Statistics and averages barrage us with definitions about who we are. The average U.S. male in his thirties is 5’9” tall, has a 39-inch waist, and is at the edge of obesity with a 29 Body Mass Index. I may know a few 30-year-old men who fit that description, but the reality is all over the map.
The same is true for the LCMS. I hear numbers about high average age and very limited ethnic diversity, but the local reality I see is a little different. More than half of the 113 new churches started in Texas since 2004 are multi-ethnic congregations, speaking a language other than English, led by a younger bi-vocational worker. When I sit around the table with groups of church planters and local leaders, I see a mix of seasoned veterans, millennials new on the scene, men and women, and diverse ethnic backgrounds.
If someone happened to walk into a gathering of Austin church planters or Rio Grande Valley missionaries, and was asked what the LCMS looks like based on that local encounter, a promising and hopeful description would emerge.
The average LCMS composite picture of a congregation or individual does not hold true in a variety of local contexts in the LCMS. Texas, a growing and diverse state, happens to be my vantage point, but I am very familiar with exciting and entrepreneurial ministries across the LCMS—from Oregon and California to New Jersey and New York, and from Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin to Florida, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas and Arizona. These movements of the Gospel defy LCMS averages.
In other words, the average always lags behind the leading edge—and the leading edge speaks volumes about ministry direction and the ultimate future. When I served as the pastor of a mission church I learned to give less credence to the averages and place more attention on the leading edge—the indicators of movement and mission.
The main question we face is not “How can we fix the average?” It is “How can we fuel the leading edge?” When we place our focus, energy, prayers and resources there, we’ll see what the LCMS really looks like.
By Rev. Michael W. Newman
Mission & Ministry Facilitator, Area C