”
- “The number of child baptisms and adult converts have decreased together in a remarkably similar pattern.”
- “Thus, there is no wedge that can be driven between openness to life (family size) and sharing life (evangelism).
- “These reports don’t only share difficult data; they also point out what the Synod does well and what strengths we can build on. … The key here is to build a strong Lutheran self-identity among the membership.”
For the March edition, Harrison notes six “important foci that must be taken seriously and acted upon by our pastors, laity, congregations, districts and the Synod.” He adds that many in those groups “are deeply involved in this kind of work already.”
Those points of focus — with comments about them from Harrison — are:
- Evangelism and outreach. “Synod’s new personal witnessing program, Every One His Witness, is heating up. Our evangelism expert, the Rev. Mark Wood, is coming and going, training people all across the Synod!” Since January 2016, 18 Every One His Witness workshops have been conducted, with 10 others scheduled through mid-April. (For more information, visit lcms.org/witness-outreach.)
- Re-invigorating congregations. “We’ve produced re:Vitality for congregations to have a good look at themselves and move to a better strategic position for outreach to the community.” Since January 2016, 30 “Connect to Disciple” workshops — the first module in the re:Viality program — have been conducted (lcms.org/revitalization).
- Healthy workers. “We must all concentrate on making sure our pastors and church workers are forgiven, healthy, supported and engaged in the work of their vocations.”
- Intentional outreach to immigrant populations. “The LCMS may be overwhelmingly Anglo, but that is changing. It’s changing slowly, but it is changing. The nations are at our doors. It’s time to help them find a way in. Our schools and universities are gems in this regard.”
- Church planting. “Synod’s Mission Field: USA church-planting manual and other resources are now available for districts and congregations to use in reaching out to the diverse communities of our nation” (lcms.org/churchplanting). Printed copies of the manual are available for $14.99 from Amazon.com.
- Resolution of internal issues that cause conflict. “We’ve come a long, long way. The 2016 [LCMS] convention was unbelievably calm. Resolutions on controverted issues passed overwhelmingly. We’ve got a long way to go. God grant us repentance, patience and fidelity.”
Why the studies?
The Rev. Heath Curtis, coordinator for Stewardship Ministry with the LCMS Office of National Mission (ONM), told Reporter via email that the ONM commissioned the demographic studies “to try to understand what’s going on” after listening to “oft-repeated” comments about “a decline in membership and an aging of the church’s membership” as his office was “helping Synod congregations with their stewardship needs.”
Curtis laid out “some of the insights … and questions raised” in the reports.
“The facts are stark,” he explained. “Christians make up a smaller and smaller proportion of the American population every year (down to just 71 percent this year). Every district of the LCMS has experienced numerical decline in the past decade — from a 4 percent decline in some places to over 25 percent in others. The counties where the Synod is strongest across the country also tend to be the counties where population is decreasing. The Synod is growing in membership in counties that are growing in population, but more slowly than the overall population increase. What’s going on? Will it get better? What does the future hold?”
Curtis — like Harrison — points out that many of these challenges facing the Synod are also true for other large church bodies in the nation.
And Curtis notes that “the reports also highlight the many strengths of the Synod in education, community building and outreach.”
Curtis offers a workshop — primarily for professional church workers and lay leaders — aimed at making the “large amount of informative and interesting data [in the reports] useful at the district, circuit and parish level.”
For more information about the workshops, contact Curtis at email@example.com.
Posted February 28, 2017