A Geographical Mismatch
In this short piece my point is simple: there is a geographical mismatch between our church body and the population of the United States. Most of the congregations and schools of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) are located in the middle of the country and in rural areas, but most of the population lives along the two coasts and in large metro areas. The obvious question is: How will that geographical mismatch change?
By speaking of a geographical mismatch, I am simply belaboring the obvious, an obvious realization that needs to be openly and honestly admitted to ourselves. The mismatch is nobody’s fault. No one needs to get defensive. It is understandable in terms of history. The history of the LCMS has principally taken place in the middle of the country. Therefore St. Louis is the home for the LCMS headquarters and one of our seminaries, while our other seminary is not far away in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Most of the Synod’s colleges and universities are clustered in the upper Midwest.
Yet, if the history of the situation is understandable, today’s geography poses the conundrum. The demographic data are readily available. California and the New York metro area together comprise over 18% of the country. The ten largest metro areas are: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Baltimore-DC, San Francisco Bay, Boston, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Philadelphia, Houston, and Miami. Lutheran congregations and schools are not very numerous in these large metro areas except for Chicago.
How will this geographical mismatch change? There is no easy solution, no magic wand. To be sure, we as a church body want to continue to be strong in the middle of the country and become even stronger. But we also need to find ways to start hundreds of churches and schools in other parts of the country. It will take more pastors, a lot more pastors. This year our seminaries had to leave calls unfilled. It will also take a lot of money targeted toward the two coasts and the biggest metro areas. Maybe we need a new non-geographical district whose sole charter is to begin additional new churches and ministries and schools in the largest metro areas.
I’m sure there are better ideas out there. Facing the challenge will require creative, out-of-the-box thinking and planning. People in their 20s and 30s should be recruited to participate in this discussion as they understand today and tomorrow better than anyone. By the way, the slogan “Wir bleiben beim Alten” does not refer to polity or ecclesiastical organization.
As biblical, creedal, confessional Lutherans, we face many challenges in the United States of 2017 and beyond. Underlying many of these challenges is simply the geographical mismatch between the location of our churches and schools and the population of the country. The more that challenge is on the radar screen the better. In 2017 and into the future, LCMS churches and schools have to be there where the masses of humanity are. Any ideas or suggestions?