Lutherans Plant Churches to Combat Membership Decline

The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod recently announced it exceeded its goal to sign up 100 congregations to plant churches over the next decade.

"We have surpassed our expectations, which is an indication that this is the right thing to do at this time in our church body," said the Rev. Yohannes Mengsteab, LCMS World Mission national director for new mission fields development.

A total of 103 member churches have so far pledged to start up four "daughter" churches each over the next 10 years. The congregations have completed orientation to become "Ablaze! Covenant Congregations."

Ablaze! is an LCMS World Mission-inspired movement that seeks to coordinate all LCMS bodies to share the Gospel with the 100 million unreached and uncommitted people in the world by 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

An Ablaze! Covenant Congregation is a congregation of any size that signs a covenant, or pledge, with its district and LCMS World Mission to start at least one "daughter" church within the next 10 years.

The short-term goal of the effort is to have 10 percent, or 600, of the Synod's 6,000 congregations view themselves as "mission outposts," according to Mengsteab. But the long term goal is for every congregation to become a planting congregation.

"Can you just imagine all 6,000 congregations planting one congregation [each] in the next 10 years?" he said. "It would double our size."

He noted LCMS has seen its membership decline in recent years "because we are not taking the ministry of church planting seriously."

LCMS reported drops in membership, contribution, number of baptisms, confirmations, and Christian education programs/students in its 2005 congregational statistic reports. Baptized membership fell from 2,463,747 in 2004 to 2,440,864 in 2005, a drop of nearly 23,000 members. Confirmed membership in 2005 was 1,870,659, a decrease of 9,554.

In general, "The number of Christians in the United States has not grown proportionately to population growth," Mengsteab added, "which indicates that there are a lot of people who need to hear the Gospel."

As Covenant Congregations, churches will have access to funding, assessments, and training from LCMS World Mission, Lutheran Church Extension Fund, Church Development Partners, the Center for U.S. Missions and the two LCMS seminaries.

"I think congregations are excited about it," Mengsteab said. "In the past, church planting was the responsibility of the districts, but now congregations are seeing this as their responsibility, as they are increasingly realizing that they are in the mission field."

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