Tomorrow is the big day. Warren Kinsella has dire predictions of a Bush victory, and he just may be right. But time will tell, and the wisdom of the American voter will prevail. Now there’s a thought!
On a different note: here’s an article from Finland on how the C of F lost 70 000 member in the years 2002-2003. Yikes! That’s a big loss. Even for Lutherans. “But don’t despair!” The Lutheran World Federation would tell us, “There are 66 million Lutherans around the world.” So on the surface it looks like we are a formidable group. But check under the hood and we find that many of the numbers come from European state churches where attendance and church involvement hover in the single digits.
Also, my own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, reports something like 150 000 Lutherans from sea to sea to sea (but Reg Bibby in his book Restless Churches reports that 600 000 Canadians think they’re Lutherans). But when I look at the stats for our churches, a typical entry is: Baptized membership 800, Confirmed membership, 550, average weekly attendance: 80. So where are the other 720 missing Lutherans? Do they count toward the 66 million that the LWF claims?
So the 66 million Lutherans declaration sounds a wee bit inflated.
But not that I’m a nut for numbers. (d minus, second time around in grade 10 Basic math). The church is not about stats, but they do tell us something about how we understand ourselves.
In my previous parish, Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I wanted to have university students play a larger role in the life of the church – including voting. So I came up with, what I thought was a brilliant idea. Students who attended Resurrection and who wanted to keep their membership at their home congregations would be given a dual membership designation. It didn’t make sense to fill out transfer forms for the 8 months of the school year just so we could take advantage of these young people’s gifts. If we wanted more young people to take leadership roles then we should be bending over backward to accommodate them. But when I ran this idea past synod office I was told that “it would screw up the stats”! I thought to myself, “The stats are already screwed up!” Moreover, the church is not about record keeping!
I still think I was right.
But this is not about silly details like how we do administration. The loss of 70 000 Lutherans in Finland or the missing 450 000 Lutherans in Canada all point to a need for a renewal in the church. We can look at this as a problem (“O sure, they come when they want a wedding, but where are they on Sundays”) or an opportunity (“Great! That’s a great place to begin our evangelistic mission!”).
Some of my colleagues start frothing when numbers are discussed. “The church is not in the numbers game!” They would say. And they’d be correct. But that doesn’t excuse the church from being the church. The “righteous remnant” theology is too often a convenient excuse for being lazy.
Why am I so hopped up on this? Maybe it’s because I see Christianity being hi-jacked by George Bush supporting Fundamentalists or theology-lite mega-churches. The world needs justification by grace alone through faith alone, not angry anti-abortion homophobes who believe that same sex marriages are more threatening than preemptive war, or feel good suburban Christianity that reduces our faith to a self-help program. This wounded world needs God’s transforming grace in Christ Jesus. And that is the message that Lutherans have to offer.