Churches structured like businesses

Walter Russell Mead at the American Interest invokes Luther’s reforms and claims that the church today needs another structural reformation:

The Christian churches in the United States are in trouble for all the usual reasons — human sinfulness and selfishness, the temptations of life in an affluent society, doctrinal and moral controversies and uncertainties and on and on and on — but also and to a surprisingly large degree they are in trouble because they are trying to address the problems of the twenty first century with a business model and a set of tools that date from the middle of the twentieth.  The mainline churches in particular are organized like General Motors was organized in the 1950s: they have cost structures and operating procedures that simply don’t work today.  They are organized around what I’ve been calling the blue social model, built by rules that don’t work anymore, and oriented to a set of ideas that are well past their sell-by date.

Without even questioning it, most churchgoers assume that a successful church has its own building and a full-time staff including one or more professionally trained leaders (ordained or not depending on the denomination).  Perhaps no more than half of all congregations across the country can afford this at all; most manage only by neglecting maintenance on their buildings or otherwise by cutting corners.  And even when they manage to make the payroll and keep the roof in repair, congregations spend most of their energy just keeping the show going from year to year.  The life of the community centers around the attempt to maintain a model of congregational life that doesn’t work, can’t work, won’t work no matter how hard they try.  People who don’t like futile tasks have a tendency to wander off and do other things and little by little the life and vitality (and the rising generations) drift away.

At the next level up, there is another level of ecclesiastical bureaucrats and officials staffing regional offices.  . . .

Bishops today in their sinking, decaying dioceses surround themselves with large staffs who hold frequent meetings and no doubt accomplish many wonderful things, although nobody outside the office ever quite knows what these are.  And it isn’t just Anglicans.  Lutherans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, UCC, the whole crowd has pretty much the same story to tell.  Staffs grow; procedures flourish and become ever more complex; more and more years of school are required from an increasingly ‘professional’ church staff: everything gets better and better every year — except somehow the churches keep shrinking.  Inside, the professionals are pretty busy jumping through hoops and writing memos to each other and grand sweeping statements of support for raising the minimum wage and other noble causes — but outside the regional headquarters and away from the hum of the computers and printers, local congregations lose members, watch their buildings fall year by year into greater disrepair, and in the end they close their doors. . . .

Finally, denominations maintain national staffs — both individually and collectively. Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and others have national headquarters and/or lobbying presences in Washington; they also join to support a national staff for the NCCC (National Council of the Churches of Christ). Again it is rather mysterious what these organizations all do — but it is clear that if any of their work is directed at promoting the growth of the congregations of their respective denominations or of increasing church membership in other ways, they have little but failure to show for the millions of dollars they’ve spent over the years.

We Missouri Synod Lutherans are considering a big restructuring, but it doesn’t sound like it would address what Mead is calling for and might even, from his perspective, make it worse. He is calling for decentralization, networks of house churches, and clergy without professional degrees. What do you think of his diagnosis and proposed treatment?

via Walter Russell Mead’s Blog – The American Interest.

HT: Joe Carter

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Steven Peterson

    Interesting and trenchant criticism, but I don’t think Mead has the answer. I’ll judge by the comments on his website – those who respond most positively to his argument are of the non-denominational stripe. His argument comes down to a celebration and promotion of a slack theological diversity found in a hyper-congregationalism devoid of theological discipline or unity.

    The end result is each congregation or house church network becoming an island unto itself, many if not most treasuring and upholding their own particular heresy as the ultimate in Christian truth. That sounds awfully close to the prevalent operative church model of early 19th century generic American Protestantism and the advent of the Shakers, the Mormons, and the utopian movements.

  • Steven Peterson

    Interesting and trenchant criticism, but I don’t think Mead has the answer. I’ll judge by the comments on his website – those who respond most positively to his argument are of the non-denominational stripe. His argument comes down to a celebration and promotion of a slack theological diversity found in a hyper-congregationalism devoid of theological discipline or unity.

    The end result is each congregation or house church network becoming an island unto itself, many if not most treasuring and upholding their own particular heresy as the ultimate in Christian truth. That sounds awfully close to the prevalent operative church model of early 19th century generic American Protestantism and the advent of the Shakers, the Mormons, and the utopian movements.

  • LAJ

    The answer is not getting rid of our seminaries. Our pastors will always need a thorough education. But our new pastors may have to be bi-vocational as some already are. Not owning a building could help with costs, but setting up for services each Sunday can be a lot of work. I think a church still needs a place to worship other than someone’s home if possible. He may be right about how many people are on the top of the synod payroll. Up until a few years ago, our Synod’s president was also senior pastor of a large congregation.

  • LAJ

    The answer is not getting rid of our seminaries. Our pastors will always need a thorough education. But our new pastors may have to be bi-vocational as some already are. Not owning a building could help with costs, but setting up for services each Sunday can be a lot of work. I think a church still needs a place to worship other than someone’s home if possible. He may be right about how many people are on the top of the synod payroll. Up until a few years ago, our Synod’s president was also senior pastor of a large congregation.

  • Economist Doug

    As an Economist it has seemed to me that Church buildings are some of the worst utilized buildings in communities.

    Church buildings lie mostly empty except for a few hours on Sunday and Wednesday. Even during peak time most churches are half-empty.

    I don’t know to what degree a church building is about pride or ego but the size of the church building is rarely appropriate to the activities the church has.

    I’m not going to suggest in voce Judas that Churches should sell-off their buildings and give the proceeds to the poor. However I do think if you’re going to keep a building you need to do better putting it to use.

  • Economist Doug

    As an Economist it has seemed to me that Church buildings are some of the worst utilized buildings in communities.

    Church buildings lie mostly empty except for a few hours on Sunday and Wednesday. Even during peak time most churches are half-empty.

    I don’t know to what degree a church building is about pride or ego but the size of the church building is rarely appropriate to the activities the church has.

    I’m not going to suggest in voce Judas that Churches should sell-off their buildings and give the proceeds to the poor. However I do think if you’re going to keep a building you need to do better putting it to use.

  • Bob

    Very interesting ideas.

    The mainline denoms. have been shrinking their national staff for some time now. That’s not news. And how many in the LCMS saw this during the Todd Wilken-Jeff Schwartz debacle? The LCMS bureaucrats at the Purple Palace acted like the Keystone Cops. It’s run like a business — could it have been more obvious? It’s all about money and where the money flows. I’d love to see much less denominational overhead and bureaucracy in St. Louis.

    The further away you are from the action, the more mischief you cause.

    There’s a lot of middle ground between a house church and only being able to do church in a big, old building. There’s a WELS church in our area that meets in a high school gym. Do they need to have a building to call themselves a real church? (you confessional Lutherans know the right answer…)

    I think the bigger issue is that all church groups, IMHO, no matter if they’re denom or nondenom, have an unhealthy fixation with numbers and growth. They’ve unwittingly (or maybe wittingly) adopted an American business model. That’s the bigger issue that few are willing to confront.

  • Bob

    Very interesting ideas.

    The mainline denoms. have been shrinking their national staff for some time now. That’s not news. And how many in the LCMS saw this during the Todd Wilken-Jeff Schwartz debacle? The LCMS bureaucrats at the Purple Palace acted like the Keystone Cops. It’s run like a business — could it have been more obvious? It’s all about money and where the money flows. I’d love to see much less denominational overhead and bureaucracy in St. Louis.

    The further away you are from the action, the more mischief you cause.

    There’s a lot of middle ground between a house church and only being able to do church in a big, old building. There’s a WELS church in our area that meets in a high school gym. Do they need to have a building to call themselves a real church? (you confessional Lutherans know the right answer…)

    I think the bigger issue is that all church groups, IMHO, no matter if they’re denom or nondenom, have an unhealthy fixation with numbers and growth. They’ve unwittingly (or maybe wittingly) adopted an American business model. That’s the bigger issue that few are willing to confront.

  • Peter Leavitt

    The problem with Mainline churches isn’t really buildings or organizational structure; it’s their theology of Christianity Lite, well summarized by Richard Niebuhr: A God without wrath brought people without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministry of a Christ without the cross.

    Most of these churches have caved to the secularism of modernity and have thereby lost their Christian soul and appeal.

  • Peter Leavitt

    The problem with Mainline churches isn’t really buildings or organizational structure; it’s their theology of Christianity Lite, well summarized by Richard Niebuhr: A God without wrath brought people without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministry of a Christ without the cross.

    Most of these churches have caved to the secularism of modernity and have thereby lost their Christian soul and appeal.

  • Joe

    Of course a building is not necessary, but it should also not be despised. Setting apart sacred space for worship is very beneficial. It provides a physical point of reference to drive home the point that what you are about to do is not of this world, it is not common, it is special. Christ himself is going to come to you through the Means of Grace. Having a separate space dedicate for this is a good thing.

  • Joe

    Of course a building is not necessary, but it should also not be despised. Setting apart sacred space for worship is very beneficial. It provides a physical point of reference to drive home the point that what you are about to do is not of this world, it is not common, it is special. Christ himself is going to come to you through the Means of Grace. Having a separate space dedicate for this is a good thing.

  • http://LeitersburgLutheran.org Terry Culler

    Peter is right. At the center of all ecclesial problems is theology. I am part of a denomination (Assoc. of Free Lutheran Congregations) that has the least possible organizational structure. We hold vigorously to our understanding of the visible Church as the local congregation. We join together to do things that we can’t do alone such as operate a seminary and send out missionaries and start new congregations, but we are essentially bound together my a common commitment to the Bible as the inspired, inerrant and infallible Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions as right teachings about the Word. Our small denomination is growing and we have comity inside because we don’t have bishops with big staffs, we don’t have huge financial obligations that must be met by congregations who are themselves struggling in a tough economy, we don’t have any goals except teaching the pure Gospel and rightly administering the Sacraments wherever God takes us. Better theology and a little institutional humilty are the keys to successful Church life. Let the Holy Spirit do the work He wants to do.

  • http://LeitersburgLutheran.org Terry Culler

    Peter is right. At the center of all ecclesial problems is theology. I am part of a denomination (Assoc. of Free Lutheran Congregations) that has the least possible organizational structure. We hold vigorously to our understanding of the visible Church as the local congregation. We join together to do things that we can’t do alone such as operate a seminary and send out missionaries and start new congregations, but we are essentially bound together my a common commitment to the Bible as the inspired, inerrant and infallible Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions as right teachings about the Word. Our small denomination is growing and we have comity inside because we don’t have bishops with big staffs, we don’t have huge financial obligations that must be met by congregations who are themselves struggling in a tough economy, we don’t have any goals except teaching the pure Gospel and rightly administering the Sacraments wherever God takes us. Better theology and a little institutional humilty are the keys to successful Church life. Let the Holy Spirit do the work He wants to do.

  • kerner

    I’m an LCMS Lutheran now, but I was once in the WELS, and the differences between their structure and polity are really striking. My impression of each can be seen below:

    WELS polity:

    LCMS polity:

    OK, so maybe I exagerate…a little.

    But hyperbole can serve to make a point. I think the difference has roots in the different interpretations of the meaning of “Church”.

    To the WELS, the Church is found not only in the individual congregations but in the gathering of representatives of those congregations in districts and synods. Accordingly, when the synodical hierarchy speaks on matters of doctrine or policy, it has made a decision for the whole WELS. Dissent or deviation is not permitted. Most of their major votes in convention end up being unanymous, because the majority claims to have made the doctrinally correct decision, therefore the minority is in doctrinal error, and to be in error is to be out of fellowship. So the erstwhile minority comes around. Sometimes we in the LCMS long for that sense of order.

    But to the LCMS, the “Church” is only found where individual Christians actually gather together for the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments, i.e. in the individual congregations. Congregations are autonomous, and districts and synods are administrative conveniences; functions of the command to do things decently and in good order to be sure, but still voluntary and temporary. This results in a “congregational” sort of polity in which all congregations are bound to the Lutheran Confessions, but in which the decisions of individual congregation in the interpretation and implimentation of the Confessions is much harder for the synod or district to control. This leads to a situation in which error is harder to eliminate from the synodical fellowship. On the other hand, when the synodical leadership is in the wrong, as sometimes happens, it is virtually powerless to stamp out the truth. It also makes LCMS synodical conferences a lot more, um, lively than WELS synodical conferences.

    I’ve been LCMS for a long time now, so you can guess which polity I prefer. In a sinful world there will always be political problems. But a system that allows for lively debate, even though it appears sloppy, is preferable to me than one in which errors become systemic very quickly.

  • kerner

    I’m an LCMS Lutheran now, but I was once in the WELS, and the differences between their structure and polity are really striking. My impression of each can be seen below:

    WELS polity:

    LCMS polity:

    OK, so maybe I exagerate…a little.

    But hyperbole can serve to make a point. I think the difference has roots in the different interpretations of the meaning of “Church”.

    To the WELS, the Church is found not only in the individual congregations but in the gathering of representatives of those congregations in districts and synods. Accordingly, when the synodical hierarchy speaks on matters of doctrine or policy, it has made a decision for the whole WELS. Dissent or deviation is not permitted. Most of their major votes in convention end up being unanymous, because the majority claims to have made the doctrinally correct decision, therefore the minority is in doctrinal error, and to be in error is to be out of fellowship. So the erstwhile minority comes around. Sometimes we in the LCMS long for that sense of order.

    But to the LCMS, the “Church” is only found where individual Christians actually gather together for the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments, i.e. in the individual congregations. Congregations are autonomous, and districts and synods are administrative conveniences; functions of the command to do things decently and in good order to be sure, but still voluntary and temporary. This results in a “congregational” sort of polity in which all congregations are bound to the Lutheran Confessions, but in which the decisions of individual congregation in the interpretation and implimentation of the Confessions is much harder for the synod or district to control. This leads to a situation in which error is harder to eliminate from the synodical fellowship. On the other hand, when the synodical leadership is in the wrong, as sometimes happens, it is virtually powerless to stamp out the truth. It also makes LCMS synodical conferences a lot more, um, lively than WELS synodical conferences.

    I’ve been LCMS for a long time now, so you can guess which polity I prefer. In a sinful world there will always be political problems. But a system that allows for lively debate, even though it appears sloppy, is preferable to me than one in which errors become systemic very quickly.

  • http://www.christlutheran.net Jeff Samelson

    Kerner @8 — I think perhaps you’ve been out of the WELS long enough that you see things there through Missouri-colored glasses. I don’t have time enough for a detailed explanation of WELS position and practice of church & ministry (nor will I be able to follow up here to any responses), but I’ll say this: I can’t imagine any Wisconsin Synod pastor, teacher, professor, district or synodical official agreeing with your depiction of the way things are or are done in the WELS.

    The main point is that what gives us unity and keeps our doctrinal house in order is not “the synodical hierarchy” but the unity that we already share and value. “Deviation” results in loss of fellowship because that’s what deviation is – a break in and from the teachings and positions that unite us.

    Yes, there are some people who find that confessional consensus uncomfortable or stifling (especially when they find themselves in disagreement), but we are and long have been a synod that takes “walking together” (the meaning of “synod”) seriously. This does mean that we’re often slow to make necessary corrections or course changes in policy and practice and perhaps tardy in addressing new developments that haven’t been addressed before, but authority to make decisions in these matters rests with the synod as a whole (in convention) and not in an autocratic administration, and we believe this to be a better way to organize.

  • http://www.christlutheran.net Jeff Samelson

    Kerner @8 — I think perhaps you’ve been out of the WELS long enough that you see things there through Missouri-colored glasses. I don’t have time enough for a detailed explanation of WELS position and practice of church & ministry (nor will I be able to follow up here to any responses), but I’ll say this: I can’t imagine any Wisconsin Synod pastor, teacher, professor, district or synodical official agreeing with your depiction of the way things are or are done in the WELS.

    The main point is that what gives us unity and keeps our doctrinal house in order is not “the synodical hierarchy” but the unity that we already share and value. “Deviation” results in loss of fellowship because that’s what deviation is – a break in and from the teachings and positions that unite us.

    Yes, there are some people who find that confessional consensus uncomfortable or stifling (especially when they find themselves in disagreement), but we are and long have been a synod that takes “walking together” (the meaning of “synod”) seriously. This does mean that we’re often slow to make necessary corrections or course changes in policy and practice and perhaps tardy in addressing new developments that haven’t been addressed before, but authority to make decisions in these matters rests with the synod as a whole (in convention) and not in an autocratic administration, and we believe this to be a better way to organize.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    I actually agree with Peter. But as to the post itself –

    Untrained clergy: Grew up in a church like that. Horrendous. Not only does heresy proliferate, but church doctrine officialy becomes the whim of the strong man in the church. Or, you get clowns like the “pisseth against the wall” fellow….

    When I was very young, my parents were involved in a House Church. If one were to catalogue the splits in House churches, it would make the Reformed like an coherent lot ;)

    Plus what Bob said: A Church is NOT a business.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    I actually agree with Peter. But as to the post itself –

    Untrained clergy: Grew up in a church like that. Horrendous. Not only does heresy proliferate, but church doctrine officialy becomes the whim of the strong man in the church. Or, you get clowns like the “pisseth against the wall” fellow….

    When I was very young, my parents were involved in a House Church. If one were to catalogue the splits in House churches, it would make the Reformed like an coherent lot ;)

    Plus what Bob said: A Church is NOT a business.

  • kerner

    Jeff Samuelson @9:

    You say to-may-to and I say to-mah-to, amigo.

  • kerner

    Jeff Samuelson @9:

    You say to-may-to and I say to-mah-to, amigo.

  • Dan Kempin

    Very thought provoking indeed.

    In my particular Lutheran circles, the default criticism is the danger of bringing secular “business models” into the church. This take of Mr. Mead assumes that business models are and must be a part of the church. (Writing the checks and keeping the books, for instance, should be guided by someone who has spiritual maturity, but preferably also a background in accounting. ) The criticism is not that there are business models in the church, but that the business models themselves outmoded and do not work. He may well have a point.

    That said, pointing out a problem is not the same thing as solving it. It is a brutally honest insight to point out that we are doing things like General Motors. It does not necessarily follow that things will turn around as long as we do what (fill in the blank with successful company or church name here) does.

    Still, this must be grappled with. I, personally, think it ties in with a foundational shift in culture. The structure of church as *social* institution that has existed for generations may no longer be tenable in a post Christian culture. If that is the case, we had better be able to think clearly enough to distinguish between the social institution of church and the divine institution of church.

  • Dan Kempin

    Very thought provoking indeed.

    In my particular Lutheran circles, the default criticism is the danger of bringing secular “business models” into the church. This take of Mr. Mead assumes that business models are and must be a part of the church. (Writing the checks and keeping the books, for instance, should be guided by someone who has spiritual maturity, but preferably also a background in accounting. ) The criticism is not that there are business models in the church, but that the business models themselves outmoded and do not work. He may well have a point.

    That said, pointing out a problem is not the same thing as solving it. It is a brutally honest insight to point out that we are doing things like General Motors. It does not necessarily follow that things will turn around as long as we do what (fill in the blank with successful company or church name here) does.

    Still, this must be grappled with. I, personally, think it ties in with a foundational shift in culture. The structure of church as *social* institution that has existed for generations may no longer be tenable in a post Christian culture. If that is the case, we had better be able to think clearly enough to distinguish between the social institution of church and the divine institution of church.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    I agree with EconJeff that sometimes we build buildings–and organizations–for the sake of the building and organization itself, and not for any particular purpose. Moreover, many people I know note that seminary can be the absolute worst place for a man of God–one learns Hebrew and Greek while forgetting the ministry of the Holy Spirit. (thankfully not always, but it can be an incredibly dangerous place for many)

    My take–and keep in my mind my bias as an engineer in a decidedly “low church” setting–is that while I wouldn’t shut down seminaries, I sure would like to see local churches doing a better job training their own people. To draw a picture, house churches would have been eminently practical in our nation’s founding age, when many people who never set foot in a college or seminary nevertheless learned their Latin, Greek, and Hebrew–what a contrast to our age, eh?

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com Bike Bubba

    I agree with EconJeff that sometimes we build buildings–and organizations–for the sake of the building and organization itself, and not for any particular purpose. Moreover, many people I know note that seminary can be the absolute worst place for a man of God–one learns Hebrew and Greek while forgetting the ministry of the Holy Spirit. (thankfully not always, but it can be an incredibly dangerous place for many)

    My take–and keep in my mind my bias as an engineer in a decidedly “low church” setting–is that while I wouldn’t shut down seminaries, I sure would like to see local churches doing a better job training their own people. To draw a picture, house churches would have been eminently practical in our nation’s founding age, when many people who never set foot in a college or seminary nevertheless learned their Latin, Greek, and Hebrew–what a contrast to our age, eh?

  • http://prayeramedic.com Dan

    Mead makes a few good points that we should pay attention to, namely that many churches are trying to adopt corporate models that won’t do the job.

    But he is espousing one fatal double standard that many house church advocates hold: Something is wrong if a church isn’t growing numerically. Kevin DeYoung, in his book “Why We Love the Church,” points out:

    “Fix-the-church books almost always figure that declining church attendance … means the church has messed something up. Even though the new crop of church books decry the old church-growth models, they still operate with the same basic assumption: namely, that churches should be growing and something is wrong with the church that isn’t.

    This assumption, however, is alien to the New Testament. Didn’t Jesus say tell us that “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:14)? Wasn’t the early church of Philadelphia commended by the Lord Jesus even though they were facing opposition and had “little power” (Rev. 3:7-13)? There is simply no biblical teaching to indicate that church size is the measure of success.”

    I wrote about this in a blog post entitled “Numerical Growth as a Double Standard” at http://prayeramedic.com/2009/10/numerical-growth-as-a-double-standard/

  • http://prayeramedic.com Dan

    Mead makes a few good points that we should pay attention to, namely that many churches are trying to adopt corporate models that won’t do the job.

    But he is espousing one fatal double standard that many house church advocates hold: Something is wrong if a church isn’t growing numerically. Kevin DeYoung, in his book “Why We Love the Church,” points out:

    “Fix-the-church books almost always figure that declining church attendance … means the church has messed something up. Even though the new crop of church books decry the old church-growth models, they still operate with the same basic assumption: namely, that churches should be growing and something is wrong with the church that isn’t.

    This assumption, however, is alien to the New Testament. Didn’t Jesus say tell us that “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:14)? Wasn’t the early church of Philadelphia commended by the Lord Jesus even though they were facing opposition and had “little power” (Rev. 3:7-13)? There is simply no biblical teaching to indicate that church size is the measure of success.”

    I wrote about this in a blog post entitled “Numerical Growth as a Double Standard” at http://prayeramedic.com/2009/10/numerical-growth-as-a-double-standard/

  • Jerry

    As to the WELS vs LCMS discussion–I’ve been in both, and when in WELS was told by the Pastor that unlike LCMS, we (the local congregation) don’t make “those decisions;” we were in the midst of buying land and building a new church.

    The strength of LCMS was in its founding, that defined rights for the local congregation. However, Walther, one of the LCMS founders pointed out that in reality church organization is not a scriptural issue.

  • Jerry

    As to the WELS vs LCMS discussion–I’ve been in both, and when in WELS was told by the Pastor that unlike LCMS, we (the local congregation) don’t make “those decisions;” we were in the midst of buying land and building a new church.

    The strength of LCMS was in its founding, that defined rights for the local congregation. However, Walther, one of the LCMS founders pointed out that in reality church organization is not a scriptural issue.

  • DonS

    Doug @ 3 brought up the issue of low utilization of church buildings. In my view, this is an issue of community ministry. Especially in higher cost real estate areas, there are plenty of folks who need places to meet in during the week, and churches can minister to the community by meeting that need. On the flip side, it isn’t wrong to charge a rental fee for opening up your building, and then you have a win-win partnership. For example, home schoolers are often desperately looking for places where they can hold meetings, science fairs, classes, etc. Church leaders — it’s not just about Sundays and Wednesdays — open your doors.

  • DonS

    Doug @ 3 brought up the issue of low utilization of church buildings. In my view, this is an issue of community ministry. Especially in higher cost real estate areas, there are plenty of folks who need places to meet in during the week, and churches can minister to the community by meeting that need. On the flip side, it isn’t wrong to charge a rental fee for opening up your building, and then you have a win-win partnership. For example, home schoolers are often desperately looking for places where they can hold meetings, science fairs, classes, etc. Church leaders — it’s not just about Sundays and Wednesdays — open your doors.

  • fws

    Luther preached the Word of God. Then he went about drinking his beer with his buddies while that Word of God went to work and did amazing things.

    #1 pastors. well trained. continuing education in winkles and circuits.

    #2 No endowments. spend as you go.

    #3 Bishops/district/national officials… work out of their church office. Make the synods and districts about producing and training and supporting pastors. The publishing house. subsidize it´s publishing of stuff that won´t ever make money but which we need. Not even about missionary work. Let congregations or LLL or other auxiliaries do this. Missionary work will happen more organically that way and maybe we will not neglect opportunities next door to send missionaries far away…

  • fws

    Luther preached the Word of God. Then he went about drinking his beer with his buddies while that Word of God went to work and did amazing things.

    #1 pastors. well trained. continuing education in winkles and circuits.

    #2 No endowments. spend as you go.

    #3 Bishops/district/national officials… work out of their church office. Make the synods and districts about producing and training and supporting pastors. The publishing house. subsidize it´s publishing of stuff that won´t ever make money but which we need. Not even about missionary work. Let congregations or LLL or other auxiliaries do this. Missionary work will happen more organically that way and maybe we will not neglect opportunities next door to send missionaries far away…

  • fws

    economist doug @3

    I favor instead spending lavish sums on installing pipe organs, expensive stained glass windows, costly vestments and sacramental vessels.

    It is true these things are ALL purely optional. The augustana states this best when it says “True worship is faith in Jesus Christ.” period.

    So then why (and I am an accountant/CPA) would I want to spend lavish sums on my church building when that money could be spent feeding the poor, attending to the homeless, doing missionary work, etc etc etc.

    I have no rational reason actually. I love to see the thing that I love adorned with things of beauty. The ministry of Reconciliation and the “sent ones” , pastors, have feet worthy of kissing. My life would be so lost in every way, both earthly and eternally without this ministry. I love a liturgy lovingly and reverently chanted.

    I trust that God has plenty of resources to spread around for those other noble things as well.

    I think it is wonderful to have a beautiful expensively adorned building used just a few hours a week to bring Jesus in word and water and bread and wine. We practice a form of music, worship and dress there that dates to pre christian times. It is irrelevant by any earthly measure I can think of. a seeming anachronism. It seems to serve no earthly purpose at all.

    There is nothing really that makes sense of all this. Except one dead jew hanging on a cross on a very good friday between noon and 3pm a long time ago. And that seems sorta foolish as well by the way.

    I am so glad when I see people stumble over it. And then cling to it for their very life. and the life of the world.

  • fws

    economist doug @3

    I favor instead spending lavish sums on installing pipe organs, expensive stained glass windows, costly vestments and sacramental vessels.

    It is true these things are ALL purely optional. The augustana states this best when it says “True worship is faith in Jesus Christ.” period.

    So then why (and I am an accountant/CPA) would I want to spend lavish sums on my church building when that money could be spent feeding the poor, attending to the homeless, doing missionary work, etc etc etc.

    I have no rational reason actually. I love to see the thing that I love adorned with things of beauty. The ministry of Reconciliation and the “sent ones” , pastors, have feet worthy of kissing. My life would be so lost in every way, both earthly and eternally without this ministry. I love a liturgy lovingly and reverently chanted.

    I trust that God has plenty of resources to spread around for those other noble things as well.

    I think it is wonderful to have a beautiful expensively adorned building used just a few hours a week to bring Jesus in word and water and bread and wine. We practice a form of music, worship and dress there that dates to pre christian times. It is irrelevant by any earthly measure I can think of. a seeming anachronism. It seems to serve no earthly purpose at all.

    There is nothing really that makes sense of all this. Except one dead jew hanging on a cross on a very good friday between noon and 3pm a long time ago. And that seems sorta foolish as well by the way.

    I am so glad when I see people stumble over it. And then cling to it for their very life. and the life of the world.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Lest, we get carried away with sparse home churches and lay pastors, we ought to reflect on the fact that Martin Luther had a doctorate in theology and was glad to preach in a quite beautiful and expensive church in Wittenberg.

    People who care about serious religion ought to invest in the best educated of pastors and a church that is physically worthy of Christ. Americans tend to be romantic about down home pastors and their pinched understanding, however well meant, of serious Christianity

    Walter Russel Mead has a basically narrow, bourgeois view of the magnificent Christian religion.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Lest, we get carried away with sparse home churches and lay pastors, we ought to reflect on the fact that Martin Luther had a doctorate in theology and was glad to preach in a quite beautiful and expensive church in Wittenberg.

    People who care about serious religion ought to invest in the best educated of pastors and a church that is physically worthy of Christ. Americans tend to be romantic about down home pastors and their pinched understanding, however well meant, of serious Christianity

    Walter Russel Mead has a basically narrow, bourgeois view of the magnificent Christian religion.

  • http://www.ctgop16.com Doug Hageman

    I’m late to this thread as I only learned of it minutes ago via Twitter
    Nor am I Lutheran, but rather a Covey

    Never-the-less; “…calling for decentralization, networks of house churches, and clergy without professional degrees.” strikes me as a sure-fire recipe for disaster akin to a major train wreck.

    Economist Doug said:
    ” As an Economist it has seemed to me that Church buildings are some of the worst utilized buildings in communities.
    Church buildings lie mostly empty except for a few hours on Sunday and Wednesday. Even during peak time most churches are half-empty.”

    “Worst utilized”?
    Here’s our February Calendar, and I can assure you it’s incomplete as it only shows what’s officially scheduled to be going on and fails to include a lot of fairly spontaneous activity, and virtually never mentions what’s going on in the (massive) kitchen where some group seems to be forever preparing for the next event or two, seeing as virtually everything winds up with a slew of people (frequently teenagers) in the all purpose room eating something.

    Making sure that almost all youth activities include food seems to keep them coming back as our youth groups always seem to have several youngsters whose parents have barely ever set foot in the building and we learn, more often than not don’t attend any other church either.

    If a church isn’t hosting the Boy Scouts, (we have two troops) Girl Scouts etc.; fund raising for a women’s shelter, soup kitchen or in preparation for (yet another) church sponsored mission trip;
    one is left to wonder what *is* the church doing?

    Job one for a Christian Church is of course is to bring people to Christ; but without attracting non-church going people via other activities, how could the church grow, much-less even survive?

    An empty church is not functioning, and like the human appendix, is of no real use at all.

  • http://www.ctgop16.com Doug Hageman

    I’m late to this thread as I only learned of it minutes ago via Twitter
    Nor am I Lutheran, but rather a Covey

    Never-the-less; “…calling for decentralization, networks of house churches, and clergy without professional degrees.” strikes me as a sure-fire recipe for disaster akin to a major train wreck.

    Economist Doug said:
    ” As an Economist it has seemed to me that Church buildings are some of the worst utilized buildings in communities.
    Church buildings lie mostly empty except for a few hours on Sunday and Wednesday. Even during peak time most churches are half-empty.”

    “Worst utilized”?
    Here’s our February Calendar, and I can assure you it’s incomplete as it only shows what’s officially scheduled to be going on and fails to include a lot of fairly spontaneous activity, and virtually never mentions what’s going on in the (massive) kitchen where some group seems to be forever preparing for the next event or two, seeing as virtually everything winds up with a slew of people (frequently teenagers) in the all purpose room eating something.

    Making sure that almost all youth activities include food seems to keep them coming back as our youth groups always seem to have several youngsters whose parents have barely ever set foot in the building and we learn, more often than not don’t attend any other church either.

    If a church isn’t hosting the Boy Scouts, (we have two troops) Girl Scouts etc.; fund raising for a women’s shelter, soup kitchen or in preparation for (yet another) church sponsored mission trip;
    one is left to wonder what *is* the church doing?

    Job one for a Christian Church is of course is to bring people to Christ; but without attracting non-church going people via other activities, how could the church grow, much-less even survive?

    An empty church is not functioning, and like the human appendix, is of no real use at all.

  • Peter Leavitt

    God forbid that the Coveys, yet another self promoting, hyperactive, sectarian church clutter the Christian scene.

  • Peter Leavitt

    God forbid that the Coveys, yet another self promoting, hyperactive, sectarian church clutter the Christian scene.

  • Booklover

    What Steven said (#1).

    It is understandable that something has to be done with centralization; however, this has been my experience with small, independent churches:

    1. Accountability is lost.
    2. The house church people group gets smaller and smaller, each time thinking they are purifying their “holy huddle.” Beliefs strengthen that they are “the one true church.”
    3. Focus is on the personality at the head, rather than Christ, which anomaly is made ghastlier if he hasn’t studied the original languages or church history or heaven forbid Romans.
    4. Much beauty is lost–beauty in music, in architecture, in looking to someone else for your salvation rather than within, etc.

    I can’t help thinking that when Jesus said “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations. . .” that He was talking about something Much bigger.

  • Booklover

    What Steven said (#1).

    It is understandable that something has to be done with centralization; however, this has been my experience with small, independent churches:

    1. Accountability is lost.
    2. The house church people group gets smaller and smaller, each time thinking they are purifying their “holy huddle.” Beliefs strengthen that they are “the one true church.”
    3. Focus is on the personality at the head, rather than Christ, which anomaly is made ghastlier if he hasn’t studied the original languages or church history or heaven forbid Romans.
    4. Much beauty is lost–beauty in music, in architecture, in looking to someone else for your salvation rather than within, etc.

    I can’t help thinking that when Jesus said “Go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations. . .” that He was talking about something Much bigger.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dan (@14) made the point that jumped out at me, as well. I mean, the entire crux of the article (well, I’ve only read the summary Veith posted so far) appears centered around the idea that the job of the church is to increase the number of people in the church. And not, say, to preach the good news of Christ crucified for sinners. Consider this excerpt in that light:

    It is clear that if any of their work is directed at promoting the growth of the congregations of their respective denominations or of increasing church membership in other ways, they have little but failure to show for the millions of dollars they’ve spent over the years.

    As for the question of church buildings, it’s an interesting one. In the past decade, I’ve attended a (WELS) Lutheran church fashioned out of a warehouse space in an industrial park, and I’ve attended a WELS church in a more traditional building. The theology was the same, and that’s what mattered to me — and should be what matters to all of us.
    That said, we Christians should wisely ask ourselves whether a building always serves our purposes. It is a definite financial burden on a small congregation, and, once obtained, can sometimes become the focus of the congregation, rather than the gospel. Stewardship becomes less about the reaction of a thankful spirit and more about maintaining the building or paying the mortgage. And so on.

    We also should ask what the building says to those we are trying to reach. In some cultures, even a medium-sized church of modest architecture can appear to be a waste of money, a sign that Christians are not as concerned about the poor as they say. But then many unbelievers or those who haven’t been to church in years may also feel uncomfortable hearing God’s word in a converted warehouse, and would rather the building do a little preaching itself, as it were.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dan (@14) made the point that jumped out at me, as well. I mean, the entire crux of the article (well, I’ve only read the summary Veith posted so far) appears centered around the idea that the job of the church is to increase the number of people in the church. And not, say, to preach the good news of Christ crucified for sinners. Consider this excerpt in that light:

    It is clear that if any of their work is directed at promoting the growth of the congregations of their respective denominations or of increasing church membership in other ways, they have little but failure to show for the millions of dollars they’ve spent over the years.

    As for the question of church buildings, it’s an interesting one. In the past decade, I’ve attended a (WELS) Lutheran church fashioned out of a warehouse space in an industrial park, and I’ve attended a WELS church in a more traditional building. The theology was the same, and that’s what mattered to me — and should be what matters to all of us.
    That said, we Christians should wisely ask ourselves whether a building always serves our purposes. It is a definite financial burden on a small congregation, and, once obtained, can sometimes become the focus of the congregation, rather than the gospel. Stewardship becomes less about the reaction of a thankful spirit and more about maintaining the building or paying the mortgage. And so on.

    We also should ask what the building says to those we are trying to reach. In some cultures, even a medium-sized church of modest architecture can appear to be a waste of money, a sign that Christians are not as concerned about the poor as they say. But then many unbelievers or those who haven’t been to church in years may also feel uncomfortable hearing God’s word in a converted warehouse, and would rather the building do a little preaching itself, as it were.

  • Jerry

    What about people attending church in a new, whatever magnificent adjectives, building dressed in nothing different than which they would wear washing the car, walking the dog, or mowing the lawn. This may sound off topic, but isn’t that where all this is headed?

  • Jerry

    What about people attending church in a new, whatever magnificent adjectives, building dressed in nothing different than which they would wear washing the car, walking the dog, or mowing the lawn. This may sound off topic, but isn’t that where all this is headed?

  • http://www.ctgop16.com Doug Hageman

    Peter Leavitt is apparently unfamiliar with the Evangelical Covenant Church which is more inline with most Lutherans than not.

    Hardly anything anyone would might consider “sectarian”.

    We certainly don’t beat up other Christian congregations or denominations and not members of the UCC nor any other such groups or associations.

  • http://www.ctgop16.com Doug Hageman

    Peter Leavitt is apparently unfamiliar with the Evangelical Covenant Church which is more inline with most Lutherans than not.

    Hardly anything anyone would might consider “sectarian”.

    We certainly don’t beat up other Christian congregations or denominations and not members of the UCC nor any other such groups or associations.

  • Steven

    @Doug #25 – I’ll go out on a limb and say that Mr. Leavitt had tongue firmly planted in cheek in his earlier response. We just get you Coveys and the Frees mixed up so often it’s hard to tell who’s who.

  • Steven

    @Doug #25 – I’ll go out on a limb and say that Mr. Leavitt had tongue firmly planted in cheek in his earlier response. We just get you Coveys and the Frees mixed up so often it’s hard to tell who’s who.

  • Wyldeirishman

    Can this be forwarded to the offices of President K? :D

  • Wyldeirishman

    Can this be forwarded to the offices of President K? :D

  • fws

    doug @ 20 and todd @23

    I have noticed like todd that what we do seems to have the agenda of “growing the church”. I´m with Todd on this. Our pastors plant the seed God sent them to plant. what happens then is whatever.

    doug: Lutherans do the “attract people in with services” usually in the form of christian schools run by the church.

    works apart from the divine service and word and sacrament should not be bait on a hook. they should be open handed services to the community with no agenda hidden or otherwise of gaining new members.

    when we do soup kitchens etc, it is to attend to peoples creaturely needs. If some are curious about where the people who do this work get their motivation the people serving them can invite them to church, in the same way they would invite a stranger they met at the super market.

  • fws

    doug @ 20 and todd @23

    I have noticed like todd that what we do seems to have the agenda of “growing the church”. I´m with Todd on this. Our pastors plant the seed God sent them to plant. what happens then is whatever.

    doug: Lutherans do the “attract people in with services” usually in the form of christian schools run by the church.

    works apart from the divine service and word and sacrament should not be bait on a hook. they should be open handed services to the community with no agenda hidden or otherwise of gaining new members.

    when we do soup kitchens etc, it is to attend to peoples creaturely needs. If some are curious about where the people who do this work get their motivation the people serving them can invite them to church, in the same way they would invite a stranger they met at the super market.

  • wayne .pelling

    Very interesting read and of course the issues this bloke talks about are replicated over here in Australia. The church i go to is Baptist church associated with the Baptist Union of Victoria (our State) and through that with the Baptist union of Australia. However we meet in a community centre,where our office of 4staff -2 pastors,a youth and childrens’ minsiter and a secretary -are located.
    The policy is that owning a building takes time and money away from other programs ,thus we are able to assist at a soup kitchen,support work in India and East Timor and about to set up houses for homeless people
    In case you are intereste dhere is the link http://www.ncr.org.au

  • wayne .pelling

    Very interesting read and of course the issues this bloke talks about are replicated over here in Australia. The church i go to is Baptist church associated with the Baptist Union of Victoria (our State) and through that with the Baptist union of Australia. However we meet in a community centre,where our office of 4staff -2 pastors,a youth and childrens’ minsiter and a secretary -are located.
    The policy is that owning a building takes time and money away from other programs ,thus we are able to assist at a soup kitchen,support work in India and East Timor and about to set up houses for homeless people
    In case you are intereste dhere is the link http://www.ncr.org.au

  • Bob

    Doug:

    I was married in the Covenant Church. You’re right, they’re anything but sectarian. I have a good friend who’s a
    Covenant pastor.

    ‘God forbid that the Coveys, yet another self promoting, hyperactive, sectarian church clutter the Christian scene.’

    Honestly, Peter, do you have any idea what you’re talking about?
    They’re not hyperactive nor sectarian — if anything, I’d say they’re quite evangelically ecumenical. They have a fine professional seminary in Chicago with an M.Div. track, among others, I’m sure. Self-promoting? No. I’ve seen no evidence of that.

    Peter, trying saying something that you know is true . Don’t just write everything thought that blows through. You’re just embarrassing yourself.

  • Bob

    Doug:

    I was married in the Covenant Church. You’re right, they’re anything but sectarian. I have a good friend who’s a
    Covenant pastor.

    ‘God forbid that the Coveys, yet another self promoting, hyperactive, sectarian church clutter the Christian scene.’

    Honestly, Peter, do you have any idea what you’re talking about?
    They’re not hyperactive nor sectarian — if anything, I’d say they’re quite evangelically ecumenical. They have a fine professional seminary in Chicago with an M.Div. track, among others, I’m sure. Self-promoting? No. I’ve seen no evidence of that.

    Peter, trying saying something that you know is true . Don’t just write everything thought that blows through. You’re just embarrassing yourself.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    There would need to be doctrinal supervision somewhere. I agree that the pastors need thorough theological education. (Good point that, that Luther had a doctorate!) I too value “sacred space.” The house church model that has become popular today tends to be very loosey-goosey. It is possible for members of a larger church body–with creeds, authority-structures, liturgy, etc.– to meet in member’s homes, creating sacred space with a cross and an altar. Better yet, let’s go back to catacomb churches. Meet in funeral homes! Our congregation is very confessional and liturgical, but we have no building of our own. We meet in a Seventh Day Adventist church–hey, they don’t use it on Sundays–and in member’s homes for weekday Bible studies and other activities.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    There would need to be doctrinal supervision somewhere. I agree that the pastors need thorough theological education. (Good point that, that Luther had a doctorate!) I too value “sacred space.” The house church model that has become popular today tends to be very loosey-goosey. It is possible for members of a larger church body–with creeds, authority-structures, liturgy, etc.– to meet in member’s homes, creating sacred space with a cross and an altar. Better yet, let’s go back to catacomb churches. Meet in funeral homes! Our congregation is very confessional and liturgical, but we have no building of our own. We meet in a Seventh Day Adventist church–hey, they don’t use it on Sundays–and in member’s homes for weekday Bible studies and other activities.

  • http://www.ctgop16.com Doug Hageman

    fws said:
    “Lutherans do the “attract people in with services” usually in the form of christian schools run by the church.

    My now almost 22 year old son in fact attended what everyone told us was the easily the finest and best run nursery school in this town of 40,000 which was operated by the Lutherans.
    I have no question that it was (and I assume remains) the Cadillac operation of it’s kind in this area.

  • http://www.ctgop16.com Doug Hageman

    fws said:
    “Lutherans do the “attract people in with services” usually in the form of christian schools run by the church.

    My now almost 22 year old son in fact attended what everyone told us was the easily the finest and best run nursery school in this town of 40,000 which was operated by the Lutherans.
    I have no question that it was (and I assume remains) the Cadillac operation of it’s kind in this area.

  • Gregory DeVore

    The idea that Church space is poorly used is really, really off base. My little Church building has an English congregation, a Chineese congregation, a Indonesian congregation and a Korean congregation all sharing space. In additon we are right now considering opening our doors to a spanish language bible study. We have AA, NA meeting with us and Alanon is nocking at the door. We have girl scouts and the cub scouts have come knocking. We let the local college ministries use our church for meetings. Our church space is used in many, many ways. I am sure this is true of most congregations.

  • Gregory DeVore

    The idea that Church space is poorly used is really, really off base. My little Church building has an English congregation, a Chineese congregation, a Indonesian congregation and a Korean congregation all sharing space. In additon we are right now considering opening our doors to a spanish language bible study. We have AA, NA meeting with us and Alanon is nocking at the door. We have girl scouts and the cub scouts have come knocking. We let the local college ministries use our church for meetings. Our church space is used in many, many ways. I am sure this is true of most congregations.

  • kerner

    Christ gave us the great commission to go out into the world preaching and baptising, but he also commanded us to let our light so shine before men so that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. Preaching the Word and administering the sacraments is job one, as was said above. But helping others to the glory of God attracts their attention to God even as it gives them the help they need.

    But to effectively preach God’s Word, you have to understand it, which means you have to study it, because God’s Word contains plenty of complex principles which have to be harmonized into a coherent whole. I don’t know how you accomplish that without an educated clergy.

    Church buildings don’t have to be fancy, but like everything else, you want the sanctuary to reflect the proper degree of respect for the God who is worshiped there. Again, this is not about oppulence so much as it is about focus on the Cross and on God. A sanctuary that is designed to help the worshipers to focus on these things might not be very well suited to much else. Because of this I am not a big fan of sanctuaries that resemble theaters used for entertainment, nor am I a fan of using gymnasiums for worship. I know people CAN worship in such environments, I just don’t think these are the best places for it.

    On the hand, most Church buildings have space that can be used for a lot of activities other than worship. Christians should devote some effort to using these to help others, and if there are times when the congregation is not using the space, lending or renting the space to others as a means of helping them and attracting their attention to God’s Word and sacraments seems like a perfectly acceptable idea to me, as long as the congregation doesn’t allow the mundane to crowd out the sacred.

    Another thing about church buildings is that I think they kind of make a statement to the outside world: “This is a Christian place. Even if the majority of this society is not Christian, Christians are here, and now you know where you can find us.” I think it is important to make such a statement sometimes. Maybe there are higher priorities, and maybe it is not so important at all times. But I think the sight of a Church building says something to a community that frequently needs to be said.

  • kerner

    Christ gave us the great commission to go out into the world preaching and baptising, but he also commanded us to let our light so shine before men so that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. Preaching the Word and administering the sacraments is job one, as was said above. But helping others to the glory of God attracts their attention to God even as it gives them the help they need.

    But to effectively preach God’s Word, you have to understand it, which means you have to study it, because God’s Word contains plenty of complex principles which have to be harmonized into a coherent whole. I don’t know how you accomplish that without an educated clergy.

    Church buildings don’t have to be fancy, but like everything else, you want the sanctuary to reflect the proper degree of respect for the God who is worshiped there. Again, this is not about oppulence so much as it is about focus on the Cross and on God. A sanctuary that is designed to help the worshipers to focus on these things might not be very well suited to much else. Because of this I am not a big fan of sanctuaries that resemble theaters used for entertainment, nor am I a fan of using gymnasiums for worship. I know people CAN worship in such environments, I just don’t think these are the best places for it.

    On the hand, most Church buildings have space that can be used for a lot of activities other than worship. Christians should devote some effort to using these to help others, and if there are times when the congregation is not using the space, lending or renting the space to others as a means of helping them and attracting their attention to God’s Word and sacraments seems like a perfectly acceptable idea to me, as long as the congregation doesn’t allow the mundane to crowd out the sacred.

    Another thing about church buildings is that I think they kind of make a statement to the outside world: “This is a Christian place. Even if the majority of this society is not Christian, Christians are here, and now you know where you can find us.” I think it is important to make such a statement sometimes. Maybe there are higher priorities, and maybe it is not so important at all times. But I think the sight of a Church building says something to a community that frequently needs to be said.

  • Bruce Gee

    For some years I have been encouraging Lutheran congregations, if they want to grow, to do as Frank has suggested: put lots of money into music and sanctuary. What Lutherans “do” well, historically, is the Divine Service. It is rich, uplifting, and delivers Christ to the sinner in a most profound manner. But when it is done badly, or is misunderstood by the congregation, or when Word and Sacrament are neglected in favor of “church growth”, or in other ways mishandled (which may be the case in any number of Lutheran churches–perhaps a topic for another day), it can be depressing and dowdy. For Lutherans, “church growth” begins with the excellent delivery of the law and the pure gospel in the DS. Everything, or nothing, flows from worship. Lex orandi, lex credendi.

  • Bruce Gee

    For some years I have been encouraging Lutheran congregations, if they want to grow, to do as Frank has suggested: put lots of money into music and sanctuary. What Lutherans “do” well, historically, is the Divine Service. It is rich, uplifting, and delivers Christ to the sinner in a most profound manner. But when it is done badly, or is misunderstood by the congregation, or when Word and Sacrament are neglected in favor of “church growth”, or in other ways mishandled (which may be the case in any number of Lutheran churches–perhaps a topic for another day), it can be depressing and dowdy. For Lutherans, “church growth” begins with the excellent delivery of the law and the pure gospel in the DS. Everything, or nothing, flows from worship. Lex orandi, lex credendi.

  • Gulliver

    The responders have emphasized the importance of worship and education in the congregation setting. One thing that has not been mentioned is that many congregations are incorporated, which means that it must follow certain business practices—annual meeting, annual report, reports of finacial use, etc. This does not mean the congregation must operate along the lines of a business model. However, incorporation and constitutions give members a measure of protection and provide requirements for the congregation’s business to be properly conducted.

  • Gulliver

    The responders have emphasized the importance of worship and education in the congregation setting. One thing that has not been mentioned is that many congregations are incorporated, which means that it must follow certain business practices—annual meeting, annual report, reports of finacial use, etc. This does not mean the congregation must operate along the lines of a business model. However, incorporation and constitutions give members a measure of protection and provide requirements for the congregation’s business to be properly conducted.

  • John K

    I just finished reading Mead’s “The Holy Crap Must Go” and it scared the heck out of me. I am a layman with a degree in absolutely nothing. I want to be led by nothing less than a qualified shepherd. I don’t want to go to someone’s home to be ‘led’ by some unqualified person who wants to play pastor. Who is going to visit me when I’m in the hospital? Who’s going to visit me in my last days in the nursing home? Mead would have me check into http://www.lastdayspastor.com. This all fits in with the mistaken notion that everyone is a minister. Who, in the parable did the shepherd send to look for the lost sheep? Did he send a sheep to look for his lost brother sheep? He did not!! The shepherd, himself went. This sheep, as he becomes older and older wants a shepherd looking after me. If demographics force congregations to close, so be it. I’ll just move further out. I know that I’ll find another confessional/liturgical congregation in the area. It might be a challenge, but I won’t have it any other way. Keep those learned men coming. I’ll be there.

  • John K

    I just finished reading Mead’s “The Holy Crap Must Go” and it scared the heck out of me. I am a layman with a degree in absolutely nothing. I want to be led by nothing less than a qualified shepherd. I don’t want to go to someone’s home to be ‘led’ by some unqualified person who wants to play pastor. Who is going to visit me when I’m in the hospital? Who’s going to visit me in my last days in the nursing home? Mead would have me check into http://www.lastdayspastor.com. This all fits in with the mistaken notion that everyone is a minister. Who, in the parable did the shepherd send to look for the lost sheep? Did he send a sheep to look for his lost brother sheep? He did not!! The shepherd, himself went. This sheep, as he becomes older and older wants a shepherd looking after me. If demographics force congregations to close, so be it. I’ll just move further out. I know that I’ll find another confessional/liturgical congregation in the area. It might be a challenge, but I won’t have it any other way. Keep those learned men coming. I’ll be there.

  • Carl Vehse

    kerner @8,

    Sometimes the LCMS polity (lately) seems more like this.

  • Carl Vehse

    kerner @8,

    Sometimes the LCMS polity (lately) seems more like this.

  • http://www.ctgop16.com That secular Covey character again

    Kerner said:

    Another thing about church buildings is that I think they kind of make a statement to the outside world

    A few years after we had built our new structure, the congregation was tiring of constant chair stacking and re-arranging so we could have church in our gym or gym in our church, it was time to finish what we had started and build the sanctuary.

    The brother of one of our members was a pastor from another church in Connecticut that had recently undergone a substantial addition, and was invited to speak.

    He clearly had done his homework, rattling off statistics with the velocity of a machine gun he pointed out that Christianity was flat or declining throughout Europe, more or less steady in the US but on fire, and growing in Africa.

    However he noted, only when a new physical plant is erected or an existing church underwent substantial visible change (IE a large addition) did they seem to grow with any regularity here in the United States.

    We have found this to be the case with our typical Sunday going from around 125 in attendance to now between 450 – 500 with regularity, requiring now two Sunday services.

    The growth has created some logistical issues, we had to totally re-think how to execute our post-service coffee hour so as to avoid a line that occasionally exceeded over 100 deep!

    We found it necessary to add more staff too.

    It’s been fun, we’ve added a Monday night supper that draws over 150 most weeks, and gives us a perfect opportunity to invite our non-church going friends to church without forcing them to be “religious”. (Heaven forbid!) We have several teams of around 8 people, each taking a Monday every 6 or 8 weeks and the simple act of working together creates a more cohesive congregation thus allowing us to work together more seamlessly towards other ends as well.

    We don’t ever lose sight of Him, or His word.

    We are larger now than many of us ever imagined; and my in-laws, both members of the same church all of their lives (my father-in-law is 80) tell me they can’t recall the church being so busy or for that matter, more welcoming than we are today. Our primary growth appears to be coming from young couples seeking to “church” their children; but right behind them and not intentionally on our part we’ve been picking up a lot of people who have become dissatisfied with the increasingly secular/political tone of some other denominations; though I can’t recall ever having someone from a Lutheran congregation show up seeking membership, which in itself speaks volumes.

  • http://www.ctgop16.com That secular Covey character again

    Kerner said:

    Another thing about church buildings is that I think they kind of make a statement to the outside world

    A few years after we had built our new structure, the congregation was tiring of constant chair stacking and re-arranging so we could have church in our gym or gym in our church, it was time to finish what we had started and build the sanctuary.

    The brother of one of our members was a pastor from another church in Connecticut that had recently undergone a substantial addition, and was invited to speak.

    He clearly had done his homework, rattling off statistics with the velocity of a machine gun he pointed out that Christianity was flat or declining throughout Europe, more or less steady in the US but on fire, and growing in Africa.

    However he noted, only when a new physical plant is erected or an existing church underwent substantial visible change (IE a large addition) did they seem to grow with any regularity here in the United States.

    We have found this to be the case with our typical Sunday going from around 125 in attendance to now between 450 – 500 with regularity, requiring now two Sunday services.

    The growth has created some logistical issues, we had to totally re-think how to execute our post-service coffee hour so as to avoid a line that occasionally exceeded over 100 deep!

    We found it necessary to add more staff too.

    It’s been fun, we’ve added a Monday night supper that draws over 150 most weeks, and gives us a perfect opportunity to invite our non-church going friends to church without forcing them to be “religious”. (Heaven forbid!) We have several teams of around 8 people, each taking a Monday every 6 or 8 weeks and the simple act of working together creates a more cohesive congregation thus allowing us to work together more seamlessly towards other ends as well.

    We don’t ever lose sight of Him, or His word.

    We are larger now than many of us ever imagined; and my in-laws, both members of the same church all of their lives (my father-in-law is 80) tell me they can’t recall the church being so busy or for that matter, more welcoming than we are today. Our primary growth appears to be coming from young couples seeking to “church” their children; but right behind them and not intentionally on our part we’ve been picking up a lot of people who have become dissatisfied with the increasingly secular/political tone of some other denominations; though I can’t recall ever having someone from a Lutheran congregation show up seeking membership, which in itself speaks volumes.

  • Sojourner

    John K @37
    Good thoughts. I am of the opinion that the church will always need highly educated pastors. An under educated shepherd is a ticking time bomb, especially if he buys into much of the church growth strategy that has taken American Evangelicalism by storm in recent decades. Heresy and heterodoxy all too often pass as “God’s truth” in today’s world.

    I am put off by Christians who scoff at those who value highly the sanctity of pure biblical doctrine. It is as though defending the truth of Scripture is a quaint or even dangerous thing. Can confessional Lutherans sometimes neglect a perfectly acceptable outreach opportunity in favor of being cautious? Yes. However, this is not an exclusive behavior of Lutheran Christians but most (all?) Christians at some time or another. That being said I would rather ere on the side of caution than be tossed to and fro by every new whim or fad of outreach strategy. I tend to be of the love your neighbor as yourself and be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you train of thought when it comes to evangelism.

    As far as polity goes, I prefer the congregational autonomy the LCMS offers but I am biased. I have also seen weakness in this as it can be very difficult to rid a congregation or even a circuit of (bad) leaven when it begins to take root. There is not much oversight when and where it is sometimes needed. Hence, the importance of highly educated pastors.

    There should be something different and distinct about a church building. Historic Christianity, especially today?, is counter-cultural. Allowing the building itself to do some preaching, as was said above by another responder, is good. Why not take the time (and money) to invest in a sanctuary that clearly communicates the purpose of the space? This is a place where the one true Living God meets with His chosen people. This is where God’s gifts are given to God’s people for the strengthening and expansion of Christ’s Kingdom. Essentially, this is where, if only for a moment, Heaven touches earth.

    Oh and…a church like that needs a highly educated pastor. ;-)

  • Sojourner

    John K @37
    Good thoughts. I am of the opinion that the church will always need highly educated pastors. An under educated shepherd is a ticking time bomb, especially if he buys into much of the church growth strategy that has taken American Evangelicalism by storm in recent decades. Heresy and heterodoxy all too often pass as “God’s truth” in today’s world.

    I am put off by Christians who scoff at those who value highly the sanctity of pure biblical doctrine. It is as though defending the truth of Scripture is a quaint or even dangerous thing. Can confessional Lutherans sometimes neglect a perfectly acceptable outreach opportunity in favor of being cautious? Yes. However, this is not an exclusive behavior of Lutheran Christians but most (all?) Christians at some time or another. That being said I would rather ere on the side of caution than be tossed to and fro by every new whim or fad of outreach strategy. I tend to be of the love your neighbor as yourself and be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you train of thought when it comes to evangelism.

    As far as polity goes, I prefer the congregational autonomy the LCMS offers but I am biased. I have also seen weakness in this as it can be very difficult to rid a congregation or even a circuit of (bad) leaven when it begins to take root. There is not much oversight when and where it is sometimes needed. Hence, the importance of highly educated pastors.

    There should be something different and distinct about a church building. Historic Christianity, especially today?, is counter-cultural. Allowing the building itself to do some preaching, as was said above by another responder, is good. Why not take the time (and money) to invest in a sanctuary that clearly communicates the purpose of the space? This is a place where the one true Living God meets with His chosen people. This is where God’s gifts are given to God’s people for the strengthening and expansion of Christ’s Kingdom. Essentially, this is where, if only for a moment, Heaven touches earth.

    Oh and…a church like that needs a highly educated pastor. ;-)

  • http://RoseFremer@yahoo.com Rose

    Doug,
    “At least eight of the elected members of the Board of Benevolence shall be female. At least eight of the elected
    members of the Board of Benevolence shall be male.”—ECC Constitution.
    I was a Covey until the new Constitution included quotas of women on boards and commissions. At the time, I was cochair of CEat my church and asked the framers (Hedstrom, Smith) exactly who placed the quota-wording in the document. They couldn’t remember. I asked “Where is it written?” and there was no scriptural basis offered. My pastor suggested “In Christ there is no male or female.” However, this seems to argue for no quotas. Were the quotas requested by Covenant Women? No. One woman executive at my church said, “Why not just choose the best qualified person?”
    I would suggest that sectarian feminism has a foothold in the Covenant.

  • http://RoseFremer@yahoo.com Rose

    Doug,
    “At least eight of the elected members of the Board of Benevolence shall be female. At least eight of the elected
    members of the Board of Benevolence shall be male.”—ECC Constitution.
    I was a Covey until the new Constitution included quotas of women on boards and commissions. At the time, I was cochair of CEat my church and asked the framers (Hedstrom, Smith) exactly who placed the quota-wording in the document. They couldn’t remember. I asked “Where is it written?” and there was no scriptural basis offered. My pastor suggested “In Christ there is no male or female.” However, this seems to argue for no quotas. Were the quotas requested by Covenant Women? No. One woman executive at my church said, “Why not just choose the best qualified person?”
    I would suggest that sectarian feminism has a foothold in the Covenant.

  • http://www.ctgop16.com Douglas C Hageman

    >>“At least eight of the elected members of the Board of Benevolence …..

    News to me; and it appears to me that (seeing as we’re involved deeply enough) it was slipped through.

    We have loads of former Congregationalists (including myself) that joined largely due to that sort of behind the scenes nonsense.

    Thanks for the heads up.

    I’ll have little problem with that if I learn it *had* been subjected to scrutiny and a recorded vote, as we are congregationalist (note lower case “c”) in our form of government. To learn of it elsewhere without previously hearing a single word is surprising.

  • http://www.ctgop16.com Douglas C Hageman

    >>“At least eight of the elected members of the Board of Benevolence …..

    News to me; and it appears to me that (seeing as we’re involved deeply enough) it was slipped through.

    We have loads of former Congregationalists (including myself) that joined largely due to that sort of behind the scenes nonsense.

    Thanks for the heads up.

    I’ll have little problem with that if I learn it *had* been subjected to scrutiny and a recorded vote, as we are congregationalist (note lower case “c”) in our form of government. To learn of it elsewhere without previously hearing a single word is surprising.

  • http://RoseFremer@yahoo.com Rose

    Doug,
    Thanks for your reply. No one at my ECC church had noticed it either,when the constitutional changes were summarized in the Covenant Companion before the Annual Meeting.
    The committee offered to come to any congregations that had questions, but I was told I was the only one to make a request.
    I planned for a Sunday morning meeting but my pastor changed it to an evening (low attendance) meeting.
    To this day, I’m not sure why this bothered me so much.
    No rationale was offered for the quotas.
    Apparently it should have been obvious to me since ‘goals and timetables’ were an accepted business model.
    But I’m wary of the feminization of the church, especially by women who press for quotas in a constitution.
    This seems to take energy and focus away from our common witness.

  • http://RoseFremer@yahoo.com Rose

    Doug,
    Thanks for your reply. No one at my ECC church had noticed it either,when the constitutional changes were summarized in the Covenant Companion before the Annual Meeting.
    The committee offered to come to any congregations that had questions, but I was told I was the only one to make a request.
    I planned for a Sunday morning meeting but my pastor changed it to an evening (low attendance) meeting.
    To this day, I’m not sure why this bothered me so much.
    No rationale was offered for the quotas.
    Apparently it should have been obvious to me since ‘goals and timetables’ were an accepted business model.
    But I’m wary of the feminization of the church, especially by women who press for quotas in a constitution.
    This seems to take energy and focus away from our common witness.


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