I recently watched a series of videos on the state of the LCMS by President Matt Harrison.
Several things stuck out in those videos, and I may blog about a few of them over the next few days. First and foremost of the matters that struck me was his discussion regarding mission work.
The line of the day for the church has to be: Lutheran missions lead to Lutheran congregations. The goal of mission work has to be the establishment of congregations. Now at this point we can go one of two ways: either focusing on overseas mission work, or focusing on local mission work. For the purpose of this post, we will focus on local mission work.
In an earlier post, I wrote that there should be a Lutheran congregation every twenty miles; in order to make that happen, a lot of churches would need to be planted.
But whose job is that?
Over the past couple years most of the church-planting efforts have been spearheaded by district offices. This has been due to the increased reliance on demographics and the belief that it costs a lot of money to establish congregations, and that only the district would have the necessary resources in which to undertake such a massive expenditure.
Well, let’s see where the districts have gotten us: nowhere. The reality is that districts
do not have the money either, not to mention that districts will generally rely on outside resources, which may or may not work in a given area.
Obviously, some can and will argue with the above statement. I have been critical of many
church plants which among other things: do not include the name ‘Lutheran’ in the title; use worship styles and songs outside of the doctrinally approved hymnals; and meet in places that are outside of mainstream church buildings i.e. a former Target store, or are
designed for multi-purposes, i.e. a coffee house.
Which leads us to Harrison’s comment: if you do not like the way Synod is planting churches, do it yourself.
As I ponder that statement, I am led to say first and foremost, it is not the Synod which was given the order to plant churches; it was local congregations. And so it was the Synod that took that job away from the local congregation, and so the local congregation does not need the permission of the President of Synod to do what it was already called to do.
I would be willing to bet that more than ½ of the churches in Synod were planted either by another congregation or by the circuit as a whole; and most of the rest were just started by a group of people who showed up and needed a place to go to church.
I would also be willing to bet that of those churches that were planted, or just started, more than a few were an act of faith. They did not look at demographics or long term budgets, they just got to work. There were people in an area that did not have a place to worship, that did not have a place to hear the Gospel preach or receive the sacraments; so
they built a church.
Why did congregations give up the task of planting churches? They are lazy or they are
scared off by the amount of time and effort it will take. I would also imagine that Synod began poking its nose in telling congregations what to do, until finally Synod just took
over and told congregations to just send a check.
But the reality is that local congregations are the ones in the best position to start new congregations. Why? Because local congregations know the areas that they are in, they know where people live and what people need. And besides, a local congregation will be far more interested in the success of a new congregation if they are the ones who are doing the work, not having it outsourced to a faraway office building.
So how do you plant a church? I have no idea how the district and Synod would do it, but here is how I would do it.
First and foremost, find an area that is not currently being served by an orthodox Lutheran church. Using the previous mentioned barometer, I would say that there is no other LCMS church for 20 miles. In growing areas, this measurement could be shortened a bit, but one does not want to start a new church at the expense of an existing church. The ‘20 mile rule’ only applies to LCMS churches; if there is a non-LCMS church, ignore it and build.
Second, find a place to start a Bible study, follow this up with some form of multi-media access and a newsletter. Establishing a Bible study is crucial because this will get the word out that something new is in town and it is a way to bring people in. Facebook and Twitter
are the current craze and is a fast way to connect with people. Newsletters are a dying media, but they still serve the purpose of being the sermon that people take home with them.
Third, once a regular group has been established, (I once heard the number 75) start worship and catechism classes. This is possibly the hardest part: knowing when
to start worship. Whenever it starts, I would use printed orders of service to start and gradually move toward just using a hymnal.
We now have a church where there was no church.
The building and the calling of a pastor will all fall into place from here.
To be honest, this model probably works best when you have a congregation supporting the start-up. People may need to be baptized and other official acts may need to be taken care of, so the auspices of an established congregation will be important. Perhaps the newly established congregation can keep its own separate records until they are established so that they are not lost in the system.
So I accept the challenge of President Harrison. I do not like the way district and Synod plant churches, so given the opportunity, I’ll do it myself.