I just came across a somewhat long but well written piece posted by a rather non-traditional Lutheran pastor. Entitled Why Lutherans Can't Evangelize, the essay presents an interesting theological slant on the problems facing his church.
For instance, Pastor David Housholder contends that Lutherans "more or less have no functioning eschatology (end times teaching)," which makes it "hard to invite people on a journey when we don’t have a compelling destination."
He goes on to add that Lutherans "have no theology of mission. Within the framework of our theology, we have no idea how to get someone saved."
This situation arose, according to the pastor, because
the formative-era Lutherans were concerned with two things:
1) Catechizing already-baptized nominal Christians within their jurisdiction ([Luther's] Small Catechism)
2) Defending the faith against non-Lutheran neighbors (the [Augsburg] Confessions)
Mission was just not on their radar screen. It didn’t get into our family DNA.
But what first caught my eye was Pastor Housholder's brief recapitulation of the history of the Lutheran Church in America. The parallels with Catholicism as it is practiced in some parts of our country (and we all know where) are striking ...
Lutherans in America have had three major eras:
1) The era of immigration.
2) The era of procreation.
3) The era of decline.
The era of immigration was a period which lasted up to 1920. Millions of nominal Lutherans were coming in sailing and steamships to North America. If we set up ethnic specific ministries which functioned as community centers, and catechized and confirmed the young, then primary relationships would be built around church activity and continuous exposure to Word and Sacrament would get the job done.
It worked. Until the steamships stopped coming.
Then we turned to plan B: Procreation. The average Lutheran woman had 4-5 kids. We built education wings onto our churches (a whole new thing). From VBS to Lutheran Colleges and Seminaries (via Luther and Walther League) we did a full court press on the kids, knowing that keeping over half of them would lead to a growing church. I am a product of that full court press.
It worked. Until the pill came and the average Lutheran woman now has 1.7 kids. Keep half of 1.7 and you get exactly what we now have.
The pill was introduced in 1963. The Lutheran Church has been in freefall since 1964 (despite the rapid growth of the US population during that same time).
Contraction, aging, and entropy have been the norm for our congregations since then. The exception has been Upper Midwest suburban areas where a fresh critical-mass population of young Lutherans moves into new tract housing and has kids (a curious mixture of “retro” immigration and procreation).
Pastor Housholder's entire essay is well worth reading.