We call it the “50/60 challenge”—when a congregation has an average age of 60 or older and an average weekly attendance of 50 or fewer. Currently we have about 120 such congregations. We project that we will add 20 to 25 congregations to that list each year for the next five years. That means by the end of 2022, approximately one in five WELS congregations will be asking a hard question. How much longer can we keep our doors open? However, it is not just small, elderly congregations that are struggling. Approximately three-quarters of WELS congregations lose members annually.
What can we do about this, if anything? Consider the following illustration.
The Seed and Its Growth
A farmer cannot make a seed grow. The Creator is the one who designed and continues to manage the natural process of germination. God is the one who makes the rains fall to nourish growth. It is no different with the growth of the Church. It is the Holy Spirit that causes the seed of the gospel to produce fruit. St. Paul tells the Corinthians, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
What the farmer can do is plant as much seed as possible. For example, he could double the amount of seed he sows and then pray that God might double the size of the crop. Again, the growth is entirely up to God. All the farmer can do is sow seed as best and often as he is able. Likewise, congregations will try and spread the gospel as zealously as possible, and then pray that God would bless those efforts as he sees fit.
Helping Congregations Sow the Seed
WELS Commission on Congregational Counseling (CCC) exists to aid congregations in doing just that—vigorously utilizing the gospel. Approximately 30 trained congregational counselors work with congregations, walking them through one of the CCC’s three programs: the Self-Assessment and Adjustment Program (SAA), the Ministry Organization and Staffing Evaluation (MOSE), and the School of Strategic Planning (SSP). (You can find more information about these programs at ccc.welsrc.net.) The ultimate goal of all these programs is the same—to help congregations address the challenges of 21st century gospel ministry, so that they might sow more seed. We want to spread the gospel as fervently as possible. We will leave the growth up to the Holy Spirit.
Congregations That Need Help the Most
We have kept the costs for these programs as low as possible. All our trained counselors are parish pastors who volunteer their time. Typically, the only expense is travel. However, even with expenses kept low, some of the congregations that need this help the most are hurting to the degree that it is cost prohibitive. Gifts to the Congregational Counseling fund will not only help us train more counselors, but also enable us to get them to any congregation that asks for help, regardless of that congregation’s location or financial situation.
Thank you for taking the time to consider supporting the congregational counseling work carried out by our commission. We pray that the Lord will bless these efforts to the glory of his holy name.
Director, Commission on Congregational Counseling