Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense
As I watch some of my fellow clergy and some of our congregations doing their level best to look like "First Evangelical Non-Denomination Around the Corner" and trying hard to sound like Pastor Bob strolling about the stage in business casual, offering worship services that look not much different than the big mega-warehouse "worship center" down the street, this thought continues to come to mind:
If we give people no meaningful and compelling reason to be, and remain, uniquely and faithfully and genuinely and specifically Lutheran, they won’t!
Offering an imitation of non-denominational, Willow Creek, Rick Warren style Protestantism is not Lutheranism. Aside from the many substantial and essential theological reasons for not doing this, which apparently don’t register with those pushing this stuff, here is a hard fact of life in the real world. The head of Costco once said, "Imitation may be the most sincere form of flattery, but it is no strategy." This isn’t rocket science, but it is common sense, and perhaps that is the problem, since common sense is quite uncommon sometimes.
If we are not powerfully and consistently making it clear why people
should be Lutherans and not any other denomination let’s not be
surprised when they leave for any other denomination. When we do our
best to look like "the other guys" then don’t be surprised when people
leave for the "other guys" whenever the mood strikes them.
All the hand-wringing, breathless blustering, brow-beating, cajoling
and holding gathering after gathering, summit after summit, and meeting
after meeting about "missions" with incessant talk about visions and
mission statements and references to setting the world on fire is no
substitute for the hard facts of what makes for a genuinely
confessionally Lutheran Church and what doesn’t. All the consultants in
the world with their suggestions about tag lines, logos and other such
banal, insipid Madison avenue-esque hype and hoopla won’t change these
One need only carefully analyze the average Sunday morning worship
attendance compared to total baptized membership in congregations to
understand finally what all the effort to look like the non-denom mega
churches produces. Let’s look closely at new members coming into our
congregations and learn precisely how many come from a truly
non-Christian background or how many are rather simply coming in as
basically evangelicals and non-denoms. Do they know that Lutheranism is
not non-denominationalism, and why it is not?
There are a lot of hard facts, dangerous half-truths and total nonsense
that we need to face up to as Lutherans when we talk about the growth
of the Church. One of the dangerous half-truths out there is this: if we make people feel all warm and cozy about Church, they will join us. They may join, but will they stay? Here’s another dangerous half-truth: the important thing is getting people into the door, we’ll grow them up in the faith once they join. But do they ever mature in the faith? Study after study reveal the fact that churches that are growing the most are those who hold their membership to the highest standards and expectation. A casual approach to things churchly results in a casual attitude toward the Church, a "take it or leave it" attitude.
John Adams once said, "Facts are stubborn things; and
whatever may be our wishes, our
inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the
state of facts and evidence." And those are the hard facts indeed.