The October WELS Connection featured one of the "100 in 10" new mission plants in Kronenwetter, Wisconsin. Let it be known that this blog has no opposition to new mission plants in the United States! I know it can be sexy and exotic to talk about mission plants overseas with new people and languages but as Dr. Koontz has pointed out many times, our own countrymen need Christ as desperately, and they are properly our neighbors. I commend the synod for focusing on our native lands even if the messaging is a little disingenuous (our regular cadence of mission plants is roughly 5 per year, and we have plans to shut down and consolidate older congregations - the net result will not be 100 more churches in the synod in 10 years, just 100 'different' churches. More on that in a future post digging into the statistical reports of the synod).

The issue I take with what I saw in the WELS Connection is the approach to developing their congregational plan. The group in Kronenwetter has done extensive canvassing as featured in the video, but their checklist is telling. This list was extracted from the video clip around 1m55s with some help from gamma adjustment:

Neighborhood Canvass 60 second survey

1. Please rank in order of importance these ministries / offerings of a new church to serve the area

___ Affordable, high-quality child care (1)

___ Food pantry / financial assistance (2)

___ Inspiring worship services with good preaching (3)

___ Programs and activities for children and teens (4)

___ Programs and activities for the elderly (5)

___ Seminars on marriage, parenting, financies, etc. (6)

___ Service activities for positive community impact (7)

___ (fill in your own blank)

The numbers (X) are my addition for ease in discussion. First, note that only one item, (3) deals with word and sacrament ministry, the very thing the Church is established to do - and barely, at that. "Inspirational... good preaching" probably drives an impression different from that of historical Lutheranism, as we've seen at The Core ("Real. Relevant. Relational") and other places.

The survey focuses on two broad categories: logistical needs, or what the Army would call "beans and bullets" (1, 2, 7) and "relevant" programming (4, 5, 6). Logistical needs are a legitimate concern and charity falls within the purview of the Church. However when we look to the Bible - for instance Acts 6 - that charity is generally a service to the Saints. They didn't offer them free meals and cheap childcare to make friends and influence people, they were caring for their own. Likewise, while the Bible imparts practical wisdom (for instance in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and James) it a result of faith in Christ and not an attractant. 

The diagnosis, then, is that they have the ordering wrong. Christ comes first. I'm not saying beat your community over the head with the crucifix. But we have to start with the reason for the hope that we have. The Great Commission (Matthew 28, Mark 16) says to preach and baptize, not feed and provide programs, in the hope that they then ask for the hope that you have.

The telling word is "ministries" in the first sentence. Whenever someone uses that word in the Church, the question in your mind should be "what is being administered?" If it is "word" and "sacrament", well enough! If it is something less than that...