Author Topic: An Era of Breaking Down and Building Up - "Two Solutions"  (Read 785 times)

Mark Brown

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An Era of Breaking Down and Building Up - "Two Solutions"
« on: September 02, 2021, 05:36:31 PM »
I've been reading Joe Coulombe's - The Joe in Trader Joe's - book about building up and running that unique place.  His roots in it go back to buying a 6 store chain called Presto Mart from a Drug Chain in 1964.  Over the years he details at least 5 mental stores that Trader Joe's has gone through: Presto, Good Time Charlie, Whole Food Harry, Mac the Knife, and the current.  There are a lot of interesting nuggets along the way, like his dedication to paying the most in the industry determined a lot of his success, along with developing actual product knowledge which that pay structure enabled.  But his section on Location is fascinating.  I recognize that pulling an example from a retail outfit toward the church is probably off putting to many, but I think it helps understand some things.  Or at least puts some good questions before us.

What the LCMS did in the time of plenty was in Pr. Benke's words "start a place everywhere the DP wanted to stop."  Of course every place you started has to have an infrastructure that is even more permanent than the 15 years leases Trader Joe's worked with.  And in the leaner times, our strategy collectively has been to try and keep open every single one of those LCMS outposts.  The advice is to get the demographic report for the area you are in and to morph yourself into whatever serves that demographic.  This is the first solution rooted in the fixed cost.  It also is a recipe for the LCMS meaning nothing, at least the way we have all morphed ourselves chasing that. 

But to me the deeper question given the American church landscape remains: what is the LCMS?  Are we "here comes everybody?"  I don't think so, that is Rome.  But even Rome has two non-negotiables: the Pope and the Priesthood.  Are we just American Protestants?  There are several who would like that, but that isn't our history.  And there are several who would be dead set against that.  We can't be sociologically defined anymore, the German American Synod of Many States is dead.  What is the confessional answer? Probably "everybody", but in practice a theological destination.  In our current confusion we are basically Arby's.  We used to have something unique, but it wasn't that popular to sustain thousands of places.  So we have latched onto everything ("we have the meats") not doing anything particularly well.  Trader Joe's is a story of being unique, not being for everyone, but being very successful.

Some quotes from his section on location:

Quote
But my preference is to have a few stores, as far apart as possible, and to make them as high volume as possible...Too many stores, too many irreversible leases, too much geographical saturation was a recurrent theme in the failure of American retail chains in the twentieth century...I believe in ruthlessly dumping the dogs at whatever cost. Why? Because their real cost is in management energy. You always spend more time trying to make the dogs acceptable than in raising the okay stores into winners. And it’s in the dogs that you always have the most personnel problems...I believe that the sine qua non for successful retailing is demographic coherence: all your locations should have the same demographics whether you are selling clothing or wine...Trader Joe’s is not a store for kids or big families. One or two adults was just fine.

Now those last two are tough.  They are anti-gospel.  But in the American spiritual marketplace, which we all are effected by, there are people following exactly that strategy (hello, Acts 29!).  And the question is does every church fill every niche?  Let's say that we the LCMS did three things: 1) Took from the confessionals (and Trader Joe's) the core idea of being something recognizably different from everything else, but similar across the whole, 2) You attempt to work outposts in 25 mile jumps based on Americans having cars, and 3) Recognize that we are not to everybody's taste and be ok with that, work with that instead of against it.  Is such a thing even possible?  How would you get from here to there, and would it work?  It is a solution opposite what we've been doing for 30 years that has not worked. Or is that the solution that is being worked, but it is just being worked slow motion, one church closure at a time?

J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: An Era of Breaking Down and Building Up - "Two Solutions"
« Reply #1 on: September 02, 2021, 07:34:02 PM »
There is much to ponder.

I am reminded of a Christmas message from over half a century ago written by Archbishop Joseph Tawil, Patriarchal Vicar to the Melkite (Syrian) Catholics† in the U.S.

http://old.melkite.com/Courage.html

One particularly poignant parallel:

Quote

One day all our ethnic traits - language, folklore, customs - will have disappeared. Time itself is seeing to this. And so we can not think of our communities as ethnic parishes, primarily for the service of the immigrant or the ethnically oriented, unless we wish to assure the death of our community. Our Churches are not only for our own people but are also for any of our fellow Americans who are attracted to our traditions which show forth the beauty of the universal Church and the variety of its riches.


†The Melkites are the Catholic kindred of the Antiochian Orthodox

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Rob Morris

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Re: An Era of Breaking Down and Building Up - "Two Solutions"
« Reply #2 on: September 02, 2021, 09:02:09 PM »
Quote
I believe in ruthlessly dumping the dogs at whatever cost. Why? Because their real cost is in management energy.

This is the thought that will kick around most in my brain.

As CV, I have a few churches right on the Mendoza line. A few base hits and you can believe maybe they turn things around. A couple more strikeouts (or hit-by-pitch) and they're probably sent down.

Should a denomination make a strategy in the contracting times of the 2020s of intentionally closing borderline locations and directing their resources, their "management energy", at the viable locations? Can the LCMS even do so, with our beloved congregationalism? How would that process be led?

jebutler

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Re: An Era of Breaking Down and Building Up - "Two Solutions"
« Reply #3 on: September 02, 2021, 09:40:53 PM »
Quote
I believe in ruthlessly dumping the dogs at whatever cost. Why? Because their real cost is in management energy.

This is the thought that will kick around most in my brain.

As CV, I have a few churches right on the Mendoza line. A few base hits and you can believe maybe they turn things around. A couple more strikeouts (or hit-by-pitch) and they're probably sent down.

Should a denomination make a strategy in the contracting times of the 2020s of intentionally closing borderline locations and directing their resources, their "management energy", at the viable locations? Can the LCMS even do so, with our beloved congregationalism? How would that process be led?

The Pacific Southwest District is doing just this. They are working with marginal churches, especially in urban areas, to evaluate their ongoing ministry and encouraging some to close, sell their property, and then give the money to the District to support congregations in other urban areas. I was really impressed with the amount of thinking that went in to these decisions and the work they were able to do in various ethnic missions.
The truth we preach is not an abstract thing. The truth is a Person. The goodness we preach is not an ideal quality. The goodness is Someone who is good. The love we preach is God himself in Christ. --H. Grady Davis

Rob Morris

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Re: An Era of Breaking Down and Building Up - "Two Solutions"
« Reply #4 on: September 02, 2021, 10:47:45 PM »
Quote
I believe in ruthlessly dumping the dogs at whatever cost. Why? Because their real cost is in management energy.

This is the thought that will kick around most in my brain.

As CV, I have a few churches right on the Mendoza line. A few base hits and you can believe maybe they turn things around. A couple more strikeouts (or hit-by-pitch) and they're probably sent down.

Should a denomination make a strategy in the contracting times of the 2020s of intentionally closing borderline locations and directing their resources, their "management energy", at the viable locations? Can the LCMS even do so, with our beloved congregationalism? How would that process be led?

The Pacific Southwest District is doing just this. They are working with marginal churches, especially in urban areas, to evaluate their ongoing ministry and encouraging some to close, sell their property, and then give the money to the District to support congregations in other urban areas. I was really impressed with the amount of thinking that went in to these decisions and the work they were able to do in various ethnic missions.

That's food for thought... you think we in the NED are as on-the-ball as the PSW guys? They can sit on the beach and plan while we're shoveling snow and chipping ice...

J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: An Era of Breaking Down and Building Up - "Two Solutions"
« Reply #5 on: September 03, 2021, 12:03:20 AM »
Returning to my earlier post:

There are some parallels between the LCMS and the non-Roman Catholic Rites; as well as between the LCMS and the Orthodox jurisdictions.

Ethnicity is simul blessing and curse. 

Similarly, the identification as "almost Roman".

In many ways, we are poised like Tevye's soliloquy as "fiddlers on a roof".
Greek Orthodox-Ecumenical Patriarchate

Baptized, Confirmed, and Ordained United Methodist.
Served as a Lutheran Pastor October 31, 1989 - October 31, 2014.
Charter member of the first chapter of the Society of the Holy Trinity.

Chrismated Antiochian Orthodox, eve of Mary of Egypt Sunday, A.D. 2015

Dave Benke

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Re: An Era of Breaking Down and Building Up - "Two Solutions"
« Reply #6 on: September 03, 2021, 08:10:22 AM »
Quote
I believe in ruthlessly dumping the dogs at whatever cost. Why? Because their real cost is in management energy.

This is the thought that will kick around most in my brain.

As CV, I have a few churches right on the Mendoza line. A few base hits and you can believe maybe they turn things around. A couple more strikeouts (or hit-by-pitch) and they're probably sent down.

Should a denomination make a strategy in the contracting times of the 2020s of intentionally closing borderline locations and directing their resources, their "management energy", at the viable locations? Can the LCMS even do so, with our beloved congregationalism? How would that process be led?

The Pacific Southwest District is doing just this. They are working with marginal churches, especially in urban areas, to evaluate their ongoing ministry and encouraging some to close, sell their property, and then give the money to the District to support congregations in other urban areas. I was really impressed with the amount of thinking that went in to these decisions and the work they were able to do in various ethnic missions.

That's food for thought... you think we in the NED are as on-the-ball as the PSW guys? They can sit on the beach and plan while we're shoveling snow and chipping ice...

I just spent some time with the PSW folks at a national gathering of leaders (my first plane ride in 18 months!).  The PSW District President is former mission executive, for one.  His team is top notch and organized around mission outreach in a way not damaging to the diminished congregations, but wholesale all out for engaging the world around them with the Gospel.  For another, the approach you're talking about is up and down the edges of the country in its district presidents and executives.  Northwest District and Cal/Neva/Hawaii are locked in with PSW.  On the East Coast, Atlantic and Southeastern and Fla/Ga are all on the same page and same book and attempting to coordinate similar approaches to the west coast.  And of course Texas, and its neighbor Southern, are all in. 

Several observations.  a) None of these districts have any real connection to or influence at the national denominational level.  They are literally marginalized, at the edge.  And the leaders they would select for national service are unelectable in national elections.  b) the districts not mentioned include Eastern (just that slice around Philly), New Jersey and New England.  Why is that?  Leadership change/issues.  Which is a shame but a reality. 

What I'm talking about here is not somehow a "get a screen and band, get your contempo worship on or else" thing.  Which is how it gets played in some circles.  I am talking about is conscious planning and effort to re-organize those regions around commitment to mission outreach and actual collaborative community approaches to developing and sending folks into their world with joyful dedication.

Dave Benke

peter_speckhard

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Re: An Era of Breaking Down and Building Up - "Two Solutions"
« Reply #7 on: September 03, 2021, 08:48:36 AM »
My daughter just moved to Phoenix and attends a nice congregation there. What strikes me about Phoenix is how new everything is and how planned the massive growth is. My moved there 20 years ago, to a small suburb, and in those twenty years it has literally grown tenfold. No hairpin exits, no houses needing to be moved to widen the roads, no districts filled with abandoned warehouses, etc. That's because the explosive growth of the South and Southwest (and much of the Northwest) is comparatively recent and built to modern expectations, not retrofitted to modern expectations. In those conditions, one can really plan. The Midwest, Northeast, and East do not have that advantage.

Larger scale church planning needs either expected growth or a comparatively clean slate to work with. For the LCMS, those condition prevail in most places outside the Midwest (considered broadly as the Great Lakes/Great Plains regions-- Western PA, OH, IN, IL, IA, MI, WI, MN, ND, SD, MO, KS, NE). In the Midwest the LCMS is much like the Rust Belt generally-- aging, shrinking, burdened with decaying infrastructure developed for a different and more prosperous era, etc. It makes perfect sense that LCMS mission developers and planners have a different attitude toward it on the coasts and away from the Midwest. They have a completely different task.

The issue is not just that the Midwest has too many congregations too close to each other vying for dwindling parishioners and resources. Yes, two congregations can merge. The complicating factors is that both of them are 150 years old, and what few members they still have are deeply entwined with that history. That makes managing the decline nothing like planning a chain of stores or restaurants. 
« Last Edit: September 03, 2021, 09:17:49 AM by peter_speckhard »

Mark Brown

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Re: An Era of Breaking Down and Building Up - "Two Solutions"
« Reply #8 on: September 03, 2021, 09:09:57 AM »
Ah yes, the Eastern District, my district, where Philadelphia has basically disappeared.  (In our latest proposed circuit re-org the 8th largest metropolitan area, the 6th largest city, has 1 circuit. Which would at least give the CV the chance to make a strategy.)

I'm glad to see that "dogs" comment gets some comments.  Art Just would be proud, put the key quote in a chiasm.  Of course "doing" that in our beloved congregationalism is the leadership challenge.  But as Curtis Yarvin always says about the regime change, it can't be team blue or team red wins. Because that isn't going to happen, although both can lose. The new regime has to transcend those categories and create a new unity where looking back you snicker at what that was about, and everybody that encouraged it is retired far away.  I'm happy to hear about a Habsburg encirclement of St. Louis, but regime change has to be a vision that both will buy into as infinitely better than our current squalor.  We don't have to live this way.

What is that image of the LCMS that would be attractive across lines, and would also grant the level of authority wielded by say Walther, where the congregational recalcitrance isn't a problem?  And what would be the demonstration of it working? And is anyone willing to cross the Rubicon/Ohio?

Brian Stoffregen

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Re: An Era of Breaking Down and Building Up - "Two Solutions"
« Reply #9 on: September 03, 2021, 11:53:50 AM »
I've heard from different sources that Trader Joe's will not put a store in Yuma because there are not enough college graduates to meet their demographic target.

Along that same line, I've argued for years that our so-called "mission" congregations, are mis-named. All that I was acquainted with (and served as the second or third pastor,) were "branch offices." That is, their "mission" was to provide a congregation for the Lutherans who are already living in a new place. It was not primarily to reach the unbelieving and unchurched. That was true of the congregation I served in Yuma. A local lady did her own survey to find the Lutherans here and presented her findings to the United Lutheran Church in America. They sent a seminarian who gathered these folks together and organized a congregation in 1953. (Those folks weren't interested in joining the LCMS congregation that was already here.)

The same was true of the "mission" congregation I served in Wyoming. I charted the origin of all of the members since it began. 2.5% came from "adult baptisms." The adults who had been newly grasped by God's grace through ministry of that congregation. The majority of members were transfers from other Lutheran congregations (as the town was booming). The second highest group were child baptisms - the children of parents who were already members or transferring their membership. The third largest group were those coming in from another denomination and affirmed their faith.

Seldom has our target audience been the unchurched. A study from the Alban Institute of Lutheran congregations concluded:

The Lutheran Church, like most mainline denominations, works under a broad unwritten assumption that the conversion to personal faith in Jesus Christ has already occurred in people’s lives elsewhere and that church growth merely involves assimilating those “already converted” into the ongoing life of the congregation.
 
Lutheran clergy are trained as nurturers of the faith, rather than as catalysts in any process of spiritual transformation in the lives of individuals.
 
As a denomination, the Lutheran church is unprepared and ill-equipped to reach out to non-Christians and engage them in a transformational process that leads to an active faith in Jesus Christ.
[Roy Oswald and Martin Saarinen, Why Some Churches Don’t Grow. 1]

"The church … had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]