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This Month in Mission for October 2023

Happy October! Consider this the seasonally appropriate pumpkin-spice fall newsletter. I hope it’s helpful!

Idea worth considering: Growing congregations and dwindling congregations have the same problems.

Talk to any mission developer or DEM and they’ll be happy to tell you about the lack of money, the struggle it is to get members, and the challenge it is to find volunteers. I hear that all the time from established congregations, too. Money, members, volunteers – it’s the same thing. Yet if you go into one of our mission congregations (like Cristo Rey, which recently dedicated its new worship space!), you can feel the difference between the growing congregation and the failing-to-thrive congregation. They’ll each list same problems, but when you walk in, the feeling is completely different. Why?

In a mission congregation, people can tell you why they are there. I am grateful, at each of our mission congregations, to hear the stories from the people there of how God has changed their lives. How they’ve struggled, but found the community just when they needed it the most. The story mission congregations tell are about the wondrous things God has done, is doing, and will do for the people and community involved. In a mission congregation, the people are there on purpose and with purpose, and can tell you exactly what God has meant to them.

In most of our dwindling congregations, I don’t hear those stories. I hear budgets, I hear how good things used to be, I hear stories of the glory days. But I don’t hear people who are gathered because of what God has done in their lives, and unfortunately, I don’t even know if many congregations have people who can tell you what difference their participation in this community makes in their day-to-day living.

The stories we let ourselves fall into can have a profound impact on the outcomes. A congregation that is clear about its purpose and that can tell you exactly why God has called them where they are will thrive far more than a congregation whose primary story starts off with “well, we used to.” What story is your congregation telling and living with?

Resource worth a look: Other newsletters

I know the last thing we all need is more email. But, if you find what I’m sending useful and you’re looking for other churchy things that are helpful, here are a few that I get and actually read.

Pew Research Center – For anyone who doesn’t know it,the Pew Research Center does excellent and relevant research on trends, with alarge chunk of what they focus on related to religion. I get two newsletters from them; their daily religion headlines, as well as their weekly Religion and Public Life newsletter. If you are interested, you can subscribe here.

TryTank – This is a project of Virginia Theological Seminary and the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church, headedby Lorenzo Lebrija, author of the book How To Try that I’ve recommended previously. You can click through their archives here and if you’re interested, subscribe here.

Young adult ministries trend report – This one has current research on how young adults interact with the world and how the church can meet them where they are. This one has a free and paid version; you can read more and subscribe here.

ELCA newslettersAn archive of all the ELCA newsletters is available here, with apologies for the 1999 themed website. If you want to subscribe to any of them, click the name of the newsletter andthen find “subscribe” on the right side of the screen.

A shameless plug for the Synod’s ministry toolbox days.

I’m sure you’ve already seen the communications. If you’ve been putting off registering and need a link to go ahead and do that, here it is. I hope you’ll bring some congregation members with you.

Thanks for reading/

I’ll be at convocation; please feel free to find me and grab some time about anything I can be helpful with. If you want to talk about how you might help your congregation shift its story; if you’ve got a newsletter that you recommend that I missed, or if you want to commiserate about the Carolina Panthers’ losing start to the season, give me a call or respond to this email. I’d love to hear from you.

If you know someone who would like to receive this, please forward it to them. If someone has forwarded this to you and you’re interested in more please email and ask to be added to the This Month in Mission” newsletter list.

In Christ,


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Contact Information

ELCA South Carolina Synod
1003 Richland Street
Columbia, SC 29201
Telephone 803-765-0590
Fax 803-252-5558

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