Tuesday, February 25, 2014

‘Church Growth’ Inroads in the WELS: An Analysis of the Website Home Pages of Ninety WELS Congregations – Part 3

Five weeks ago, we published Part 1 of this analysis, and three weeks ago we published Part 2. Today, we publish the third and final Part of this series.

“Our history is the sum of all our stories.

What’s your story?

It is human nature to give the glory that belongs to God to someone or something else. God is glorified by His Word, the Gospel, and the Sacraments. In the absence of these things, the void that results is often filled with things that glorify men. The “What’s your story?” quote above was the central message of one WELS church website home page, with the font of the last three words dominating the screen, similar to the way it is displayed above.1 The secular world has no place for the glory of God, so it is natural for the world to focus on the glory of man. But Confessional Lutheran churches have a God-given message to bring to the lost:
    Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.Matthew 28:19-20
More examples of content found on WELS website home pages in the absence of the Gospel, the Word, and the Sacraments included invitations for root beer floats, cookouts and volleyball after the worship service, stock photos of flowers and scenery, photos of school sports teams, videos of remodeling projects, biographies of the pastor, and human centered statements such as, “a place to belong,” “we want to be your church home,” and “worship services offer life-related messages.”

A church website home page provides the opportunity to reach people who may or may not enter the doors of a particular (or any) church. God’s Word is the only means by which faith is created or strengthened:
    So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.Isaiah 55:11
The survey of 90 WELS congregations found evidence of Confessional Lutheran standards prominently displayed on the home pages of a number of church websites. Examples are provided below where WELS churches displayed Confessional Lutheran standards of the Gospel, the Sacraments, God’s Word, the name “Lutheran,” the Lutheran Confessions, and the liturgy.

The Gospel
When we were still sinners, Christ died for us!Romans 5:8

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.John 3:16

...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God ... the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” from Romans 3

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.1 John 4:9-11

...and more.

The Sacraments
“...God uses the Word of God and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion to strengthen the life and faith of our members...”

“We assemble around God’s Word and Sacraments for spiritual growth.”

Our Communion Practice It is taught in scripture that through communion we build our intimate relationship with our Lord and God. God also makes known to us that our relationship with one another as believers is strengthened and that we become as one in our confession...”

A photo of the altar with the elements of the Lord’s Supper displayed

God’s Word2
Show me your ways O Lord, teach me your paths...Psalm 25:4a

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross.Hebrews 12:2

Jesus said, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’Matthew 28:19-20

Our hope in Jesus is an anchor for the soul.Hebrews 6:19

...and more.

The Name Lutheran
The word “Lutheran” existed with the same font size as the rest of the church name, and as part of the church name.

“Our church identifies itself with the name of Martin Luther, the great Christian pastor and teacher of the sixteenth century who worked to reform the church according to the teachings of the Bible. Martin Luther pointed Christians to the Bible alone as God's inspired Word from which all the church's beliefs and practices are to be drawn.”

“The name "Lutheran" comes from the great reformer Martin Luther. In a period in history when the Church had lost sight of its Savior and the truth of his Word, Martin Luther boldly challenged these errors and preached Jesus Christ as Savior. We are proud to remember his work in bringing to light the truth of God’s Word by using his name to identify ourselves.”

The Lutheran Confessions
The Apostles Creed

“Confessing the Christian teachings of Martin Luther and the Lutheran Confessions. We stand on Grace alone, through Faith alone, revealed in Scripture alone.”

The words “The Lutheran Confessions” with Luther’s Seal of the three sola’s.

The Liturgy
“What is liturgical worship?” (Those words were positioned next to a small wooden cross, and hyperlinked to a more detailed explanation of liturgical worship on another page of the website.)

Consider this:
    It takes two to three lines to communicate a Gospel message.
    It takes a photo or a short paragraph to identify the Sacraments.
    It takes a line or two to include a verse from Scripture.
    The name Lutheran can be included with the rest of the church name.
    A paragraph, a few words, or a picture can identify the Lutheran Confessions.
    A liturgical service can be identified with four words.
“Church Growth” methodology uses “things of men” to attract people to a church with the hope that they will attend church and hear the Gospel. As Confessional Lutherans, WELS churches can offer something better. We have the “things of God”, specifically the Gospel, the Sacraments and the Word of God. And we have the Lutheran name and Confessions and the liturgy. These six criteria together are not “required”, but are simple, straightforward ways that a church can communicate its identity as a Confessional Lutheran church. As shown above, they can all be easily communicated on the home page of a website. Their absence on the home page leads to “things of men” and “Church Growth inroads” in the WELS. Using the “things of God” to communicate God and His message gives glory to whom it belongs – to God.

May God guide and bless you as you identify with the standards of a true Confessional Lutheran Church through the home page of your church website.


  1. With some additional research, it was learned that the “What’s your story?” theme can be found, exactly as it was portrayed on this WELS church website home page, down to the font style and graphics, at other Evangelical church home pages. One of these was the New Apostolic Church USA.
  2. In those cases where God’s Word was used as the Gospel message, it was credited in both cases.



Joe Krohn said...

Interesting that you use the phraseology: "But Confessional Lutheran churches have a God-given message to bring to the lost:" and then go on to quote the Great Commission. This is fine and good. I agree with what you say about CGM. But, I have to say (and I did not always see it this way and talked as you do here) that the church is not here to seek the lost, but to call all God's elect out of the world with the Gospel. His kingdom can not be grown because God already knows who they are; which is an exact number. I think this affects many churches whether they realize it or not. That and the fact that "making disciples" is the end result of the mission and not the mission itself.

Joel Dusek said...

Will the results and recommendations of this study be shared with Mr. Spriggs and the WELS Tech folks, and perhaps whatever comparable organization in LCMS? Certainly they can look at the study themselves, but it may be a good idea to bring attention to it.

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