Monday, May 12, 2008

Church Growth the Old Fashioned Way

I performed a wedding at a neighboring sister congregation on Saturday--one of the older congregations in the area, founded by Germans a few years after the land run. Pictures adorn their parish hall--past confirmation classes, the "rogue's gallery" of previous pastors, and in the hallway leading to the sanctuary, family portraits of the founding members. And those portraits were full. Most of them included a half-dozen or more children--the nearly adult children in the back, the smaller ones on either side of mom and dad.

There were about ten families in total--but nearly 100 people in the pictures. It's no wonder Zion Lutheran grew in the first half of the 20th Century. This congregation was by no means exceptional, either. This was the way life was. And a church established with 10 families could grow to a church of 60 families in 20 years-- without any suburban sprawl.

Natural church growth.


  1. Pastor Heckmann said...

    Pr. Hall,
    I hope you have time and desire to elaborate on this. I would love to hear further of your perspective. The demographic realities for the American church seem to be indisputable, yet we in the church tend to act as if there is an elusive magical solution that will restore us to a position of popularity. I do not think there is anything that will return us to a setting like the one in the photos you viewed. Common knowledge perhaps, but I think we, in Missouri at least, have yet to internalize it.

  2. Dizziness said...

    Some unfortunate realities mostly due to our mobile society that prohibit larger families from having the practical necessities. My own family of seven has pretty much outgrown the minivan and will be moving into a suburban or larger. Economics and safety become big concerns with the larger vehicles. This is only one example. We can't get our groceries in walking distance. Even church is five miles away.

    I would urge your readers to pick up the latest issue of Touchstone magazine and read the article "The Duty Free Family" (May 2008). The spirit of volunteerism (over duty/vocation) is in part responsible for our lack of births these days. In non-Christian households, the same spirit is responsible for abortion. Its a sad and trying time.

  3. Christopher D. Hall said...

    If there is a magic bullet, it would be children. Wait, not magic. Commanded of us by God to multiply and consider our children great blessings. As far the photos I saw, Peter, you've done a nice job with your four :)

    I can't cite chapter and verse, but studies of demographics in the Roman Empire have led some to conclude that Christians essentially out-birthed the pagans, who were having abortions and letting their unwanted children die of exposure.

    As far as the economic realities, Dizziness, I know your situation. There's six of us, and even 7 seat minivans don't often seat 7 well. Let us remember, though, what things are truly necessary and what is convenience and fitting in with the world.

  4. Gauntlets said...

    Yes! This is exactly it!

    Please let the Ablaze people know.

    (PS: I did not just say that.)

  5. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    And then there is Semi-Old Fashioned Church Growth. I think a quarter of your congregation are folks who ended up moving into town and transferring. to Redeemer >=o)

    Of course, every where I go in the circuit I hear a chorus of "Oh, I was born at Lahoma." It's. . . bizarre.

  6. Mike Baker said...

    Good Point, Pastor Hall.

    Hand in hand with this is the other principle of Old Fashioned Church Growth:

    The defense of the church against schism and theological error. These are the two problems through which any numerical gains (either biological or missional) are sifted and lost.

    As proof of my point, I ask that you try to estimate the size of the American Lutheran Church if she had experienced no divisions and lost no one to other belief systems during her entire history.

    Theological error and schism are tools of the Devil. He uses them as weapons to shrink the size of the church. Real church growth requires a purposeful, unified defense against these attacks. Since the LCMS has neither, she is shrinking.