Reasons for LCMS Losses and Solutions
By Rev. Jack Cascione


People are looking for explanations of the Synod's decline and possible solutions that might reverse this trend.

In the past three years, the Synod has lost 18,000 baptized members in 1998, 11,000 in 1999, and 28,000 in 2000.

Why are the losses increasing after District officials have been promoting Church Growth, Leadership Training, and Contemporary Worship for the past 10 years as the greatest thing since P. T. Barnum?

First, let's look at some reasons out of Synod's Control.

  1. Young people are not replacing those called to heaven on congregational church rosters. There is a decline in the birth rate.
  2. American culture is becoming more effective in leading young people away from religion.
  3. The Synod's rural congregations lose membership as the number of farm families decrease. Many who move to the cities and suburbs are not joining or establishing more LCMS congregations.

Second, now let's look at some things in the Synod's Control. The list is not prioritized.

  1. The Synod has not given a valid explanation for the loss of 49 million dollars in unhedged home loan derivatives by the LCMS Foundation in 1998. At least 25 of the 35 Synod's Council of District Presidents openly campaigned to keep the Synodical books closed and elect the former Synodical Treasurer, Norman Sell, at the 1995 LCMS Convention.
  2. The majority of Council of District Presidents protect doctrinal division in the LCMS. They have not addressed the doctrinal divisions in the Synod dating from the 70's created by liberals, evolutionists, and charismatics. They prefer passion to truth.
  3. The majority of the Council of District Presidents do not make doctrinal purity their foremost goal for the Synod. By placing people and programs above doctrine they are making the existence of the LCMS irrelevant.
  4. The majority of the Council of Presidents is actually trying to hide, disguise, or minimize the importance of the Synod's name, doctrine, history, liturgy, hymnody, congregational polity and tradition. In other words, they are ashamed of the LCMS.
  5. The Church Growth Movement breaks down loyalty to the Synod. The same worship services they promote that make it easy for strangers to visit and join also makes it easier for members to leave and go to other Community style churches.
  6. The Synod is not attracting sufficient numbers of young people to dedicate their lives to preach and teach Lutheran doctrine, because the majority of the Council of District Presidents are no longer making this the Synod's highest priority.
  7. Why should young people dedicate their lives as church workers who promote the Bible, the Lutheran Confessions, and Walther's "Church and Ministry," which in turn makes them the district offices' enemies? There is virtually no support for sound doctrine and uniform practice by the majority of district offices. In reality, the Synod wants to recruit fools or church workers who must oppose the majority of the Council of President for the rest of their lives.
  8. The majority of LCMS clergy keep electing District Presidents who will not promote doctrinal uniformity in the Synod.
  9. A growing number of LCMS pastors are no longer convinced that Walther's "Church and Ministry" and voters' assemblies are biblical or practical. They prefer the PLI Board of Director's model or pre-Walther European Lutheran hierarchy. Instead of the priesthood of all believers, too many lay people experience congregational administration similar to General Motors or the Vatican.
  10. While the Synod is experiencing a clergy shortage, the District bureaucracy keeps expanding.

Third, now let's look at possible solutions to the Synod's decline.

  1. LCMS pastors and laity should take a look at the new video produced by Our Savior Lutheran Church, in Houston, Texas, "To the Glory of God and the Salvation of Men."
    In the midst of consistent efforts to mask, soft peddle, or jettison the Synod's doctrine, identity, and history, Dr. Laurence White is the featured speaker in a video that revels in hard core Lutheranism. Our Savior Lutheran Church is "marketing the Lutheran product" with bountiful blessings, from heaven.
    It is the kind of presentation that makes most of the COP and district executives wretch and gag. Nevertheless, White is training Lutherans and not church growth groupies with no loyalty to the LCMS who will join other church bodies.
    Can you imagine a Ford car salesman saying, "We all drive the same car?"
  2. Reduce the number of all clergy staff in District and Synodical offices and return these men to congregational ministry.
  3. Publish clear and detailed reports of all the Synod's financial dealings.
  4. Encourage a loyalty to Synod's doctrine and practice and remove pastors from the Synodical roster who will not follow it.
  5. Reestablish consistent doctrine and practice from one congregation to the next in order to minimize member losses. Make the LCMS worship service as recognizable to its members as a McDonald's restaurant.
  6. Develop member loyalty to the doctrine and practice of the LCMS by education and by demonstrating its superiority to other religious bodies.
  7. Use the Synod's unique heritage of Reformation theology, Law and Gospel, preaching, history, and culture as reasons to belong to the LCMS instead of other church bodies.
  8. The use the Synod's outstanding doctrine of church and ministry to show that LCMS lay people enjoy the full blessings of the priesthood of all believers in member owned and operated congregations.

The Synod is congregations walking together. If the Synod's identity is considered its liability, it should meet in Convention, vote to disperse its assets among the congregations, and disband the Synodical union.

The Synod is experiencing a leadership vacuum in the COP and the Synodical headquarters. The failure to maintain LCMS identity must mean the failure to maintain the church body.

The Synod grew for 125 years by emphasizing its doctrine and practice. We must return to the only formula for growth established the Synod's founder, C. F. W. Walther.

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November 19, 2001