Monday, January 20, 2014

‘Church Growth’ Inroads in the WELS: An Analysis of the Website Home Pages of Ninety WELS Congregations

As reported earlier today, this post gives a “first look” at the results of an analysis of WELS congregational website home pages. This work was first proposed on Intrepid in September, 2013 (click here). As described in the proposal, the analysis was based on the information found on the website home page of selected WELS congregations regarding the Gospel, the Means of Grace (God’s Word and the Sacraments), and confessional Lutheran standards (the name “Lutheran”, the Lutheran Confessions and the liturgical service).

Evaluation Criteria & Scoring Methodology
  1. The Gospel message – Score green: clear Gospel message, including both sinand forgiveness, yellow: vague Gospel message, without a clear presentation of sin and forgiveness, red: no Gospel message
  2. The Sacraments – the Means of Grace. Score green: Lord's Supper or Baptism is specifically mentioned, yellow: vague reference to the Sacraments, without specific mention of Lord’s Supper or Baptism, red: no mention of the Sacraments
  3. God’s Word – the Means of Grace. Score green: a verse from Scripture, yellow: a vague reference to the Bible or Scripture without a verse from Scripture, red: no verses from Scripture or references to Scripture.
  4. The Lutheran name – Score green: the word "Lutheran" is part of the congregation’s name and is clearly and prominently displayed, yellow: the word "Lutheran" is not part of the name, or is minimized in small font, red: the word "Lutheran" is not found on the home page.
  5. The Lutheran Confessions – Score green: a clear reference to the Lutheran Confessions, such as the Apostles' Creed or Book of Concord, yellow: a confession that is faithful to or consistent with the Lutheran Confessions, without reference to them, red: no confession consistent with the Lutheran Confessions
  6. The liturgical service – Score green: acknowledges use of a liturgical service, yellow: no mention of the form of worship, red: promotes a contemporary service, or doing their own thing, or promoting "breaking the rules" of worship
Congregation Website Selection and Evaluation Process
One circuit was randomly chosen from each of the twelve districts of the WELS. Six to eight congregations were selected from that circuit for analysis. Only those circuits which had at least six congregations with a website were considered for the analysis. A total of ninety congregational websites were selected and analyzed according to the criteria described above. At least five individual lay people submitted input for each website homepage of each congregation selected. The individual inputs for each criterion for each congregation were averaged to minimize the effect of human subjectivity.

Analysis Results
A high level representation of the analysis is presented in the following chart. Vertical columns represent the average input for each of the criteria; horizontal rows represent individual congregational websites that were analyzed. For this first look, the results are grouped and reported by district, but the districts and congregations are not identified.

WELS Congregational Website Analysis Resutls

In the simplest terms, areas of green reflect confessional Lutheran standards clearly communicated on congregational websites. Areas of yellow reflect vague, incomplete, or minimization of confessional Lutheran standards. Areas of red indicate an absence of confessional Lutheran standards.

This analysis, as described in the original proposal of this project, was limited to the home page of each website analyzed. Clearly, the analysis has the potential of providing different results, perhaps very different results, if one were to “drill down” into those websites where additional pages existed. But the intent here was, in part, to see what congregational website planners and administrators considered most important. The assumption is that what one considers most important would be most obvious on a website, and therefore be present on the home page. As confessional Lutherans, we would expect to see evidence of:
  • our purpose, to spread the Gospel.
  • the Means of Grace through which the Holy Spirit works, the Word and the Sacraments.
  • the Lutheran Confessions, as they properly reflect the truths of Scripture.
The absence of these standards may reflect an influence or tendency toward ‘church growth’ methodology, which utilizes things other than the Means of Grace – God’s Word and Sacraments – to “put people in the pews,” rather than a reliance on the power of God’s Word and Sacraments.

Observations Made
In this “first look”, the following observations could be made. Each of the observations is stated in the context of the prevailing behavior.
  1. A majority of WELS congregational websites surveyed do NOT have a clear Gospel message on the home page.
  2. A vast majority of WELS congregations surveyed say NOTHING about the Sacraments on the home page.
  3. A majority of WELS congregations surveyed do NOT use a verse from God’s Word on the home page of the website.
  4. A majority of WELS congregations surveyed USE the name “Lutheran” on the website home page.
  5. A vast majority of the WELS congregations surveyed say NOTHING about the Lutheran Confessions on the home page.
  6. And finally, a vast majority of WELS congregations surveyed say NOTHING about the type of worship service on the home page of the website.
There is an additional observation that can be made, considering these results as a whole. It is a fact that there is an extreme diversity in content found on the home pages of these ninety WELS congregations. In a self-proclaimed confessional Lutheran Synod, when that diversity ranges from one extreme that is devoid of Scriptural content, to the other extreme of good and proper use of the Means of Grace, one can’t help but wonder where that unity of “walking together” is that we hear so frequently proclaimed?

A follow-on post will take into consideration any questions that might arise from this work, and examine the results in more detail.


Unknown said...

The first page of a website may be a "table of contents", not a Cliff Notes.
Also, is the primary purpose of the website to say "we are a Lutheran church" or to focus on nudging people towards their Savior?

DIYGirl said...

Our church's website is primarily information about where we're at, what times our services are and sometimes we keep the calendar updated. I don't think it's an indication of anything. Some churches don't have the ability to create a webpage that encompasses everything you seem to want it to. And it's not the job of the webpage to teach people that, either.

Daniel Baker said...

I have to agree that the home page tends to be a "table of contents" of sorts. I think a better indication is if there are clear links to "What We Believe"-type pages that include many of the tenets listed here.

That being said, while one could argue that "it's not the job of the webpage to teach people [Lutheran doctrine]," when there's the amount of *red* (that is, false doctrine) ON THE HOME PAGE that I'm seeing here, we have a BIG problem.

AP said...

I would suggest though that it very much is the job of the webpage to clearly indicate a church's identity. Lutheran means certain things: law and gospel, the Confessions, Word and Sacrament, and yes liturgical worship.

I cannot say why a given church in this study would or would not include certain things on the homepage. I'm actually quite sure some of it is just bad web design or apathy about websites in general. Whatever the reasons, is it not clearly important for a church website (an online front door of sorts) to in some way clearly explain what that church is about?

In some ways, the primary purpose of a website really has to be "we are a Lutheran church" and defining what goes on (or does not go on) in that church because of its Lutheranism. I do not assume anyone knows what a WELS church is. I do want them to know why my Lutheran church is not "Lutheran" in the same sense as an ELCA church (i.e. that is not really Lutheran at all). I want visitors to the website to know what happens at my church, and that they will hear the Gospel of Christ Crucified and receive the blessings of Word and Sacrament there. Being clear about our identity is being clear that we do offer the pure Gospel through the means God has provided in our churches.

Dr. Aaron Palmer

Unknown said...

I'm sorry, but this is just silly. If you want to make a case regarding "church growth inroads in the WELS", there are plenty of examples you can use without resorting to this sort of meaningless witch hunt. There's just no way you can make an accurate judgment about a congregation's doctrine and practice by looking at its homepage. As others have noted, well-designed homepages shouldn't contain an overwhelming amount of information. They should serve simply to direct the user to the information they're looking for. Based on these criteria, a congregation's website might contain volumes of essays on what it means to be a Confessional Lutheran, but if they aren't on the homepage itself, that congregation gets a dreaded "red" score and is assumed to be sub-Lutheran. Besides, many webpages are designed by volunteers in their free time with little guidance. This whole project only serves to make uncharitable assumptions about and cast untrue aspersions on faithful congregations and faithful members. It also lends credence to the charge that Confessionals are small-minded, petty, and judgmental. Intrepid Lutherans should retract this article.

Isaac Parson

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

As I said on the Facebook thread, I think this study is a great beginning. Contrary to some of the defensive comments disparaging this study, this can hardly be classified as a "witch hunt," or as leading anyone to assume anything uncharitable about anyone. I didn't see a single congregation's website even identified, much less criticized. The statistics offered here show a trend, which may or may not be supported upon further review of the websites. Who knows? Some may prove to have a solid confession on other pages of their site. Or, some may prove to have a lot of junk on their other pages that they don't have on their home page. No one is claiming, I don't think, that this study is definitive. It begins to reveal a trend. Future studies will have to go deeper in order to see how deep the trend goes. All this defensiveness, when so much attention was given to *not* identifying any particular congregation. I wonder why.

Unknown said...

Pastor Rydecki,

You yourself admit: "Some may prove to have a solid confession on other pages of their site. Or, some may prove to have a lot of junk on their other pages that they don't have on their home page."

So, what's the point then? If no one can use any of this information in any definitive way, then so what? And more importantly, if this information, by your own admission, isn't definitive, then how can the title of this article state definitively that this is proof of "church growth inroads in the WELS"?

By the way, if you used these same criteria to judge the Intrepid Lutherans site, what grade would it get? I'm not sure what counts as "clear evidence", but by my estimation the IL site would get mostly reds. Why are you hiding "Who We Are" and "What We Believe" behind links? Are you trying to cover-up what you believe?

Anonymous said...

This is the beginning, a first look if you will. This would be like an observational study in medicine. It is a way to identify possible trends to look at in more detail later on. A more thourogh look at the sites may reveal the trends seen in the initial study are true or not. I will definitely interested if taking a much closer look will change the results or not.

Daniel Sellers

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Isaac, you should stick with the facts instead of inventing them. Take another look at the title of this post. Where does it "state definitively that this is proof" of anything? It doesn't. Read it again. Also read the conclusions, which are stated as "observations that can be made." As Daniel pointed out from the article, it's a "first look" at a large sampling of websites. That's all it claims to be. Now, I will readily claim that there is all sorts of Church Growth going on in the WELS that has nothing to do with the websites, but that's me, not the article.

Then, Isaac, you commit an apples and oranges fallacy in comparing a blog to a church's website. IL is not a church and has never claimed to be. We have no static "home page" at all. Even so, no one here is claiming to be holier than thou. Some objective facts have been presented. I'm sorry you seem to wish to shoot the messenger rather than deal with the objective facts presented in the article.

Unknown said...

Oh, please. "Church Growth Inroads in the WELS." That's a definitive statement. Imagine that your local paper published a headline saying, "Paul Rydecki a Wife-Beater". Would that be fine, as long as the text of the article itself says, "Well, we don't know if he really beats his wife or not, but it might be possible."? Of course not.

If you want to use church websites to make the case that church growth methodology is making inroads in the WELS, then do it. Make the case using actual evidence. Examine websites and find clear examples of it. (It won't be too hard to do.) But don't make assumptions or assertions based on an argument from silence.

Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Evidence was presented--a lot of it. Initial observations were made. Final conclusions have not been reached. And silence is not always innocuous, especially when a church's primary task is to confess.

ReWood Products, LLC said...

I'll respond to some of the comments:

Jim, yes, website home pages frequently served as a table of contents. Frequently those contents are in the header bars or the side bars. And yet, many find the opportunity, even with that information displayed, to still say more; a Bible verse, a simple Gospel message. The volunteers in this analysis were not looking for Cliff notes or overwhelming volumes of information. It doesn't take Cliff notes or overwhelming volumes of information to share the Gospel. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. One line. A simple Gospel message or a simple Bible verse. What is so difficult about that? And doesn't God himself promise that he will work through his Word? Why miss the opportunity?

Isaac, you said in two different comments that it wouldn't be too hard to find clear examples of Church Growth in the WELS. If it's simple to do, then how can you be so sure that it doesn't exist on the home page of a church website? Having looked at ninety of them. I can assure you, examples were there. As you said, it wasn't too hard to do. One example found the space on the home page to say they break the rules with regard to their worship service. They could have buried that in the website, but they chose to put it on the home page. There are many more examples. But don't take my word for it. Look at the home pages yourself. It was one of the reasons for doing this analysis and doing it across all of the districts; the ever familiar refrain "not in my church, not in my district, not in my synod". Part of the message here is that you don't have to look very hard, just as you said.

But look, we weren't even looking for the bad examples. They were there, but we weren't looking for them. We were looking for the positive things. Did they exist or didn't they?

There are certainly innocent parties in this analysis. For that reason, congregations and districts have not been named. It was also clear when looking at these home pages that there were novices and there were professionals doing the websites. But whether they were novices or professionals had little to do with whether there was a Bible verse or a Gospel message present. I saw simple website home pages with a Bible verse or Gospel message, and I saw professional website home pages that didn't.

Church Growth can mean many things to many people. One of the things it means to me is how much can someone say about their church and the things their church does without talking about Jesus. I saw evidence of this too. The programs, the projects, even the gimics. But the Gospel? Sadly missing.


just Josh Lucas said...

I would say that the evidence that was given is somewhat relevant. The reason the other reason other person needs to look at these type of charge is to see how the church growth has affected the underlying culture and environment of of Lutheranism. The problem that we have with the church growth, is that the identity that we have as friends have a tendency to go out the window much like the baby with the bathwater. When such false doctrine enters into the church even through the narrowest crack, Satan has a foothold in a good church body. It is not only the job of the pastor to refute false doctrine but also our jobs as parishioners to refute false doctrine and toand to show our erring brothers bear false witness and bring them back to the light of the Gospel and to the love of God

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

My goodness. Look at all that RED! While I frankly would have expected that "the name 'Lutheran'" appearing on WELS homepages would be mostly GREEN (most WELS congregations haven't jettisoned their namesake), and fully expected that direct reference to "the Lutheran Confessions" and "the Sacraments" on WELS homepages would be mostly RED (the BoC being an entirely disregarded and forgotten document in most places, the old-fashioned ecclesiastical term "Sacrament" falling into disuse, and the growing popularity of moving the Lord's Supper out of the Divine Service), I am quite surprised that reference to "the liturgical service" isn't more RED, and I am astonished that direct reference to "the Gospel" and "God's Word" on WELS homepages is as RED as it is! Maybe it's all the RED on this graph that has so many folks, well, "seeing RED". For me, the factor carrying the most gravity is the sample size. How many congregations are in the WELS? About 1000? The sample size was 90 – that's roughly 10% of the population. Proportionally, a very large sample size, undoubtedly producing results that are representative across Synod. Some, I would guess, may dislike the sampling method, perhaps preferring a strictly random sampling method – but that would favor congregations in southeast Wisconsin and the Midwest, rather than presenting a balanced look at WELS congregations throughout the Nation.

Honestly, however, all this report shows – merely a "first look" – is the results of applying standards that are important to genuine Confessional Lutherans to only the homepages of WELS websites. The standards that were applied are clear, their application was defined and limited in scope, and the results are what they are. There was no value judgment accompanying these results in this report, no condemnations hurled at the REDs, no unmitigated praise given to the GREENs, no assignment of good or bad to either as so many seem to infer (especially if one is reading the Facebook discussion at > 73 comments, so far). Like it or lump it – it just is what it is. Different standards and/or different application would very likely produce different results, as this "first look" fully admits.

Continued in next comment...

Anonymous said...

I can't call this study anything other than sloppy in its methodology, and therefore its results and conclusions are of very little value.

First off, as pointed out by others, the home page is one of the pages least likely to contain theological content. That information is usually reserved for other pages, such as a "statement of faith" page. You might as well have chosen to base your study on "contact us" pages. I won't accuse anyone of deliberately basing the study on a page unlikely to fulfill the study's criteria, but for anyone to not think that this is a serious flaw speaks to how poorly thought out this study is.

Secondly, several of the criteria themselves are dubious. A prime example is the insistence on reference to the Lutheran confessions--most visitors to a website probably wouldn't even know what those are; including this detail would be simply uninformative. Those who do know what the Lutheran confessions are, and who are interested in them, would certainly require more intensive instruction than is feasible via a congregation's website; for them, including this detail would be superfluous. To be frank, exposition of the Lutheran confessions is the role of catechesis and preaching, not a website.

Another questionable criterion is the use of the name "Lutheran." The oldest church listed in the WELS yearbook was originally named "The First High German Evangelical Lutheran and Reformed Church of Columbus, Ohio" during its early, unionistic stage. By the study's criteria as stated, this church would have been rated "green" or "yellow" if there had been websites in the 1820s. Such a criterion would clearly allow numerous "Lutheran in name only" congregations to receive a "passing" score in this category.

Insisting on mention of the Sacraments and liturgical services are also dubious criteria. The Roman Catholics talk about the Sacraments and the liturgy--but they aren't Lutheran. Using the criteria as stated, heterodox non-Lutheran churches could easily receive a passing grade in these categories.

Finally, the evaluation of websites based on whether or not a Scripture quotation appears on the home page is also a dubious criterion. As of this moment, John Hagee Ministries currently has a Scripture quotation on its homepage--does that make him Lutheran-leaning? Your study would have rated his website as "green" in this category.

Due to the faultiness of your criteria, even a heterodox church hypothetically could receive four or five "green" scores on your "Lutheran standards." Clearly, most of your criteria are either too vague or not truly distinctive of Lutheranism.

At this point, the study is salvageable, and the premise still has potential, but the criteria are in serious need of revision, and the data gathering needs to include more than simply home pages. Until that is done, the study as it stands is of very little value in quantifying "church growth" inroads in the WELS.

Eric Olafssen

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

...Continued from previous comment.

But why are these particular standards important to genuine Confessional Lutherans? My answer: because (a) those who self-identify as Confessional Lutherans recognize that it is necessary to actually Confess something specific regarding Lutheran doctrine and practice; and (b) because Confessional Lutherans recognize that when they make their public confession, they are not just addressing a single audience, but are simultaneously addressing three important audiences.

In the case of (a), many new initiates into the controversy of today's Lutheran identity crisis, approach it not from the standpoint of Confessional integrity (most, due to catechetical failure, not having any idea what that really entails), but from the standpoint of general Evangelical sentiment, claiming that it sufficient to publicly proclaim, "We believe what the Bible says", in order to satisfy the integrity demanded of them by their professed Confessional stance. But this is wrong. Every Christian on the planet claims to "believe what the Bible says", and then gives his own explanation for what this phrase really means – they have to provide an explanation because the phrase itself can mean so many different things that it is essentially meaningless, other than to identify a person or a group as vaguely Christian. The fact is, it is NOT sufficient to say, "I believe everything the Bible says," or "We are a Bible Church," etc., because such a statement fails to answer the very next, and more important, question, "What do you say the Bible says?"

Confessions answer this question for us. In appealing to the Confessions, we are appealing to what Lutherans uniquely say that the Bible says. In this regard, our Confessions are definitive – even more so given that our agreement to the Lutheran Confessions is not just rhetorical, but carries with it the force of Christian Conscience, as we agree to our Confessions, not merely rhetorically, but as a matter of self-identity, fully and eternally convinced of their testimony to the Truth of Scripture.

In the case of (b), many "Evangelical Lutherans," who forget that there is a specific Confession attending the label they apply to themselves (or worse, disregard it as unimportant), are under the mistaken impression that "Confessing their faith" simply means, "Telling the Gospel to the unbelieving World." While it true that the unregenerate are one audience to which our Confession can be directed, it is false to say that they are the only audience, or even the primary audience. Furthermore, while the Lutheran Confession, being centered upon the "Evangel", or the Good News of Justification by Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, in Jesus Christ Alone, is inherently and uniquely "evangelical", our Confession does not primarily function as an evangelism tool. Its primary function is to both divide and unite, and it is addressed primarily to the heterodox and the orthodox, as well as the unregenerate. A Confession will make clear the separation of the unbeliever from Christ and from eternal salvation, while extending this promise to them in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A Confession will also warn the heterodox of their separation from the Truth of God's Word, warn them of the danger this separation represents to their eternal welfare, while attempting to restore them to the Truth through the application of Scripture and sound reason. A Confession will also announce itself to fellow orthodox believers, declare their unity in the Faith, and draw them into Fellowship. And it will accomplish all of these things in the pattern of sound words adopted by orthodox believers from throughout the history of the Church on Earth.

Continued in next comment...

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

...Continued from previous comment.

Finally, there is no Confession apart from corresponding public practice that is calculated to demonstrate that Confession, in a way that, apart from mere words, announces both the separation of unbelievers from Christ and the separation of the heterodox from orthodoxy, recognizes and welcomes orthodox brethren into Fellowship, invites others to share in this unity through Faith in Christ and full acceptance of the Truth, and, by embracing the familiar forms of the past in the same way that the pattern of sound words is retained, assures the Christian that no ill-conceived innovation is being foisted upon him.

The fact is, a Lutheran Church is by definition a Confessing Church – a tall order in and of itself, and a unique thing on the landscape of American Christianity. As a result, strange though it may seem in comparison to the methods of pop-church evangelicals, the public representation of a Lutheran congregation ought to address itself, Confessionally, in both word and deed, not just to prospective new members, but to the unregenerate, the heterodox and the orthodox, whether prospects or not. And this includes its website (increasingly so, given the overwhelming ubiquity of the internet as a platform for public communication). Does this mean that a congregation's website must deliver a full dissertation on all matters of doctrine and practice? No. Not at all. Although, depending on the character of a given congregation and the nature of the community in which it is placed, a more thorough explanation of certain issues may be entirely in order. But what is expected by genuine Confessional Lutherans is that congregations applying this label to themselves publicly give well-balanced evidence that their name isn't just a placard, that their Confession is genuine. The six standards chosen by Mr. Kneprath and his team, and the relatively low thresholds they set for meeting these standards (like, "a Bible Verse," or "a simple Gospel message of some sort"), strike me as a very fair minimum. In my opinion, for Lutheran congregations to fail to live up to their Confession in these basic and very simple ways, disenfranchises not only their Brethren, but the heterodox and the lost as well.

Thank you Vernon, and team – I'm definitely looking forward to future installments.

ReWood Products, LLC said...

Dr. Aaron Palmer mentioned in his comment that the home page of a church website is about identity. That is what we saw in the vast majority of the cases. Many website home pages had a picture of their worship facility prominently displayed. Why? The answer is obvious. The picture says "This is who we are. This is our building. This is how you will know us when you see us." Now, for those who actually do websites, you probably know that getting a picture on a web page is not the easiest thing to do. Putting text on a website homepage is easier than putting up a picture. Yet many managed to put up a picture. So by and large, the evidence indicates that those who worked on the websites of the congregations we looked at knew that their website home page was about identity, and went through the more difficult steps of putting up a picture to communicate that identity. We could have kept statistics on the number of website home pages that had a picture of the worship facility, particularly considering the number of website home pages that had that information, but that would be pointless, of no value whatsoever.

Is that all the identity of a church is, a church building? One will know the identity of a church, in part, by what else they see on the website home page. What does a church stand for? What message will one hear if they go to this church building pictured on the home page? This is the confession that Douglas Lindee talks about. There is nothing scary or complicated or voluminous about a confession. Most WELS churches (I hope and pray) still have one in their worship service. It's called the Apostles' Creed. It doesn't take up that much space on a home page. And some chose to put it there.

Website advisors will tell you that pictures are good, but the first paragraph of text is especially important. You may have one opportunity to communicate with a website visitor. The first thing a website visitor may see is the home page of the website, and they may never go beyond that. What precious few words will you use in that first paragraph? Whose wisdom will you depend on to communicate your church identity? What is the single most important thing you could say?

It is faith that comes from the Word that saves. In that light, I think measuring the capacity of a church body's use of God's Word on the home page has value, at least in regard to defining the identity of that church body. If some people are not happy about what was found, I can understand that. I wasn't pleased with what was found either.


Pastor Spencer said...

Methinks these folks (those disparaging this study) protest too much. The study must have hit a nerve by uncovering an inconvenient truth. Keep up the research.

Unknown said...

Mr. Lindee said, "There was no value judgment accompanying these results in this report."

Of course there was! The title says, "Church Growth Inroads in the WELS". How is that not a value judgment based on the results in this report?

I totally agree that you can find evidence of church growth inroads in the WELS by looking at websites. But that's not what this "study" did. Instead, it made assumptions based on a lack of evidence.

Mr. Douglas Lindee said...

Oh, I see, Isaac -- you just don't like the title of this post. That's fair. I took the title as referring to the entire project, not strictly this report. This is just the "first look", an initial report. There will be other reports, and my guess is that the title of the project will be substantiated by the whole, not just by this installment. Of course, I don't know, since I haven't read any of the follow-on material and wasn't involved in the project. We'll just have to wait and see. If not, maybe they will need to re-title it as something like "Slouching toward pop-church Evangelicalism". But since CGM permeates pop-church Evangelicalism, I don't see that this would make much of a difference. But of course, "becoming Evangelical" could only be one reason for the lack of Lutheran identity displayed by Lutheran churches. A desire to mimic the successful non-denominational Community Church down the road may only be one reason behind it. It could be just pure apathy. It could be that younger pastors don't know any better, and are being taught that Evangelical identity is the new Lutheran identity. I don't know how one would explore those types of reasons, but for now, the results are the results. Lots of RED in matters of importance to Confessional Lutherans.

Unknown said...

Just for the record, the congregation I belong to is a faithful, liturgical Confessional Lutheran congregation. In fact, we are reclaiming more and more of our Confessional Lutheran heritage every day. Every single item listed above can be found on my congregation's website. But (gasp) a few of them aren't included on the homepage. For example, there's an excellent description of our Lutheran Confessions and a strongly worded declaration that we are a liturgical church on a page called "What We Believe" that's just one click away from our homepage. For this, we are branded with the red mark of shame and used as evidence of church growth inroads.

ReWood Products, LLC said...

I appreciate ALL of the comments. It takes a certain level of maturity to honor and respect the diversity of opinions and comments which have been offered so far. I hope I am up to the task. What Intrepid has frequently asked for in this blog is dialogue on the issues raised. Dialogue is most meaningful when there is a diversity of opinions. And that has certainly been the case here.

Regarding those who have been critical of the work done so far, I must ask, where was your input when the project was first proposed? At least one of the critics has been a regular visitor of Intrepid. His comments to posts date back to before the proposal for this project was first posted. The explanation of the work in this project was quite detailed in the proposal. The format in which the observations would be presented was there, just like it was in this "first look". The fact that the analysis would look at home pages was explained, and the reasons were given for why. The title of the work has not changed. So why the criticism now, and not then? Is it because it is so much easier to be critical after the fact?

The results of the work so far are simply observations. That is how the work has been presented and stated, as observations. Conclusions drawn are largely the conclusions of the reader. And I'm perfectly fine with that, as long as it is recognized who is drawing the conclusions.

I hope that the accusation of sloppiness is not being equated to and confused with the absence of precision. This work is not about precision. There can only be the illusion of precision in work such as this, and I'm not about to pretend that this work is precise. Many of those who saw value in this work, saw it for what it was intended, a revelation of trends regarding the criteria that were identified, criteria that were identified up front some months ago.

I would restate once again, this was an analysis of church website home pages, not the churches themselves. Those who claim this is an analysis of congregations are drawing those conclusions themselves.

I do appreciate the criticism, because it is the criticism that I will respond to in future posts. One of the critics brought up a comparison of what might be found at other church bodies. That made me wonder, how would a similar analysis of website home pages from the LCMS or the ELCA compare to that of the WELS. In searching for website links for WELS congregations, on a few occasions, I accidently ended up at ELCA congregations that happened to have the same name as the WELS congregation in that same city. Some names such as "Grace" or "Trinity" are quite common across denominations. In those few cases, just by looking at the home page of the website, I thought to myself "This can't possibly be a WELS congregation". On one occasion, it was obvious, since the pastor pictured on the home page was a female. In the other cases, it was less obvious then that, but still sufficiently apparent to make me wonder if I had the right church. In those few cases, I was somewhat relieved to find out that they weren't WELS congregations. So yes, there is much to be learned from the home page of a church website, and the fact that I could differentiate between denominations in those cases, based on the content of home pages validates that point.


Rev. Paul A. Rydecki said...

Isaac, you're not representing the actual article very well at all. You say that "For this, we are branded with the red mark of shame and used as evidence of church growth inroads."

First, no one has said or implied that a red mark signifies "shame." If my website were evaluated (which it won't be, because we are not WELS), I would have at least one red mark. I am neither ashamed of that nor do I feel any need to rectify it, because I am happy with the information being confessed on an adjacent page to our homepage. Nor would the authors of this study criticize me or our church's website because we're not "all green." It's not "good vs. evil." It's an observation of trends in areas that are commonly indicative of one's confession. Defensiveness is uncalled for.

Secondly, you are twisting the facts and making things up when you claim that "you are being branded" as anything. Again, more unnecessary defensiveness. To be "branded," one must be identified. To say that someone is being "branded" anonymously is ridiculous. It is likely that your church's website was not even evaluated, much less identified or branded as anything. Calm down and apply reason rather than emotion.

Post a Comment

Comments will be accepted or rejected based on the sound Christian judgment of the moderators.

Since anonymous comments are not allowed on this blog, please sign your full name at the bottom of every comment, unless it already appears in your identity profile.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License