The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (it wasn’t called this at the beginning) has always had an emphasis on planting new congregations in the United States. The Synod was organized in 1847 and in a short period of seven years had to create four districts because of the growth in membership and congregations.
This growth pattern continued, with a couple of down periods, all the way through the late 1960s. The decline that started around 1970 has basically not stopped.
People across our Synod have stated reasons for this decline, from the biological growth factor to societal changes to more anti-church sentiment. No matter where you might be in giving a reason for the church’s decline, if a church body is not interested in reaching new people with the Gospel, it will most likely continue to see its membership decrease. Reaching out and planting new congregations will be important for the health of our church body and the local congregation.
This year’s Synod convention passed a resolution calling for increased efforts in church planting. The new initiative is called Mission Field: USA. Through this initiative, the Synod itself will send out missionaries to places in the United States. They will work with and through districts, but Synod will basically guide and oversee these new starts. The LCMS Office of National Mission has set a goal of sending 18 missionaries throughout the United States over the next three years. The focus will be on new people groups, but not exclusive to new immigrants in major cities.
Even though I have some concerns regarding the church-planting methods that Mission Field: USA will use and what is expected of the new start, I am thankful for any mission focus that emphasizes church planting. My prayer is for more church-planting efforts leading to a harvest of people connected to Jesus in a saving relationship.
In 2004, the Synod launched a church-planting emphasis called Ablaze!, which ends in 2017. This emphasis helped congregations and ministries join together in church planting. The Texas District has been blessed with a number of Lutheran Inner City Network Coalition (LINC) organizations and mission networks, all focused on reaching people with the Gospel. Since 2004, the district has seen more than 100 new “Word and Sacrament” congregations started throughout Texas.
What’s more exciting is to see new work starting all over our district by individual congregations and lay people who have a passion for sharing Jesus with others. At our 2018 district convention, we will celebrate God’s blessings to us through this effort since 2004.
This does not mean that we will be finished with church-planting efforts in Texas. Church planting has been a part of our district’s history and by the grace of God will be front and center in the future. Even today God is opening new doors for us to reach the thousands of people moving to Texas and the millions already here. God is raising up lay people, creating new mission networks and starting new congregations throughout the district.
God has also led the district to develop a new financial model to support the mission movement in Texas. Hundreds of individuals and organizations are annually giving a financial gift to Texas Partners in Mission, where 100 percent of everything given is used for mission planting in Texas. (See txlcms.org/tpim.) The returnable mission dollars program given to new starts is now producing more than $100,000 per year to put back into the district budget for new mission starts. Congregations are playing a major part in the district’s mission program by continuing to give a portion of their offerings to support the annual district budget.
God is growing His church, and the Texas District along with Synod is committed to church planting into the future.
By: Rev. Ken Hennings
Texas District President