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Tuesday, May 12, 2009 

Ablaze! Counter Hits 10 Million (Or If You Live By The Numbers…)

From the inbox; last Thursday the Reporter, the official newspaper of the LCMS, sent out emails and reported on its website:

Ablaze! faith-sharing counter exceeds 10 million

By Paula Schlueter Ross

The Web-based "counter" that tracks the number of times LCMS Lutherans have shared their faith with others as part of the Ablaze! movement hit 10,006,997, as of April 29. That figure includes some 310,000 additions from the Synod's Southeastern District, which has been recording Gospel-sharing events for three years and last month added them to the Ablaze! Web site.

Sally Hiller, who has been overseeing the districtwide Ablaze! emphasis, says "people are becoming more comfortable in seeing and seizing the opportunities to share their faith" and now the initiative is "beginning to gain momentum" in the district.

"I rejoice and give thanks to God because each day I am humbled to read of the faith-sharing experiences of people throughout the district," Hiller said.
She recalled one person who told her, "Oh, I probably speak to someone about Jesus 25 to 30 times a day. How do you not?"

Still, the district is not easing up on its Ablaze! emphasis. At its May 1-3 convention in Norfolk, Va., delegates unanimously adopted a resolution to make faith-sharing a districtwide priority for the next triennium. The Southeastern District wants to have reached 750,000 people with the Gospel by its next convention in 2012 -- that's 30 percent of its goal to reach 2.5 million by 2017.

With a little more than eight years left until Ablaze! culminates on Oct. 31, 2017, the movement is one-tenth of the way toward its goal of reaching 100 million people worldwide with the Gospel.

It would be truly delightful if those who lived by the numbers would hold themselves accountable by the very numbers and statistics that they demand of us. Allow me to make my case…

In 2003 the President of the LCMS Gerald Kieschnick was giving speeches as all presidents do at district conventions. In each of those speeches the President Kieschnick stated:

From 1971 to 2001, our Synod’s baptized membership has decreased from 2.89 million people to 2.54 million and confirmed membership has decreased from 2.01 million to 1.92 million.

Sadly, by 2009, the membership of the LCMS has dropped further to 2.4 million baptized members. I looked for how many of those 2.4 million members were actually catechized and confirmed but couldn’t find the current numbers.

How can this be? I thought the Ablaze! movement was being hailed as a success? If we have ten million “critical events” then why has the headcount dropped half a million people since Ablaze! was implemented? Does losing at least five hundred thousand people sound like the non-program is working to you?

So, let’s not try to all be negative Nancys and such and try to put a positive spin on the situation. Maybe those that we are counting as being reached with chance to respond (this is the definition of a “critical event”) are going to other protestant denominations. With the recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life polling it has been learned that denominational loyalty can no longer be counted on. Maybe those we are counting are actually in other denominations based on our evangelism.

The problem with thinking that we, out of the goodness of our hearts, are just helping out every other denomination but our own is that the number of Americans who call themselves Christian, as a percentage, hasn’t changed in years and in fact there are very real signs of a decline in actual numbers. If we look at Americanized Christianity and can’t see even a small increase with ten million “critical events”, shouldn’t someone ask what the heck are these people doing with all these chances for to respond? Are they going anywhere at all? They certainly don’t seem to be going to church that’s for sure.

And continuing to put the best spin on the situation, I’m also going to make the assumption that they ain’t going to visit the Mormons. The Mormon numbers are increasing somewhat but I seriously doubt that the average unchurched seeker is interested in looking for Jesus on Kobol.

So again; where are these ten million “critical events” folks? Who knows and that’s my point. The Ablaze! movement never had as its goal pointing to the one thing that Scripture and our Confessions say can be counted; the Means of Grace, that is to say the Word preached purely and the Sacraments properly administered. Since we don’t point to the Means of Grace can we really expect a “return” on our evangelism investment?

It’s more than a little frustrating to read how a high cost evangelism movement is praised with no measurable movement concerning results within our beloved LCMS (or anywhere else for that matter). It would be nice if those who lived by numbers and spreadsheets would call a thing what it is and admit that the numbers and spreadsheets being hailed as a success only tell a portion of a sad story.

If you live by the numbers, shouldn’t you be held accountable to them as well?

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Those people down in the Southeastern District must be the "World-Class Christians" that Pastor Rick Warren talks about in his book The Purpose-Driven Life. Boy do they know how to rack up the critical events. God bless 'em.

Hate to bring Scripture into this but Matthew 23:1-5 comes to mind; Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men.

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