For the past several decades, American Christianity has been “plateauing” if not treading on a downward slope. In particular, many moderate and liberal mainline denominations have lost members at a staggering rate, eventually closing church doors, cutting personnel and lowing mission budgets.
Amid this trend of membership and funding loss, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod’s recent membership report comes as a bright hope for the future. According to the evangelical denomination’s report, some 94 new congregations joined the group in 2003 – marking the largest annual increase since 1990.
Dr. Robert Scudieri, associate executive director, National Mission Team, for LCMS World Mission, said in the past, the average growth has been “about 60” for each year in the past decade.
In addition, about two thirds of the newly added congregations were among non-white groups;
“Twenty four of the congregations are Hispanic and 15 are made up of African immigrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Liberia and Sudan. Eleven of the new congregations are Asian, and include worshipers from India, Pakistan, Burma, Cambodia, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. The remainder are made up of people from Mormon, multicultural and Muslim backgrounds,” the June 26 report stated.
Scudieri explained that such ethnic congregations are a blessing to the LCMS because such immigrant churches generally “have taken the initiative more so than Anglos in starting new missions."
This year, according to Scudieri, this pattern of church-initiated outreach became the root of the stunning growth.
"More and more LCMS churches are taking this kind of initiative and starting new missions," he said. "We're going back to the way we used to do it."
The Rev. Doug Kallesen, executive director of outreach for the Florida-Georgia District said that “Missions is truly job one” in the district. Florida-Georgia experienced the largest growth among the LCMS’s 14 districts.
“With so many people moving into the area, there are a lot of opportunities for outreach,” said Kallesen.
Florida-Georgia also commits a majority of its budget -- about 60 percent -- to missions, and makes more than $1 million a year available for "mission grants" to its congregations.
For more information about church planting, the LCMS suggested churches visit the center for missions website at www.centerforusmissions.org or call (949) 854-8002, Ext. 1781.