Date of Award
Doctor of Ministry (DMin)
Rural communities and the church at large currently face the difficult challenge of rapidly dying rural churches. As a result of this decline the six thousand churches in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) face a number of issues including the loss of financial aid for mission work in United States and abroad. The closure of this one church also affects the middle judicatory. The district depends financially upon the churches in its district to support mission starts and financial concerns affect a congregation's ability to support a pastor. Overall, the closure of the local church demonstrates a lack of vibrancy in the community. Currently, American churches die at the rate of twelve to fifteen each day. Two major factors that contribute to this decline include a lower birthrate and a higher percentage of young people leaving rural areas altogether. The change of decline stirs conflict, which leads to members leaving their church. Often, dysfunctional members cause unhealthy conflict and other members leave because they cannot cope with it. Presently, 57 percent of the members of the LCMS are over fifty-one years of age. In North America, 80 percent of churches have fewer than 100 people in worship, the median age is fifty-five and increasing, the median age of leadership is sixty-two and increasing, and few men, youth, or people between twenty and thirty-five years old regularly attend. In a 2000 Hartford study, Gilson Waldkoenig observed: "These pieces add up, in my figuring, to a looming tidal wave of congregational closings for mainline Protestants. Many rural churches in the Minnesota North District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod have experienced decline, lack of active membership, and general apathy. The thesis of this project states that these problems may be addressed and engaged through two empowering actions: 1. Some of the "dying" churches must die, close their doors, and their members should join another Lutheran Church of the Missouri Synod. 2. The rest of the churches in the Minnesota North District need revitalization. The lay members of rural churches have no training to cope with demographic drain, unhealthy conflict, and changes in the community which can lead to the death of that church. The education of lay members will empower them to face the many changes in their rural church and rural community. Empowerment will help members cope with change positively and offer congregations resources to help discern a church's strengths and weaknesses. A key question for empowerment is: "What might God want for this particular congregation with its unique history and identity?" During this process of human reason and spiritual discernment, a congregation may discover new ways of living together, bringing new life into its communal soul. Through active empowerment a dying church can uncover its myths or its own inability to see God's bigger picture. This project serves as a resource for rural church leaders. The presentation notes will be the foundation piece at the Rural Church Institute (The Lazarus Center). The presentation notes will be for lay leaders who want to explore the dynamics of leadership, change, conflict, confession and for those who choose to close their rural congregation, help to close with dignity. The project will aid in making God pleasing decisions in matters that affect their particular rural ministry with its unique history and identity.
Hans, Richard John Manual, "The Lazarus Project: The Dying and Raising of the Rural Church in the Minnesota North District-Lutheran Church Missouri Synod" (2007). Doctor of Ministry. 509.