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ALPB => Your Turn => Topic started by: D. Engebretson on October 29, 2021, 03:19:48 PM

Title: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: D. Engebretson on October 29, 2021, 03:19:48 PM
RNS recently reported on a Faith Communities Today survey that discovered what many of us already know: Small and mid-sized congregations, especially within mainline denominations, are in decline.  Significant decline. 

https://religionnews.com/2021/10/14/study-attendance-at-small-and-midsize-us-congregations-is-hemorrhaging/?fbclid=IwAR3yBK2ok4ofO0zuwsp8zsZ0A3KyXgNNbQRgZrIQSee29pP2Q1OnTq1Esjg (https://religionnews.com/2021/10/14/study-attendance-at-small-and-midsize-us-congregations-is-hemorrhaging/?fbclid=IwAR3yBK2ok4ofO0zuwsp8zsZ0A3KyXgNNbQRgZrIQSee29pP2Q1OnTq1Esjg)

No doubt the pandemic has hastened what was already in process albeit at a more gradual pace. In fact, I believe that it is a significant reason for the seemingly sudden decline, although the article does not really note this. They note that half of the country’s congregations just before the lockdown had 65 or fewer people in attendance on any given weekend, a drop from a median attendance level of 137 people in 2000." For people like me, who live in a more sparsely populated rural community, the findings are not encouraging as far as growth prospects: "Nearly half of the country’s congregations are in rural areas (25%) or small towns (22%), while the 2020 census found that only 6% of Americans live in rural areas and 8% in small towns." There's a demographic shift, as they also note: "The country’s changing demographics may be key to rural and small-town decline. Young people have been moving to urban areas; businesses and industries have also left these communities bereft of resources and talent."

I think that overall, to be a bit more spiritual about this, the decline has roots in what Paul wrote about to Timothy (1 Tim 4): "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith..." This corresponds with other studies documenting the rise of the category known as "nones" and the falling away of recent generations compared to the older ones. The study notes that while Christian churches are in decline, "the only groups to boost attendance over the past five years were non-Christian congregations: Muslim, Baha’i and Jewish."

For those in the larger 'mega' churches, however, it might sound more encouraging: "Congregations with 1,500 people in attendance were best able to avoid decline; 71% of those large churches grew over the past five years. That may suggest many people are abandoning midsized congregations for megachurches that have full-time clergy, greater financial and physical resources and a diversity of ages and races among members."  They also leave smaller, more traditional churches to go to these larger ones, in my opinion, because of the greater tendency of its worship to favor a more casual and entertainment-type format. Based on the marketing strategies made popular decades ago, they cater to those looking for a place that more resembles their culture and popular music tastes. But these churches are also quickly becoming indistinguishable from the world outside their doors.  It's only a matter of time before this decline catches up with them as well.

Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: peter_speckhard on October 29, 2021, 03:46:36 PM
The problem, too, with the move of people away from rural and small town congregations is that it is for all practical purposes impossible for a new church to be for them what their old church was for them. They get frustrated, which makes them think that if they can’t get what they want anyway, a more wholesale change might be worth trying, or else they only worship when they visit home.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Brian Stoffregen on October 29, 2021, 04:12:30 PM
I think that overall, to be a bit more spiritual about this, the decline has roots in what Paul wrote about to Timothy (1 Tim 4): "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith..." This corresponds with other studies documenting the rise of the category known as "nones" and the falling away of recent generations compared to the older ones. The study notes that while Christian churches are in decline, "the only groups to boost attendance over the past five years were non-Christian congregations: Muslim, Baha’i and Jewish."


I suspect that when Timothy was written, the Christians were a smaller minority of the population than they are now. They were not only competing with other religious groups; but also emperor worship (or patriotism,) which for most others, was no problem. Pledging allegiance to one more god was no problem for them; but it was for Christians (and Jews).


I think that many of us were spoiled by the unusual growth and activities of the church during the 50s & 60s. However, where I grew up in Oregon, at its best in the 60s, about 30% of the population claimed church membership - the lowest in the nation. Another difference I realized (somewhat more vividly when we lived and served in the midwest,) was that we had no extended family in the state. My folk's parents and all their siblings lived in other states. We did not have family gatherings. Churches did not have four and five generations being members.


As some have predicted, Loren Mead, most notably, we are returning more to a first century situation, rather than what we remember in the 20th century. Not only were the Christians a minority, but the world was actively hostile against Christians. The mission field is the congregations' neighborhood, rather than Africa or Asia.


Unfortunately, Lutherans, having grown out of a state church mindset, is less equipped to reach out to an unbelieving world calling for conversions than are group like the Baptists. While I've had Baptists (and Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses) come to my door promoting their congregations; I've had Lutherans state quite forcibly, "I'll never do that. You can't get me to go knocking on doors."
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: peter_speckhard on October 29, 2021, 04:23:31 PM
A big difference today, however, is that everyone in the first century didn’t think they already knew about Christianity, and the Christian witness on any concrete point was not always being contradicted by established “Christian” churches siding with the pagan culture against Christianity.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Dan Fienen on October 29, 2021, 04:34:35 PM
I think that overall, to be a bit more spiritual about this, the decline has roots in what Paul wrote about to Timothy (1 Tim 4): "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith..." This corresponds with other studies documenting the rise of the category known as "nones" and the falling away of recent generations compared to the older ones. The study notes that while Christian churches are in decline, "the only groups to boost attendance over the past five years were non-Christian congregations: Muslim, Baha’i and Jewish."


I suspect that when Timothy was written, the Christians were a smaller minority of the population than they are now. They were not only competing with other religious groups; but also emperor worship (or patriotism,) which for most others, was no problem. Pledging allegiance to one more god was no problem for them; but it was for Christians (and Jews).


I think that many of us were spoiled by the unusual growth and activities of the church during the 50s & 60s. However, where I grew up in Oregon, at its best in the 60s, about 30% of the population claimed church membership - the lowest in the nation. Another difference I realized (somewhat more vividly when we lived and served in the midwest,) was that we had no extended family in the state. My folk's parents and all their siblings lived in other states. We did not have family gatherings. Churches did not have four and five generations being members.


As some have predicted, Loren Mead, most notably, we are returning more to a first century situation, rather than what we remember in the 20th century. Not only were the Christians a minority, but the world was actively hostile against Christians. The mission field is the congregations' neighborhood, rather than Africa or Asia.


Unfortunately, Lutherans, having grown out of a state church mindset, is less equipped to reach out to an unbelieving world calling for conversions than are group like the Baptists. While I've had Baptists (and Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses) come to my door promoting their congregations; I've had Lutherans state quite forcibly, "I'll never do that. You can't get me to go knocking on doors."
I agree with most of what you say here. My quibble is that I think that it is worse than even you suggest. In the First Century, there was hostility to Christianity. It was a small, minority religion. It was also very different in its monotheism from the polytheistic syncretistic religions around it. And it began primarily from the fringes of society.


One advantage that it had was that it was new. There were people who were dissatisfied with the religions that they grew up with and which were around them and so were looking for a new faith. There was much religious foment in those times. Exotic religions were being explored, Eastern from Persia and points east, Egyptian cults, esoteric mystery religions, and Gnostic cults were all being tried. Christianity was in that mix, and eventually won out.


We are now an old religion that many consider tried and worn out. It is no longer rebellious to become Christian as it may have been in the First Century.


So, Brian, I mainly agree with you. I just see that there are some important differences with the First Century that we need to recognize.


I will also note, that for the First Century Christians, success did not come by modifying their beliefs and practices to fit in with the larger cultural and religious trends. They were from the beginning different. They succeeded while not fitting in.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Dave Benke on October 29, 2021, 05:01:12 PM
I think that overall, to be a bit more spiritual about this, the decline has roots in what Paul wrote about to Timothy (1 Tim 4): "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith..." This corresponds with other studies documenting the rise of the category known as "nones" and the falling away of recent generations compared to the older ones. The study notes that while Christian churches are in decline, "the only groups to boost attendance over the past five years were non-Christian congregations: Muslim, Baha’i and Jewish."


I suspect that when Timothy was written, the Christians were a smaller minority of the population than they are now. They were not only competing with other religious groups; but also emperor worship (or patriotism,) which for most others, was no problem. Pledging allegiance to one more god was no problem for them; but it was for Christians (and Jews).


I think that many of us were spoiled by the unusual growth and activities of the church during the 50s & 60s. However, where I grew up in Oregon, at its best in the 60s, about 30% of the population claimed church membership - the lowest in the nation. Another difference I realized (somewhat more vividly when we lived and served in the midwest,) was that we had no extended family in the state. My folk's parents and all their siblings lived in other states. We did not have family gatherings. Churches did not have four and five generations being members.


As some have predicted, Loren Mead, most notably, we are returning more to a first century situation, rather than what we remember in the 20th century. Not only were the Christians a minority, but the world was actively hostile against Christians. The mission field is the congregations' neighborhood, rather than Africa or Asia.


Unfortunately, Lutherans, having grown out of a state church mindset, is less equipped to reach out to an unbelieving world calling for conversions than are group like the Baptists. While I've had Baptists (and Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses) come to my door promoting their congregations; I've had Lutherans state quite forcibly, "I'll never do that. You can't get me to go knocking on doors."
I agree with most of what you say here. My quibble is that I think that it is worse than even you suggest. In the First Century, there was hostility to Christianity. It was a small, minority religion. It was also very different in its monotheism from the polytheistic syncretistic religions around it. And it began primarily from the fringes of society.


One advantage that it had was that it was new. There were people who were dissatisfied with the religions that they grew up with and which were around them and so were looking for a new faith. There was much religious foment in those times. Exotic religions were being explored, Eastern from Persia and points east, Egyptian cults, esoteric mystery religions, and Gnostic cults were all being tried. Christianity was in that mix, and eventually won out.


We are now an old religion that many consider tried and worn out. It is no longer rebellious to become Christian as it may have been in the First Century.


So, Brian, I mainly agree with you. I just see that there are some important differences with the First Century that we need to recognize.


I will also note, that for the First Century Christians, success did not come by modifying their beliefs and practices to fit in with the larger cultural and religious trends. They were from the beginning different. They succeeded while not fitting in.

a) note that the stats on half the small congregations which had been cut in half in attendance over 20 years from 137 to 65 were taken BEFORE the lockdown.  Uh-oh.
b) I'll say this - a lot, and I mean a lot, of congregations would be happy with 65 in person in worship this Sunday. Across the Protestant board.  Meaning - 30 to 50 is more like it these days. 
c) Let's say the 137 was accurate and that around 1990 that number was 150.  In worship.  Meaning another 200 people were affiliated.  That was considered to be a relatively typical sole pastor plus secretary, musician and sexton congregation.  So if 65 means 175 tops people involved, the stretch to pay the staff is steep.  Volunteers, retirees, part-time this and that is what's happening.
d) Do those staff solutions bring more vital mission outreach to bring in new adherents?  My opinion is absolutely not.  But those are the solutions in a great majority of situations. 
e) Other solutions - merger, close and re-plant, find rental income or some third source income - are being tried. 
f) The relative lack of success of these efforts is due to demographic shifts, the attraction of bigger congregations that do have program variety, and the surrounding culture.  My own opinion is that the left-right battleground paradigm for culture wars is not so much the thing as the simpler explanations - work schedule weirdness produces Sunday as the time to do other things; football; soccer; relaxation.  What's the percentage of people who watched online and now are comfy watching church when they want to in their jammies?  That's a reasonably strong number, in my opinion. 
g) so one of our core concepts - not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together - is up for grabs. 
h) those using guilt and the outstretched index finger pointing at Bible passages are going to lose.  The patient techniques may work better, but more than likely what's really needed is a lot of personal touch outside the sanctuary, on the street and at the mall and the shopping center.  Encouraging words.

As others have pointed out, the Message should and really cannot be changed.  The delivery system over the next two decades will definitely be changing as the lights wink out in thousands of small church buildings.

Dave Benke

The Areopagus and Athens itself were thought to be the home to 30000 gods at the time of Paul. 
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Charles Austin on October 29, 2021, 05:27:04 PM
Peter writes:
A big difference today, however, is that everyone in the first century didn’t think they already knew about Christianity, and the Christian witness on any concrete point was not always being contradicted by established “Christian” churches siding with the pagan culture against Christianity.

I comment:
I can only take your words - The Christian witness “on any concrete point” And Contradicted by established  “Christian” churches siding with the pagan culture against Christianity - to be references to liberal churches such as the ELCA.
I dare to say again that it seems to me, with this being your assessment, your position as moderator of the ALPB compromises and contradicts everything the ALPB has stood for during its 100-year history. “Siding with the pagan culture against Christianity”? That can be your opinion, of course, but I think it disqualifies you from holding any position in the ALPB.

Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: D. Engebretson on October 29, 2021, 05:37:12 PM
Without falling into the trap of looking back thinking the past was always better and more religious (in the Christian sense)....I do think, however, that our culture is becoming increasingly and more rapidly secular, and where it is 'religious' there is a trend toward the neo-pagan religion and practices.  In my local newspaper today I saw an article from the RNS entitled "How some 'Jewitches' embrace Judaism and witchcraft."  At one time this might have seemed 'fringe,' but I sense it is far more common and accepted in the society-at-large. 

I predict a smaller Christian church and more of the above. 
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: peter_speckhard on October 29, 2021, 05:44:04 PM
Peter writes:
A big difference today, however, is that everyone in the first century didn’t think they already knew about Christianity, and the Christian witness on any concrete point was not always being contradicted by established “Christian” churches siding with the pagan culture against Christianity.

I comment:
I can only take your words - The Christian witness “on any concrete point” And Contradicted by established  “Christian” churches siding with the pagan culture against Christianity - to be references to liberal churches such as the ELCA.
I dare to say again that it seems to me, with this being your assessment, your position as moderator of the ALPB compromises and contradicts everything the ALPB has stood for during its 100-year history. “Siding with the pagan culture against Christianity”? That can be your opinion, of course, but I think it disqualifies you from holding any position in the ALPB.
Do you have an opinion related to the topic? If not, don’t post.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Dave Likeness on October 29, 2021, 05:48:50 PM
Church Consultant Lyle Schaller died in 2015 at the age of 91. 
He wrote many books about how to improve parish life.

He maintained that the most important statistic in a congregation
is their weekly worship attendance.  He put little credence in the
number on the membership rolls of a parish.  A healthy parish will
have actual people in the pews on Sundays rather than touting
their membership list.  Some congregations may have 600  folks
for their membership but only about 150 each Sunday in worship
Another parish numbers 400 members and has 200 in worship each
week.

Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Brian Stoffregen on October 29, 2021, 06:23:30 PM
I agree with most of what you say here. My quibble is that I think that it is worse than even you suggest. In the First Century, there was hostility to Christianity. It was a small, minority religion. It was also very different in its monotheism from the polytheistic syncretistic religions around it. And it began primarily from the fringes of society.

One advantage that it had was that it was new. There were people who were dissatisfied with the religions that they grew up with and which were around them and so were looking for a new faith. There was much religious foment in those times. Exotic religions were being explored, Eastern from Persia and points east, Egyptian cults, esoteric mystery religions, and Gnostic cults were all being tried. Christianity was in that mix, and eventually won out.

We are now an old religion that many consider tried and worn out. It is no longer rebellious to become Christian as it may have been in the First Century.

So, Brian, I mainly agree with you. I just see that there are some important differences with the First Century that we need to recognize.

I will also note, that for the First Century Christians, success did not come by modifying their beliefs and practices to fit in with the larger cultural and religious trends. They were from the beginning different. They succeeded while not fitting in.


The first era of Christianity, according to Loren Mead, was the period before Constantine (which brought about the rise of the state church).


He argues that the main differences was that in the first century, Christians were put to death because of their beliefs. The persecution was extreme and real. They couldn't advertise their worship services, for fear they would be discovered and tried, jailed, and executed, as traitors to the empire (because they wouldn't worship the Roman and Greek gods; nor declare the emperor "god and lord."


Whatever persecution Christians in America may face today, is pales compared to that of the first century. This also meant that for anyone who converted, they knew that they were risking their lives. It was a whole different kind of decision than deciding to attend a worship service or (in ages past,) a Billy Graham Crusade.


The church spread because the people (there really wasn't a roster of clergy yet,) were willing to witness to Jesus and the changes he brought to their lives and the new community that (secretly) gathered in his name.


In spite of the persecutions, Acts indicates that the church kept growing. The believers were willing to suffer and even die for the faith. I'm not sure that we can say that for many of our church members. I'm certain that we can't point to most church fellowship as being better than the fellowship one experiences at a lodge or even a bar.


A friend (raised Roman Catholic, attended an ultra-conservative mega-church, in southern California, studied, at a college level Judaism and Islam - and went to Israel and Saudi Arabia to further his education in those religions and the languages of Hebrew and Aramaic,) but recently joined a Mormon church because of the way they made him feel when he gathered with them. He knows their beliefs and disagrees with many of them - and told the missionaries that. They didn't care.

This brings up another paradigm of the changing church - one by Harvey Cox in The Future of Faith.

[T]he nearly two thousand years of Christian history can be divided into three uneven periods. The first might be called the “Age of Faith.” It began with Jesus and his immediate disciples when a buoyant faith propelled the movement he initiated. During this first period of both explosive growth and brutal persecution, their sharing in the living Spirit of Christ united Christians with each other, and “faith” meant hope and assurance in the dawning of a new era of freedom, healing, and compassion that Jesus had demonstrated. To be a Christian meant to live in his Spirit, embrace his hope, and to follow him in the work that he had begun.
 
The second period in Christian history can be called the “Age of Belief.” Its seeds appeared within a few short decades of the birth of Christianity when church leaders began formulating orientation programs for new recruits who had not known Jesus or his disciples personally. Emphasis on belief began to grow when these primitive instruction kits thickened into catechisms, replacing faith in Jesus with tenants about him. [pp. 4-5]


Cox sees the church entering into a third period, which he suggests we call the “Age of the Spirit.” He concludes his chapter with a brief description of this period:

The experience of the divine is displacing theories about it. No wonder the atmosphere in the burgeoning Christian congregations of Asia and Africa feels more like that of first-century Corinth or Ephesus than it does like that of the Rome or Paris of a thousand years later. Early Christianity and today’s emergent Christian appear closely akin. [p. 20]


Or, to summarize even shore distinctly:

0-400 CE – faith IN Jesus – people trusted Jesus
400-1900 CE – faith ABOUT Jesus – fights occurred over right theology
1900 CE – experience of Jesus – this began with the modern Pentecostal experience
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Charles Austin on October 29, 2021, 06:31:52 PM
Yes, Peter, my opinion is that some small and midsize congregations are holding their own and thriving, among them numerous urban congregations who welcome those whom you say are working against Christianity.
We have told ourselves for generations what a “church“ looks like, how it should be organized, and what it should do. We have been wrong about numerous things, and some of these we have changed.
The model of congregations with 400 or more people, might not completely pass from the scene, but it will no longer be “normal.“
I have seen, in New York City and elsewhere, surviving and thriving congregations. And as noted above, often they are congregations that Peter considers to be working against Christianity.
I have seen in New Jersey and New York City at synodical  and ELCA events, lots of people who are excited about proclaiming the gospel, working for justice, living a Christian life and serving their community.
Future congregations will, I believe, will be cross denominational perhaps Lutheran/Presbyterian, Lutheran/Episcopalian, Methodist/Lutheran.
Same gender marriage is being accepted in our society and large numbers of these churches will accept that as well.
It is possible, although I would not predict it, that congregations living and teaching as if it were 1920 or 1952 will die slow deaths. My concern is that we not completely lose the people, daughters and sons of those congregation, Who will not live and teach as though it was 1920 or 1952.
We can, and must work hard to make sure that what they live and teach contains the essentials of the gospel.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Dave Benke on October 29, 2021, 07:34:06 PM
In regard to Charles' post, I don't believe the statistics separated out the beliefs and practices of the congregations, only the average attendance. 
The second percentage discouragement is that the churches with small attendance in small town/rural settings are also experiencing loss of population in general, so a smaller pool to pick from.
The third percentage discouragement for small attendance churches is that the churches with large attendance are doing better and are harboring more and more folks from the smaller congregations.

Another study might provide more statistical evidence from across the cultural divides among Christians.  However, if the small town/rural congregations are by nature more socially conservative - and that's demonstrable - then the loss of energy and number in that sector of congregations hurts conservative Christianity more severely, at least that's my take.  And if those with a broader range of practices are located in and around urban centers, they will have the responsibility to take a more robust role in catechesis of the faith, even as they risk lots of splintering over the variety of practices which they do or don't tolerate.  And the bigger churches, which across Protestantism are more cultural-engaging in music and outreach, and yet attempt to hold a Bible-based Calvinist message, may end up caving downward on catechesis. 


So - teaching the faith is going to be an interesting intersection.  In my opinion.

Dave Benke

Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: peter_speckhard on October 29, 2021, 07:43:49 PM
My point about churches contradicting Christian teaching was in response to Brian’s point relating the 21st Century to the 1st Century. While the pagan nature of the culture might be growing similar, the engagement of the church with that culture will have to be completely different.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: RogerMartim on October 29, 2021, 08:18:28 PM
Almost all of my friends, both life-long and recently acquired, have left the church. Rightly or wrongly their distaste for it is fed by the Franklin Grahams, Jerry Falwells, the Crouches, the Bakkers, the Copelands (with Kenneth's multi-million dollar plane), the Osteens, ad nauseam, preaching their prescriptions on how you may live. Many of the aforementioned loudly proclaim which side of the fence you must be politically or you are not on God's side. I have one foot in the door and the other out. As a Gay man, there is no place for me in the congregation that I attend (LCMS) which is only to take my mother who is 98 and still wants to go when she is able. It is virulently anti-Gay which makes me very sad if not disgusted.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: peter_speckhard on October 29, 2021, 08:25:23 PM
Almost all of my friends, both life-long and recently acquired, have left the church. Rightly or wrongly their distaste for it is fed by the Franklin Grahams, Jerry Falwells, the Crouches, the Bakkers, the Copelands (with Kenneth's multi-million dollar plane), the Osteens, ad nauseam, preaching their prescriptions on how you may live. Many of the aforementioned loudly proclaim which side of the fence you must be politically or you are not on God's side. I have one foot in the door and the other out. As a Gay man, there is no place for me in the congregation that I attend (LCMS) which is only to take my mother who is 98 and still wants to go when she is able. It is virulently anti-Gay which makes me very sad if not disgusted.
Which makes my point perfectly. Getting your friends back into the church will be a completely different task than getting 1st Century people into the church.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Charles Austin on October 29, 2021, 08:31:00 PM
The young people I have confirmed in recent years will not stay in a church that does not engage modern life, recognize that their gay and lesbian and transgendered friends have faith and want to exercise it. They will have little to do with a church that requires a "creationist" or quasi-fundamentalist view of the origins of life, and they are sexually active and living together prior to marriage.
So what are we to do with these people whom we have brought up, confirmed and who still have the desire to exercise their faith, perhaps not precisely in the ways we taught them?
And those who may seek and find a faith in young adult hood will not have years of Sunday School or worship or Christmas/Easter festivities shaping their understanding of Church.
I'm sorry, Roger Martim, for what you are experiencing.
Some of the most energetic, exciting, hopeful and Gospel-oriented young pastor/priests I know are gay men and women taking "tradition" and the Gospel seriously, but adapting to new understandings and ways of being Christian.
And we will not get the disaffected back into the church if we do not take their own self-understandings seriously. If we say they cannot be gay and married or partnered, then...
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Dan Fienen on October 29, 2021, 11:13:29 PM
Yes, Peter, my opinion is that some small and midsize congregations are holding their own and thriving, among them numerous urban congregations who welcome those whom you say are working against Christianity.
We have told ourselves for generations what a “church“ looks like, how it should be organized, and what it should do. We have been wrong about numerous things, and some of these we have changed.
The model of congregations with 400 or more people, might not completely pass from the scene, but it will no longer be “normal.“
I have seen, in New York City and elsewhere, surviving and thriving congregations. And as noted above, often they are congregations that Peter considers to be working against Christianity.
I have seen in New Jersey and New York City at synodical  and ELCA events, lots of people who are excited about proclaiming the gospel, working for justice, living a Christian life and serving their community.
Future congregations will, I believe, will be cross denominational perhaps Lutheran/Presbyterian, Lutheran/Episcopalian, Methodist/Lutheran.
Same gender marriage is being accepted in our society and large numbers of these churches will accept that as well.
It is possible, although I would not predict it, that congregations living and teaching as if it were 1920 or 1952 will die slow deaths. My concern is that we not completely lose the people, daughters and sons of those congregation, Who will not live and teach as though it was 1920 or 1952.
We can, and must work hard to make sure that what they live and teach contains the essentials of the gospel.
Ah yes, one of the great Lutheran disappointments of the 20th century, the LCMS rather the fading away into obscurity and dissolution as they were supposed to after the brightest and best, the true Lutherans among them walked out, the LCMS stubbornly continued. How dare they!?!


The only hope for any future for the Church as we continue to journey into the 21st Century is to move with the times as society progressed beyond such quaint oppressive social constructs as binary genders heterosexual marriage and the like, so must we. To be relevant to the times we must fit with them as people expect. It must be so satisfying to watch the up to date ELCA growing by leaps and bounds as people flock to your relevance.


Both the LCMS and ELCA are loosing membership, as are the rest of your ecumenical partners. Is your future is to be secured by forming joint congregations with other denominations that are shrinking as fast as you? If we in our backwardness and irrelevance are shrinking about as fast as you are, why should we look to your growth nostrums for inspiration? I see no evidence that your embrace of social revolutions that you hold out as the only hope for a future for the Church serves you any better than our resistance serves us. Moving with the times and not moving with the times seems to have similar results on church growth.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: peter_speckhard on October 29, 2021, 11:56:56 PM
Young people catechized by Charles are not expected to stay in churches that aren’t on board with new ideas about sexuality, morality, marriage, and procreation. Stunner. They probably won’t stay in his denomination, either. But if they come to ours we expect to do some re-catechizing.

At the last ELCA Youth Gathering the denomination chose to highlight at the mass event the glories of a pastor’s family helping their little boy become a girl. It got big cheers from the stadium full of teenagers. So it is hardly surprising that the confirmands have not much clue about Biblical sexuality. The ELCA has done all it can to form the young people that way, then they say the church of the future has to be that way because that’s how the young people see it.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Charles Austin on October 30, 2021, 12:13:45 AM
Pastor Fienen:
Ah yes, one of the great Lutheran disappointments of the 20th century, the LCMS rather the fading away into obscurity and dissolution as they were supposed to after the brightest and best, the true Lutherans among them walked out, the LCMS stubbornly continued. How dare they!?!
Me:
Your problem, not mine. (Psst. You’re playing the victim again.)

Pastor Fienen:
The only hope for any future for the Church as we continue to journey into the 21st Century is to move with the times as society progressed beyond such quaint oppressive social constructs as binary genders heterosexual marriage and the like, so must we.
Me:
Well, maybe not the only hope.

Pastor Fienen:
To be relevant to the times we must fit with them as people expect. It must be so satisfying to watch the up to date ELCA growing by leaps and bounds as people flock to your relevance.
Me:
Who said anything about relevant? You keep injecting that word, I do not. We do not seek relevance. We seek ways for people to be faithful today.

Pastor Fienen:
Both the LCMS and ELCA are loosing membership, as are the rest of your ecumenical partners. Is your future is to be secured by forming joint congregations with other denominations that are shrinking as fast as you?
Me:
Don’t know, but worth a try.

Pastor Fienen:
If we in our backwardness and irrelevance are shrinking about as fast as you are, why should we look to your growth nostrums for inspiration?
Me:
So don’t.

Pastor Fienen:
I see no evidence that your embrace of social revolutions that you hold out as the only hope for a future for the Church serves you any better than our resistance serves us.
Me:
Pay attention. I do not say that these things are “only hope.” That’s your overstatement.

Pastor Fienen:
Moving with the times and not moving with the times seems to have similar results on church growth.
Me:
You just can’t get it right, can you? It’s not a question of moving with the times. And we’re not talking about church growth.
But if we’re going to die, I prefer my way of dying to yours.

P.S. to Peter:
The ELCA intends to form young people the way we believe God is leading us and them. What disgusts me is your refusal to even consider that we are trying to be faithful.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Dan Fienen on October 30, 2021, 01:00:15 AM
PS. to Peter:
The ELCA intends to form young people the way we believe God is leading us and them. What disgusts me is your refusal to even consider that we are trying to be faithful.
PS to Charles. So are we.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: peter_speckhard on October 30, 2021, 01:08:32 AM
I don’t doubt that anyone of any religion is trying to be faithful. The people leaving the churches are no doubt trying to be faithful to something.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Rev. Edward Engelbrecht on October 30, 2021, 09:03:37 AM
RNS recently reported on a Faith Communities Today survey that discovered what many of us already know: Small and mid-sized congregations, especially within mainline denominations, are in decline.  Significant decline. 

https://religionnews.com/2021/10/14/study-attendance-at-small-and-midsize-us-congregations-is-hemorrhaging/?fbclid=IwAR3yBK2ok4ofO0zuwsp8zsZ0A3KyXgNNbQRgZrIQSee29pP2Q1OnTq1Esjg (https://religionnews.com/2021/10/14/study-attendance-at-small-and-midsize-us-congregations-is-hemorrhaging/?fbclid=IwAR3yBK2ok4ofO0zuwsp8zsZ0A3KyXgNNbQRgZrIQSee29pP2Q1OnTq1Esjg)

No doubt the pandemic has hastened what was already in process albeit at a more gradual pace. In fact, I believe that it is a significant reason for the seemingly sudden decline, although the article does not really note this. They note that half of the country’s congregations just before the lockdown had 65 or fewer people in attendance on any given weekend, a drop from a median attendance level of 137 people in 2000." For people like me, who live in a more sparsely populated rural community, the findings are not encouraging as far as growth prospects: "Nearly half of the country’s congregations are in rural areas (25%) or small towns (22%), while the 2020 census found that only 6% of Americans live in rural areas and 8% in small towns." There's a demographic shift, as they also note: "The country’s changing demographics may be key to rural and small-town decline. Young people have been moving to urban areas; businesses and industries have also left these communities bereft of resources and talent."

I think that overall, to be a bit more spiritual about this, the decline has roots in what Paul wrote about to Timothy (1 Tim 4): "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith..." This corresponds with other studies documenting the rise of the category known as "nones" and the falling away of recent generations compared to the older ones. The study notes that while Christian churches are in decline, "the only groups to boost attendance over the past five years were non-Christian congregations: Muslim, Baha’i and Jewish."

For those in the larger 'mega' churches, however, it might sound more encouraging: "Congregations with 1,500 people in attendance were best able to avoid decline; 71% of those large churches grew over the past five years. That may suggest many people are abandoning midsized congregations for megachurches that have full-time clergy, greater financial and physical resources and a diversity of ages and races among members."  They also leave smaller, more traditional churches to go to these larger ones, in my opinion, because of the greater tendency of its worship to favor a more casual and entertainment-type format. Based on the marketing strategies made popular decades ago, they cater to those looking for a place that more resembles their culture and popular music tastes. But these churches are also quickly becoming indistinguishable from the world outside their doors.  It's only a matter of time before this decline catches up with them as well.

Don (and others), here is what I'm seeing at my urban congregation in the Midwest:

Attendance is down since the pandemic. However, people are participating in worship in a new way: YouTube broadcasts. After Covid restrictions were lifted, church attendance rose to nearer normal levels then dropped again with the Delta wave. However, throughout some folks have formed the habit of watching services from home. I send them a link to the service via email. Many seem to view the service a week behind. (They watch the previous week's service on the next weekend.) When I add in person attendance to YouTube attendance, the rate is not as high as Pre-Covid but it is much closer to that number.

Are congregations continuing to broadcast their services to those not attending in person? It's constant work but I see it serving real purpose here in Ohio.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Charles Austin on October 30, 2021, 09:05:17 AM
Well, I guess I have to spell it out for you, Peter, or is at least not fall for the secondary dissing of your last remark.
We in the ELCA are trying to follow the gospel and be a faithful part of the Church. We think we are succeeding at some critical things, and we are not doing great in some other things. Just like you in your part of the Church.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: peter_speckhard on October 30, 2021, 09:14:26 AM
Well, I guess I have to spell it out for you, Peter, or is at least not fall for the secondary dissing of your last remark.
We in the ELCA are trying to follow the gospel and be a faithful part of the Church. We think we are succeeding at some critical things, and we are not doing great in some other things. Just like you in your part of the Church.
And again, I never said you didn’t think that. I said you were wrong. You are actively teaching against the teachings of Christianity. You are like the Pharisees who followed a tradition to get out of the 4th Commandment. You preach affirmation instead of repentance and acceptance rather than forgiveness. We forgive a man who repents for cheating on his wife. You point out that the way society views relationships has changed.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: D. Engebretson on October 30, 2021, 09:39:25 AM
RNS recently reported on a Faith Communities Today survey that discovered what many of us already know: Small and mid-sized congregations, especially within mainline denominations, are in decline.  Significant decline. 

https://religionnews.com/2021/10/14/study-attendance-at-small-and-midsize-us-congregations-is-hemorrhaging/?fbclid=IwAR3yBK2ok4ofO0zuwsp8zsZ0A3KyXgNNbQRgZrIQSee29pP2Q1OnTq1Esjg (https://religionnews.com/2021/10/14/study-attendance-at-small-and-midsize-us-congregations-is-hemorrhaging/?fbclid=IwAR3yBK2ok4ofO0zuwsp8zsZ0A3KyXgNNbQRgZrIQSee29pP2Q1OnTq1Esjg)

No doubt the pandemic has hastened what was already in process albeit at a more gradual pace. In fact, I believe that it is a significant reason for the seemingly sudden decline, although the article does not really note this. They note that half of the country’s congregations just before the lockdown had 65 or fewer people in attendance on any given weekend, a drop from a median attendance level of 137 people in 2000." For people like me, who live in a more sparsely populated rural community, the findings are not encouraging as far as growth prospects: "Nearly half of the country’s congregations are in rural areas (25%) or small towns (22%), while the 2020 census found that only 6% of Americans live in rural areas and 8% in small towns." There's a demographic shift, as they also note: "The country’s changing demographics may be key to rural and small-town decline. Young people have been moving to urban areas; businesses and industries have also left these communities bereft of resources and talent."

I think that overall, to be a bit more spiritual about this, the decline has roots in what Paul wrote about to Timothy (1 Tim 4): "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith..." This corresponds with other studies documenting the rise of the category known as "nones" and the falling away of recent generations compared to the older ones. The study notes that while Christian churches are in decline, "the only groups to boost attendance over the past five years were non-Christian congregations: Muslim, Baha’i and Jewish."

For those in the larger 'mega' churches, however, it might sound more encouraging: "Congregations with 1,500 people in attendance were best able to avoid decline; 71% of those large churches grew over the past five years. That may suggest many people are abandoning midsized congregations for megachurches that have full-time clergy, greater financial and physical resources and a diversity of ages and races among members."  They also leave smaller, more traditional churches to go to these larger ones, in my opinion, because of the greater tendency of its worship to favor a more casual and entertainment-type format. Based on the marketing strategies made popular decades ago, they cater to those looking for a place that more resembles their culture and popular music tastes. But these churches are also quickly becoming indistinguishable from the world outside their doors.  It's only a matter of time before this decline catches up with them as well.

Don (and others), here is what I'm seeing at my urban congregation in the Midwest:

Attendance is down since the pandemic. However, people are participating in worship in a new way: YouTube broadcasts. After Covid restrictions were lifted, church attendance rose to nearer normal levels then dropped again with the Delta wave. However, throughout some folks have formed the habit of watching services from home. I send them a link to the service via email. Many seem to view the service a week behind. (They watch the previous week's service on the next weekend.) When I add in person attendance to YouTube attendance, the rate is not as high as Pre-Covid but it is much closer to that number.

Are congregations continuing to broadcast their services to those not attending in person? It's constant work but I see it serving real purpose here in Ohio.

Although there were some voices in my congregation openly wondering whether we should continue live streaming after in-person worship resumed, I publicly supported doing it. We have even purchased a phone for the church and established an account with AT&T and purchased a cell phone signal booster.  For a rural church without access to dependable internet, we are probably doing as well as those who have it.  But there was concern at the time that people were being conditioned not to come to church.  We were giving them an excuse not to.  Perhaps in a few cases.  But what many of us discovered in live streaming, and we do it through FB, is that it opened a way for some to remain connected to the parish who normally could not.  Examples would include some elderly and infirm, as well as those struggling with mental illness where crowds pose a problem for them socially.  It also opened a door to a wider group of people well outside our parish. And because of the Delta variant and a rise in cases in my county that is considered higher than normal, we have a few who do not feel comfortable being here in person if the majority are not masked. So live streaming continues to give them an option as well for the moment. Now all this has its own challenges, and live streaming, I must stress, is not the ideal. For one thing it does not provide the Sacrament, and fellowship is limited.  But it's one tool for the times.  I live stream a daily devotion on most days of the week, and although the following is not huge, I have a few devoted folks who consistently tune in.  I have worked my way since March of last year through several books of the Bible including the entire gospel of Luke and Genesis.  For some this is their only real 'Bible study' and some might not have come to regular Bible study even when they were coming in-person. 

The dynamic of remote and virtual church broadcasts opens up a new thing for many of our churches.  It will take a long time to analyze and assess what it means long term.  We're too close to it at the moment to really understand the full impact or the downside.  But it must remain the exception, not the rule.  I have sensed since we opened up our doors in May of 2020 that for most there is a genuine desire and hunger for real time, real presence worship.  For a rural church designed originally for an agricultural community that has changed dramatically since it first opened over 130 years ago, we continue to remain a vital and active parish despite all the changes demographically.  I was impressed that when I resumed in-person Bible study on Friday mornings just a handful of weeks ago, I automatically had around 10 and am up to 11 in attendance.  That's good for us.  And one attendee, who recently lost his wife and was not a regular attender, comes consistently each week.

Although the article sounds an alarm and I am taking heed to the changes, we are not vanishing any time soon.  There is a desire for traditional and conservative Lutheran churches even in a world becoming increasingly secular and progressive socially.  Not the majority of folks, by any means, but a sufficient number to continue ministering. 
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Rev. Edward Engelbrecht on October 30, 2021, 10:18:56 AM
Almost all of my friends, both life-long and recently acquired, have left the church. Rightly or wrongly their distaste for it is fed by the Franklin Grahams, Jerry Falwells, the Crouches, the Bakkers, the Copelands (with Kenneth's multi-million dollar plane), the Osteens, ad nauseam, preaching their prescriptions on how you may live. Many of the aforementioned loudly proclaim which side of the fence you must be politically or you are not on God's side. I have one foot in the door and the other out. As a Gay man, there is no place for me in the congregation that I attend (LCMS) which is only to take my mother who is 98 and still wants to go when she is able. It is virulently anti-Gay which makes me very sad if not disgusted.

Roger, God bless you for attending with your mom. That is a wonderful kindness to her and I trust it is also a blessing to you.

As a pastor who drives an old car, I happily live in contrast to the money-focused preachers out there. I can afford a nicer car but the one I have still runs fine and I prefer to take pride in other areas of life. The on-screen persons are, of course, much louder than the humbler servants of God. I pray your friends have a chance to meet local clergy who better represent Christian ministry.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: peter_speckhard on October 30, 2021, 10:38:53 AM
What I don’t understand is why people leave a church because of media personality preachers. Probably most of the ex-churchgoers have never tuned in to any of mega-shows and/or events without already having preconceived notions and treating more like a sociological experiment. More likely, the liberal, enlightened, respectable media uses those media personalities as a template for “the religious right” because the reporters and commentators don’t go to church themselves and so have to think of these tv guys as spokesmen for Christianity, which is a role the tv guys are glad to play up. Leaving the church becomes more of virtue-signaling way of sorting. “I can’t go to First Methodist up the street because I read in the NYT that Joel Osteen is a charlatan,” makes no sense, but thinking that “people like me” have been grown disgusted with Christianity makes leaving church a way for people to identify as “people like me.”

The evangelism task is not to apologize for what the church told them, but to refute the false media narrative which forms the common perceptions that televangelists and their followers are typical. “Look, regardless of what Tammy Baker said on a show neither of us watched but you apparently heard about, those shows aren’t what we’re talking about when we talk about Christianity and the church…”
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Charles Austin on October 30, 2021, 10:54:11 AM
I wrote:
We in the ELCA are trying to follow the gospel and be a faithful part of the Church. We think we are succeeding at some critical things, and we are not doing great in some other things. Just like you in your part of the Church.

And Peter doubled down:
And again, I never said you didn’t think that. I said you were wrong. You are actively teaching against the teachings of Christianity. You are like the Pharisees who followed a tradition to get out of the 4th Commandment. You preach affirmation instead of repentance and acceptance rather than forgiveness. We forgive a man who repents for cheating on his wife. You point out that the way society views relationships has changed.

So I must respond:
What makes you think we approve of marital infidelity? We do not.
   And once again - for the umpteenth thousand times - we do not make our decisions based on such things as "the way society views relationships." If you keep repeating that after I have said this so many times, you lie intentionally.
   Our decisions are reached through scripture study, prayer, massive discussion among the faithful people and - at least for me - with some trepidation, that trepidation salved by the work of the Holy Spirit.
   Darn it! I am so tired of the accusations that we are just following the culture.
   And I say that in some things your LCMS is wrong. I believe you are wrong not to ordain women, but your practice of that is not "actively teaching against the teachings of Christianity." Ditto for your closed communion practices that exclude other Lutherans from being welcomed at your altars. I think you are wrong not to, but I do not say your practice is "against the teaching of Christianity."
   You think we are wrong to ordain partnered homosexuals. I think you are wrong not to, but I do not say your practice is "against the teaching of Christianity." But you say that about us. Over and over again.
   The Church has always had a variety of practices concerning ordination, leadership and lines of authority. I don't know what it is about our decisions on sexuality that sent you and your friends into a "you are no longer Church" frenzy, but it seems to have done so. Or maybe creationism is also on your list; or women's ordination; or strictly closed communion.
   Again, I don't think believing in "young-earth creationism" or "old earth creationism" or even the timeline of Bishop Ussher take you out of the Christian church.
   Peter, your approach seems to me to be exactly the one used in the 1970s, spurred on by the right-wing of the LCMS, that is, make a check-list of orthodoxy/heresy and unless one signs off on every item, out you go.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Michael Slusser on October 30, 2021, 11:09:53 AM

Although there were some voices in my congregation openly wondering whether we should continue live streaming after in-person worship resumed, I publicly supported doing it. We have even purchased a phone for the church and established an account with AT&T and purchased a cell phone signal booster.  For a rural church without access to dependable internet, we are probably doing as well as those who have it.  But there was concern at the time that people were being conditioned not to come to church.  We were giving them an excuse not to.  Perhaps in a few cases.  But what many of us discovered in live streaming, and we do it through FB, is that it opened a way for some to remain connected to the parish who normally could not.  Examples would include some elderly and infirm, as well as those struggling with mental illness where crowds pose a problem for them socially.  It also opened a door to a wider group of people well outside our parish. And because of the Delta variant and a rise in cases in my county that is considered higher than normal, we have a few who do not feel comfortable being here in person if the majority are not masked. So live streaming continues to give them an option as well for the moment. Now all this has its own challenges, and live streaming, I must stress, is not the ideal. For one thing it does not provide the Sacrament, and fellowship is limited.  But it's one tool for the times.  I live stream a daily devotion on most days of the week, and although the following is not huge, I have a few devoted folks who consistently tune in.  I have worked my way since March of last year through several books of the Bible including the entire gospel of Luke and Genesis.  For some this is their only real 'Bible study' and some might not have come to regular Bible study even when they were coming in-person. 

The dynamic of remote and virtual church broadcasts opens up a new thing for many of our churches.  It will take a long time to analyze and assess what it means long term.  We're too close to it at the moment to really understand the full impact or the downside.  But it must remain the exception, not the rule.  I have sensed since we opened up our doors in May of 2020 that for most there is a genuine desire and hunger for real time, real presence worship.  For a rural church designed originally for an agricultural community that has changed dramatically since it first opened over 130 years ago, we continue to remain a vital and active parish despite all the changes demographically.  I was impressed that when I resumed in-person Bible study on Friday mornings just a handful of weeks ago, I automatically had around 10 and am up to 11 in attendance.  That's good for us.  And one attendee, who recently lost his wife and was not a regular attender, comes consistently each week.

Although the article sounds an alarm and I am taking heed to the changes, we are not vanishing any time soon.  There is a desire for traditional and conservative Lutheran churches even in a world becoming increasingly secular and progressive socially.  Not the majority of folks, by any means, but a sufficient number to continue ministering.
IMO what you are doing is exemplary, Pr. Engebretson. I trust you are not the only pastor addressing the needs of our situation with such imagination and hard work.

Peace,
Michael
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: D. Engebretson on October 30, 2021, 11:29:14 AM
It undoubtedly deserves it's own thread, but in some ways the issue is tangentially related.  I think that churches on both sides of the theological spectrum have accommodated themselves to the prevailing culture, and to some degree to attract or retain people in their congregations. To greater or lesser degrees we've all done this. One wonders, however, if churches would have gone in certain directions and embraced certain societal movements and changes if they did not feel the pressure of the culture so strongly?  Of course, from some perspectives it will be seen as the church taking seriously changes it ignored or should have examined before.  From the opposite perspective it is seen as the church accommodating and giving in to the seeming trends.  Both sides will claim a serious study of the scripture. And therein lies our impassable divide. The longer I am in the ministry the less I hope to see such a divide ever healed. The approaches are just too different. When your basic approach to scripture is fundamentally different, you are bound to end up in very different trajectories.   
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: peter_speckhard on October 30, 2021, 11:32:31 AM
I don’t care if you call our practice unBiblical. Go ahead. They both can’t possibly be Biblical and God-pleasing. And the fact is, you do approve of marital infidelity— several pastors and bishops in fellowship with you have, with much fanfare and celebration by your church leaders, left marriages and families in order to pursue same-sex relationships and marriages, when if they had pursued such relationships with a person of the opposite sex it would have been called what it was— abandonment and adultery. This flagrant unfaithfulness was justified because of the “orientation” issue: they were living a lie in a marriage as God designed marriage because their deepest erotic desires weren’t satisfiable therein, and one can’t be true to one’s real self in those conditions. The lies by which you live include the idea that a person is defined by his or her erotic attractions and orientation rather than biological sex and that the reality of the attractions affects the morality of the action. You believe a baby in the womb may be killed if it is unwanted, which is identical to the pagan practice of exposing infants, only sanitized for safety and respectability. You bless the idea that “the two become one flesh” can refer to same-sex unions involving whatever physical contortions might be pleasurable. You believe that a man can become a woman and vice versa. The sincere and well-intentioned Pharisees set aside Scripture for the traditions of the elders. You set it aside for modern scholarship, psychology, and sociology. But regardless of what you set it aside for, set it aside you do.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Charles Austin on October 30, 2021, 12:17:04 PM
And I’ll say it again, Peter, and you can call it off topic if you wish.
It is one of the goals of the American Lutheran publicity bureau to foster warm and cooperative relationships among North American Lutherans. You obviously do not believe that this can be done or should be done. And yet here you are, a “official“ as it were, of the ALPB and moderator of one of its projects.
Something is being compromised or rendered inconsistent here, either you or the ALPB or both.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: peter_speckhard on October 30, 2021, 12:31:07 PM
And I’ll say it again, Peter, and you can call it off topic if you wish.
It is one of the goals of the American Lutheran publicity bureau to foster warm and cooperative relationships among North American Lutherans. You obviously do not believe that this can be done or should be done. And yet here you are, a “official“ as it were, of the ALPB and moderator of one of its projects.
Something is being compromised or rendered inconsistent here, either you or the ALPB or both.
I have good friends who are ELCA clergy who are also far more liberal than you. We have good discussion quite frequently, and a warm relationship. We simply (mutually) know that we consider the other side misguided in approach and unBiblical in conclusion. The act that it hurts your feelings that anyone would think or say that about you is your problem.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Charles Austin on October 30, 2021, 02:02:21 PM
Peter:
The (f?)act that it hurts your feelings that anyone would think or say that about you is your problem.

Me:
Lord, have mercy! Do you think my "feelings" are hurt or, if so, that it matters? No. No. And No. That's not where we are here.
What matters is how you regard those of us in the ELCA and the import you place on our differences. You accuse us of working against the Church. Your accusations go far beyond the label of heterodoxy or even heresy. Your assessment is that we have abandoned the faith, and done so - in your opinion - for profane reasons.
How nice that you have "good friends" who are ELCA, although any of us might even say that about atheists or worse. And we're not talking about friendship, we are talking about relations within the Body of Christ.
Your church body has not even denounced us as fervently as you do (although I think many in it, like you, want to).
And within the framework of ALPB, we are supposed to be fostering understanding and cooperation, and perhaps even fellowship somewhere down the line. Your words and attitudes do not fit those efforts one bit. As much as I dislike and (in my heart of hearts sometimes mock) some things within the LCMS, I consider you a valid Lutheran denomination and a full partner in the Church, the Body of Christ. You cannot do that for us.
So I'm sad, not hurt, but sad that your views get strewn around within ALPB circles. Others in your LCMS arenas over the years started their own communications networks to hammer us. I don't like seeing you use ALPB to do so. 
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: peter_speckhard on October 30, 2021, 02:11:55 PM
Take it to the thread that was started for that discussion so that this one could remain on topic.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Dave Benke on October 30, 2021, 05:42:43 PM
It undoubtedly deserves it's own thread, but in some ways the issue is tangentially related.  I think that churches on both sides of the theological spectrum have accommodated themselves to the prevailing culture, and to some degree to attract or retain people in their congregations. To greater or lesser degrees we've all done this. One wonders, however, if churches would have gone in certain directions and embraced certain societal movements and changes if they did not feel the pressure of the culture so strongly?  Of course, from some perspectives it will be seen as the church taking seriously changes it ignored or should have examined before.  From the opposite perspective it is seen as the church accommodating and giving in to the seeming trends.  Both sides will claim a serious study of the scripture. And therein lies our impassable divide. The longer I am in the ministry the less I hope to see such a divide ever healed. The approaches are just too different. When your basic approach to scripture is fundamentally different, you are bound to end up in very different trajectories.

I think the answer is basically everyone, even the Mennonites (which are in my neighborhood for a long time and whom I know well) are making adjustments to the culture.  And some of it is necessary.  There's a video I just watched with the Lutheran Hour Speaker stating that they, who were the leaders in Christian broadcasting back in the day, undoubtedly got on the internet way too late, and their radio audience is at 2% of the effective rate of Walter A. Maier.  That's more than a tech problem - that's a failure to identify the opportunity in the cultural change to another primary way of communication.  So there's a guy on TikTok who does nothing but read poorly written and badly spelled messages on billboards, tattoos, texts and the like.  He has 225,000 followers.  And the people who beat down fundamentalist Christianity, including especially a guy I know not at all named Kenneth Copeland, have tons of followers.  We - Lutheran Christians - are not influencers in that world.  And - we could be. 

Again, though, it would be a matter of strategy.  Strict apologetics?  Anything goes there is no divine law?  Something in the middle?  Is there a middle? Seems to me more that we're stuck in no-man's land.

Dave Benke
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Donald_Kirchner on October 30, 2021, 06:29:09 PM
The young people I have confirmed in recent years will not stay in a church that does not engage modern life, recognize that their gay and lesbian and transgendered friends have faith and want to exercise it. They will have little to do with a church that requires a "creationist" or quasi-fundamentalist view of the origins of life, and they are sexually active and living together prior to marriage.
So what are we to do with these people whom we have brought up, confirmed and who still have the desire to exercise their faith, perhaps not precisely in the ways we taught them?
And those who may seek and find a faith in young adult hood will not have years of Sunday School or worship or Christmas/Easter festivities shaping their understanding of Church.
I'm sorry, Roger Martim, for what you are experiencing.
Some of the most energetic, exciting, hopeful and Gospel-oriented young pastor/priests I know are gay men and women taking "tradition" and the Gospel seriously, but adapting to new understandings and ways of being Christian.
And we will not get the disaffected back into the church if we do not take their own self-understandings seriously. If we say they cannot be gay and married or partnered, then...

Pastor Preus:
…so today the ELCA embraces women's ordination and the GLBTQ agenda in obedience to the demands of the religious culture of our day.

Me:
Can you possibly abandon the canard that what we do in the ELCA is “in obedience to the demands of the culture”?
Go ahead. Say we misuse scripture. Say we misunderstand scripture, but stop saying we do what we do in response to some cultural demands.

It seems that you cannot, Charles.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Robert Johnson on October 30, 2021, 07:27:31 PM
The young people I have confirmed in recent years will not stay in a church that does not engage modern life, recognize that their gay and lesbian and transgendered friends have faith and want to exercise it. They will have little to do with a church that requires a "creationist" or quasi-fundamentalist view of the origins of life, and they are sexually active and living together prior to marriage.
So what are we to do with these people whom we have brought up, confirmed and who still have the desire to exercise their faith, perhaps not precisely in the ways we taught them?
And those who may seek and find a faith in young adult hood will not have years of Sunday School or worship or Christmas/Easter festivities shaping their understanding of Church.
I'm sorry, Roger Martim, for what you are experiencing.
Some of the most energetic, exciting, hopeful and Gospel-oriented young pastor/priests I know are gay men and women taking "tradition" and the Gospel seriously, but adapting to new understandings and ways of being Christian.
And we will not get the disaffected back into the church if we do not take their own self-understandings seriously. If we say they cannot be gay and married or partnered, then...

And yet the ELCA is declining at such a rapid pace that its extinction is plausibly in view.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Charles Austin on October 30, 2021, 08:10:12 PM
The LCMS loss of membership, it has been reported here, almost exactly parallels that of the ELCA.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: peter_speckhard on October 30, 2021, 08:26:09 PM
The LCMS loss of membership, it has been reported here, almost exactly parallels that of the ELCA.
Which would render immaterial your thoughts on the effects of our teachings on the rate of people leaving. They would do that even if our teachings were like yours.
Title: Re: Study: Attendance hemorrhaging at small and midsize US congregations
Post by: Robert Johnson on October 30, 2021, 08:49:14 PM
The LCMS loss of membership, it has been reported here, almost exactly parallels that of the ELCA.

So your “advantage” turns out not to be any advantage at all.