The sub-title above references an analogy made by one commenter who responded to the “first look” of the WELS website analysis project. It was a good analogy and it rings true. Walk through the aisles of your local book store and look at the book covers. What’s the purpose of the book cover? A book cover communicates information about the book. A well-designed book cover captures, in a simple yet powerful way, much of what the book is about. A book cover communicates the book’s identity.
And so it is with the home page of a website. A home page, intentionally or otherwise, communicates the identity of the church itself, and of the larger church body to which it belongs. It does this, not with voluminous content or detailed theology, but with a simple display of a limited amount of information.
The WELS is a self-proclaimed Confessional Lutheran church body. Does a church within said church body convey a Confessional Lutheran sense of identity on the home page of it’s website? If not, is another identity being substituted for a Confessional Lutheran identity?
The criteria chosen for this analysis were deliberately selected to reflect the Confessional Lutheran identity. Some critics found fault with the criteria, but no alternatives were offered by them. Other criteria were considered, but the ones chosen were considered major criteria, and in many ways, incorporated the lesser criteria. The team of lay people used these criteria to look for evidence of a Confessional Lutheran identity on the home pages of WELS church websites. The analysis was nothing more than finding out whether WELS churches are communicating on the home page of their website what they claim to be. The search for evidence was carefully broken down and organized into six components so that the existence or absence of evidence could be clearly determined and communicated.
Scoring the criteria was not precise, but any standard of measure is always limited by the uncertainty of the measurement. Numerical measurements tend to be most precise, but even those are limited by the accuracy of the gauge. And sometimes, an “illusion of precision” implies that a measurement is more precise than what it really is. The strongest reactions to the “first look” post were related to the scoring, and specifically the existence of “red”, and in some cases, heavy concentrations of “red”. This report will take a closer look at the prevalence of “red” and the significance of the criteria for which the red exists.
Overall, combining the observations of all six criteria for the ninety church home pages, the distribution of scoring looks like this:
For all observations of the analysis, 50% of the scoring was red, 30% was yellow and 20% was green. Focusing on the positive observations, there was clear evidence (the green) of Confessional Lutheran identity, as defined by the six criteria, in 20% of the observations. The results are reported to the nearest 10%, to avoid the illusion of precision.
There were some comments to the first post questioning the validity of expecting certain criteria to exist on the home page of a church website. The criteria mentioned most were the name “Lutheran”, the Lutheran Confessions and mention of the liturgy. The next chart removes the observations associated with these three criteria. What remains are observations associated with the Gospel, and the Means of Grace - the Word and the Sacraments.
The results don’t change very much. The percentage of reds actually increases a modest amount, at the expense of yellows. The green percentage is unchanged at 20%.
Limiting the analysis even further, to a single criteria, the Gospel, results in the following:
Again, the results don’t change much. In this case, red is back down, yellow is up, and green again remains unchanged at 20%.
Limiting the number of criteria from the analysis does not significantly change the results. Clear evidence (the green) of Confessional Lutheranism does not exist on the home pages of these ninety WELS congregations in the majority of cases. An absence of evidence (the red) of Confessional Lutheranism on the home pages of these ninety congregations was observed in roughly half the cases (a range of 40-60% for the three variations of the criteria displayed).
Sequentially removing these criteria is meaningful beyond demonstrating the analysis above. In many cases, removing these standards of Confessional Lutheranism are the very arguments that advocates of Church Growth would likely make. The influence of Church Growth Methodology can and does end up diminishing, and eventually destroying the identity of Confessional Lutheranism. Many church bodies already offer an identity that is free of Confessional Lutheranism. WELS claims to identify as Confessional Lutheran. Evidence of that claim should exist on the home pages of WELS church websites. If and when it doesn’t, it leads to a follow-up question of what information is being used in place of Confessional Lutheran standards? The next report will speak to this question.