The LCMS Commission on Worship (CoW) recently released the results of a worship survey it conducted in 2008. You can trudge through the survey, if you wish, here.
The CoW chose to sample the 300 congregations in the LCMS that had reported the largest number, and highest percentage, of adult converts in 2006, along with 300 other LCMS congregations chosen randomly.
The results of the survey are not surprising. They reveal that the congregations in the "top 5%" are more prone to employ "divergent worship practices" (i.e. "happy-clappy, praise worship") than are the congregations chosen randomly. I really don't think we needed to conduct a survey to figure that one out. The results also reveal that there is a lot of non-Lutheran materials being employed by the fastest "growing" congregations. Again, no surprise.
But, beyond the results, which were, as I noted, rather predictable, what troubles me is that the survey itself is woefully incomplete. The options in many areas are far too generic to warrant factual conclusions. For example, in tables 5 and 6, respondents are asked to indicate whether or not they include the traditional liturgical elements in their Services, but where is the option to check which indicates that they replace one of more of these liturgical elements with a contemporary praise ditty or with their own creative writings? I know several pastors who would state, quite emphatically, that all of the traditional liturgical elements are in place in their contemporary praise services, even though they've actually replaced these with other things. Many of them will say things like, "The liturgy is still there; it's just hidden." This is but just one example of the generic nature of the survey - many more could be cited.
It seems to me that the intent of this survey is to attempt to give the impression that while there are diverse practices among us, we are all on the same page doctrinally, which is exactly the mantra we've heard from President Kieschnick time and time again. The problem is that this little survey doesn't do justice to the real differences among us, which are not limited to variant practices, but are doctrinal to the core. This survey is nothing more than a giant softball placed on a tee for the CoW to hit out of the ballpark as it continues to further sanction the methabapticostal practices (which are built upon methabapticostal doctrines) that have, unfortunately, become common in our synod.
A while back, this same CoW released a list of 100 (or so) contemporary praise songs which it suggested were permissible to use by Lutherans in our synod. Reviewing the list, it is painfully obvious that the members of our current CoW have no problem with Lutherans employing songs that contain false doctrine, since most of the songs on the list do just that.
Our current CoW is infected with the disease which amazingly causes Lutherans to believe that doctrine and practice can be separated; that we can worship like methabapticostals, but remain Lutheran. It's the whole style does not affect substance thing at work, which is quite absurd. But, given the fact that the members of the CoW are appointed by leaders who believe, teach, and confess the same nonsense, this is not surprising, either.
Reading the comments made by Rev. David Johnson (executive director of the CoW) about this survey, it is painfully obvious that he believes it is necessary for Lutherans to employ "divergent practices" if they are to experience numerical growth. There is a hint of "if you aren't willing to change and adapt, you must not love the lost" mentality coming through his words. Clearly, for him (and, apparently, for the CoW), numbers in the pews is the deciding factor upon which we can determine a congregation's faithfulness. Here are a couple of snippets from Johnson:
"The survey reveals an ardent desire to remain Lutheran," he said, "particularly through preaching the Word and celebrating the sacraments. Communicating the Gospel remains paramount within the distinct context of the local community. Divergent practices were unveiled in those communities that intentionally seek to engage not only lifelong Lutherans, but also [that] seek contextually to embrace and invite those who are unchurched."
"Congregations largely committed to undergirding the treasury of our hymnody and liturgy seek to preserve our historical identity," Johnson added. "No singular [worship] attitude or practice stands out as a significant key to numerical growth."
Divergent practices are the key to reaching the unchurched and those congregations committed to the historic liturgy just ain't gonna grow. Methinks Rev. Johnson needs someone to explain to him what true Christian growth entails. A congregation's growth can never be measured by the number of people in the pews. Christian growth is not about numbers, but faithfulness (i.e. growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ - 2 Pet. 3:18). Find an instance in Holy Scripture where our Lord is concerned with numbers. You can't, cause He ain't! He's concerned with faithfulness to His Word.
This infatuation with numbers is neither Biblical nor Lutheran. It is an infatuation borne out of the Satanic "Church Growth Movement," where the underlying principle is that the end justifies the means. Do whatever it takes to get 'em through the doors. Give people what they want. Remove the barriers. Liven it up! Create a church for people who don't like church.
The insanity of this is sometimes overwhelming for me. It keeps me up at night. How in the world Lutherans could have ever bought into this nonsense is beyond me. Think about what is actually going on here. Who is setting the agenda for what happens during worship in the "divergent practices/Church Growth Movement" schema? Think about it. Come on . . .
Yeah, that's right, it is THE UNCHURCHED! No, it couldn't be! Yes, it is. That is exactly what is happening. Surveys are taken to determine why people do not attend church and what it would take for them to begin attending. Once it is determined what the people want, you give it to them. And, guess what? They come! Well, no duh! Why wouldn't they? You've created a church based on their wants and desires. Sure, they're going to come. But, to what are they coming? The church? Um, no, not really. They're coming to the entertaining and appealing social club you have created for them.
Is this really the direction Lutherans should be heading? This Lutheran says, most emphatically, "No!" But, the Lutherans on the current CoW, following the lead of our synodical president and company, obviously believe it is.