You know the litany of complaints. Lutherans are not welcoming to visitors. Lutherans do not know how to share their faith. Lutherans are not friendly to non-whites. Lutherans are a closed group. Lutherans need to learn from others how to be open and inviting to non-Lutherans. Etc... I have grown up with the assumption that we Lutherans were too wrapped up in doctrine and too rigid in practice to be open to new people. I have heard too many anecdotal stories about how new people were stared at, ignored, etc... and were never coming back. Well, it might be true of some Lutherans but it is surely not true of the LCMS. And this is not anecdotal! It is the surprising result of a survey.
Christianity Today reported on a nationwide field experiment to see how churches respond to emails
from potential newcomers. More than 3,000 congregations received an
email ostensibly from someone moving to their community and looking for a
new church. We measured whether the churches replied to this email and,
if so, what they said. But there was a catch: We varied the names
attached to the emails ... Surprise, surprise! The LCMS was third from the top of best responders and the ELCA (which prides itself on being diverse and open) was third from the bottom.
Well, I am weary of all those who beat up on the mostly lily white LCMS as being stodgy, aloof, arrogant, and unfriendly. It turns out we are not. In fact, another study suggested that it actually took less members of the LCMS to bring a new person into the congregation than it did for the Southern Baptists (hardly known as slothful in their evangelistic outreach!).
We love to put ourselves down or wallow in our insecurity but the truth is we are not as bad as we think we are in welcoming the stranger and being quick to acknowledge and respond to those new to our Sunday morning assembly. Lutherans, in particular Missouri Synod Lutherans, are declining in numbers not because we are unfriendly or aloof but because we are not having babies. It may be unfashionable to say it but either our people are past child-bearing years (yes, we are on average a bit older than some other churches) OR our fertile women are either having no or fewer children than before. That is the primary driver of the decline of internal growth (as opposed to welcoming the stranger). We are not alone in this but it is a very significant factor in our decline (slower, though it is, than many others, including the ELCA).
Though we remain rather Caucasian in complexion, it is not because we are unfriendly to Black, Asian, and Hispanics. In fact, we fared quite well in this one study. That said, there is no rest for us. We need to remain ever ready to respond positively to those who may be new to us and in search of a church home. But the glory days of our church body clearly were the days when we were growing LCMS Lutherans the old fashioned way -- from marriage to children to baptism to catechism! I am not saying that our problems would be solved if our folks were more fertile (my own parish is, perhaps, an anomaly to this statistic) but that we shouldn't go beating ourselves up unnecessarily. We should lament our legitimate failings but being serious about doctrine does not mean that we are not also serious about welcoming new folks and speaking the Gospel to them!