Archived Sections, Lutherans in the Twin Cities

What makes a congregation thrive?

Four Minneapolis congregations are on a growth spurt. Their stories are diverse.

While they differ in many respects, four ELCA Minne-apolis Area Synod faith communities identified as “high performance congregations” al-so share some deep-felt convictions. Each has a “burning passion to baptize, teach, make disciples and share the love of Jesus Christ,” says David Raymond, an independent consultant
Raymond studied the four congregations based on 1998-2002 growth in four areas:
* Worship attendance;
* Membership;
* New members of color;
* Success in reaching un-churched people (those who join by adult baptism or affirmation of faith).
Those criteria eliminated some congregations that were riding the wave of high population growth in their areas. As a gauge of efficiency, congregations were ranked based on a “cost-per-weekly-worshiper” (the congregation’s total operating budget, divided by average attendance, divided by 52 weeks).
Congregations identified as “high performance” were:
* Luther Memorial Lu-theran Church, Dowling at Sheridan, in north Minneapolis;
* St. Stephen Lutheran Church, 8400 France Ave. S., Bloomington;
* Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 4100 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis; and
* Brooklyn Park Luther-an Church, Highway 252 at 81st Ave. N., Brooklyn Park.
Findings of the study were originally presented at a Minneapolis Area Synod workshop and updated for the St. Paul-Minneapolis Joint Synod Assembly in 2004.
Here are some standout features of these congregations:
* Thirty-eight to 49% of their new members had been unchurched.
* All four have good visibility on busy streets.
* Three have new additions featuring “gathering spaces.”
* They all have strong pastoral leadership, coupled with open governance and a structure that encourages and supports leaders and new ideas.
* Worship attendance ranges from 31-51% of membership (the Minneapolis Area Synod average is 28%).
* All four place a high priority on reaching children and youth, but two have strong Sunday schools, and two have no traditional Sunday school.
* The four churches offer nine distinct music/worship styles though none used a “blended” style.
* Three of the four churches faced serious/ catastrophic difficulties in the past decade.
* All four congregations have changed and continue to change.
Luther Memorial is the smallest congregation. Its neighborhood population over five years grew by 4.5%. It has 251 members, up from 210 in 1998. Forty-seven percent of its new members have come from “outside the fold.” Worship attendance averages 80 compared with 61 in 1998. Twenty-four percent of the members are people of color, up from 4% in 1999; 20% are Hmong.
A single Sunday service at 9:30 a.m. uses the traditional “green book” (Lu-theran Book of Worship) setting; Gospel reading and prayers are in English and Hmong. There is no Sunday school; 25 kids participate in a Saturday “Growing Tree.” Pastor Carol Stumme is assisted by five “very part time” staff. Annual operating budget is $132,500. Cost per worshiper per week is $32.70.
St. Stephen has a membership of 2,262, up from 1,750 in 1998. Average attendance is 700, 31% of the membership. Its area population dropped by 2.3% in five years. Thirty-eight percent of its new members were from “outside the fold.”
The congregation has four worship services, in-cluding a Saturday contemporary service. Traditional services are offered at 8:30 and 9:45 a.m. Sundays, with an alternative worship at 11. There are 260 children in Sunday school.
St. Stephen Church’s senior pastor is Keith Magnuson. There is another full-time pastor and one part-timer plus four full-time and 12 part-time staff. With a budget of $780,500, St. Stephen is considered “very efficient,” with a cost per worshiper per week of $21.75.
Bethlehem Lutheran is the largest of the four, with 3,048 members, up from 2,530 in 1998. Worship attendance is 1,231, or 40% of membership. Neighborhood population is down 1.3% in five years. The congregation holds four traditional worship services at 8, 9, 10:20 and 11:30 a.m. Sundays, plus its Spirit Garage service. There are 659 enrolled in two strong Sunday schools.
The senior pastor at Bethlehem is Christopher Nelson, one of three full-time and two part-time clergy leaders. There are 13 full-time and 11 part-time staff. Annual operating budget is $1,527,200, for a cost per worshiper per week of $24.31.
Brooklyn Park Lutheran is a 1,262 member congregation, up from 859 in 1998. Attendance is 643 or 51% of the membership in an area where population is up 1.3% in five years. Forty-nine percent of its new members were previously un-churched or “de-churched.” People of color constitute 7.5% of the membership, up from 2% in 1999.
Worship opportunities include a praise service during the week; at 8 a.m. Sunday there’s a traditional service, with praise services at 9:30 and 11 a.m. There is no Sunday school, but 280 participate in Kids and Teen Church programs. The senior pastor is Todd Wallace, one of three staff clergy. There are five full-time and three part-time staff members. Annual operating budget is $873,750 for a cost of $28 per worshiper per week.
All four senior pastors were asked about the importance of evangelism in their congregations. Keith Magnuson of St. Stephen said, “This is a community of people who believe that we have been gathered together to be a force for good in the world. That desire to make a difference in the lives of others … has been a significant part of St. Stephen’s growth over the last several years.”
Brooklyn Park Lutheran’s Todd Wallace observed, “For us, seeing people come to Christ or come back to the church is a key component of our mission. It’s what excites us.”
Christopher Nel-son of Bethlehem said, “We have focused on being a balanced congregation. Pur-pose-driven churches tend to grow.”
Luther Memorial Lutheran’s Carol Stumme said, “We don’t just rent space to the Hmong; now we’re into the next generation of Hmong who are English-speaking but also appreciate the incorporation of Hmong language into the service.”
* * *
For more information about the study, David Raymond may be reached at 612/823-0526 or via E-mail at Raymond