Initiative aims to set fires under LCMS faithful
Lutheran Church Missouri Synod wants to tuch millions with Gospel message.
A spark of an idea is being kindled in congregations of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS). Because the ambitious evangelism effort, called Ablaze!, is conceived as a grassroots movement rather than a hierarchy-driven idea, it doesn’t flair up on a schedule.
The goal of the program is to reach 100 million people with the Gospel, a contact called a “critical event” in the program. Fifty million of those critical events would take place in the U.S. and 50 million outside the U.S. A long-range effort, Ablaze! is to culminate in 2017, the 500th anniversary year of the Lutheran Reformation.
The Rev. Steve Wipperman, who served as Assis-tant to the President—Mission for the Minnesota South District of the LCMS through the end of July, said the Minnesota South District’s goal under Ablaze! is 45 new congregations (or equivalent growth of existing congregations).
Because Minnesota South is one of the strongest of LCMS’s more than 30 districts, it has voluntarily increased its goal to 50 new congregations, Wipperman indicated.
As potential sites for new congregations are selected, missionaries will be supported by a core group interested in forming a new local congregation in partnership with the District. Wipperman likened the limited subsidy for new congregations to formation of new congregations at the turn of the century or in biblical times. Estimated District cost in subsidizing a new congregation under the new format is $100,000 compared with $1 million under the format formerly used.
All emphasis in Ablaze! is on one-to-one “critical events” in which LCMS members help people to see Jesus. The local congregation is likened to a “mission outpost,” with the interrelated District providing some support.
In a presentation at an Ablaze! International Summit event in St. Louis last year, the Rev. Dr. Robert Scudieri, Associate Executive Director of National Missions for LCMS, saw these benefits in new church development:
* New churches are the most effective way of reaching the unchurched.
* New churches are the most effective way of reaching new ethnic groups.
* Important innovations come from new church development.
* Existing churches in-volved in new church “planting” benefit spiritually.
* Because churches have life cycles, 20% of a healthy denomination’s congregations should be under 25 years old.
Successful new churches organized under Ablaze! would become role models for other new congregations, Wipper-man observed.
Since the movement is grassroots in nature, it is up to local congregations to become partners in it. Interest is beginning to grow.
The Rev. Dean Nadasdy, Senior Pastor of Woodbury Lutheran Church and third vice president of the nation’s second largest Lutheran denomination, said, “Many of us in the LCMS are thrilled to see God moving us from institutional maintenance and conflict to becoming a truly missional church with a heart for connecting people to Christ.
“Ablaze! is in the vanguard of this crucial change. I see three clear blessings of Ablaze! already:
“First, grassroots churches and districts will make intentional decisions for delivering the Good News of Jesus to their communities.
“Second, the goal of reaching 100 million souls with the gospel by 2017 is not only achievable, it’s theologically sound. Moved by the Gospel, we make the connection, we witness, and God’s grace and Spirit convert or revitalize.
“And third, churches will begin monitoring not only worship attendance and membership gains and losses but contacts outside their walls, critical contacts be-tween one Christian witness and another person.
“This third blessing is what we at Woodbury Lutheran hope to incorporate into our outreach ministries — giving people a chance to log each of their evangelism/witness contacts and to tell their stories.”
Is there a financial aspect to Ablaze!? Pastor Nadasdy said, “‘Fan Into Flame’ is a separate fund-raising effort in support of outreach and has a special office in St. Louis. Proceeds of those activities are split with the generating LCMS district and the synod which coordinates national and international outreach efforts.
“‘The sleeping giant,’ as the LCMS has been called, is waking to what many of us pray is a new missional era in its history. As God blesses Ablaze! we may begin looking more and more like the Body of Christ, here on earth for others more than for ourselves.”
Some congregations are approaching Ablaze! in a more guarded fashion. The Rev. Jim Bender, pastor of St. Stephanus Lutheran Church near Concordia University in St. Paul, said his congregation is doing its own outreach activity and the feeling is that Ablaze! could just “add a layer of record keeping we don’t feel we need at this point.”
Those interested in the Ablaze! movement can obtain additional information from the Minnesota South District of LCMS at 952-435-2550 or support materials at this web site: www.lcmsworldmis sion.org.