WordAlone - Analysis
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by Pastor Steven E. King (Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Maple Lake, MN)

News: August 2005

photo of Pastor KingAs a member of the WordAlone Network, I have been impressed by the faithful work of my colleagues and friends in the movement who do the work of the Lord, remaining steadfast in the Bible and Confessions, and are truly making a difference in the Church. Having gone through the congregational statistics of my own Southwestern Minnesota Synod, I was even more impressed by the data that demonstrates the positive ministry of WordAlone members.

The following summarizes information from the public record, published in the SW MN Synod Handbook for 2004-2005. It is not only an affirmation of faithful ministry; it addresses some of the false assumptions that have been made about the movement:

Is WordAlone a "pastor-driven" movement?

Every conference in the SW MN Synod is home to either a WordAlone Network congregation, or an actively serving WordAlone pastor. However, only 40% of the WordAlone congregations in the synod are actually served by a pastor who is a member of WordAlone. Conversely, only 31% of the active pastors of the synod, who are WordAlone members, serve a WordAlone congregation.

This shows the significance of lay leadership in WordAlone with or without the sponsorship of a pastor. It also shows that WordAlone pastors do not appear to bully their congregations into joining the network, but have been able to maintain their convictions, while serving in a way that has been respectful of the congregation.

Are WordAlone congregations negligent in benevolence?

There are 45 congregations in the SW MN Synod that are either members of the WordAlone Network, or are served by a pastor who is a member of WordAlone. They represent 16.3% of the total congregations of the synod. Yet these same congregations gave 25.1% of the total benevolence dollars recorded for the synod in 2004-2005:

  • Congregational benevolence giving (percentage of total benevolence vs. total expenses): For all congregations of the synod = 14.0%; for congregations served by a WordAlone pastor = 17.2% (+3.2% above average).
  • Total benevolence dollars given per member (total benevolence divided by the number of baptized members): For all congregations of the synod = $31 per year; for congregations served by a WordAlone pastor = $39 per year (+$8 per member above average).
  • Contrary to what is often assumed, congregations that are blessed with the leadership of a WordAlone pastor actually give more in total benevolence than the average congregation both as a percentage of total giving, as well as on a per member basis.

Do WordAlone concerns distract from real mission?

On many occasions, I have heard WordAlone's concern about confessional issues described as a "distraction from real ministry." It is said, "If we only spent as much time on mission and evangelism as we do on questions of theology" how much more could the Church be doing? The statistics on activity and growth don't seem to bear this out:

  • Percentage of worship attendance vs. baptized membership (one of the most commonly used criteria for congregational activity): For all congregations of the synod = 27.7%; for WordAlone member-congregations = 28.8% (+1.1% over average); For WordAlone congregations served by a WordAlone pastor = 29.8% (+2.1% over average).
  • Growth or decline in overall baptized membership (total baptized membership in 2005 vs. 2004): For all congregations of the synod = -0.82% (a net loss of 1,136 people); for WordAlone congregations served by a WordAlone pastor = +0.82% (a net gain of 81 people).

Congregations connected with WordAlone tend to have better worship attendance; and those that are served by WordAlone pastors have done better in avoiding the overall decline affecting other congregations. Perhaps this goes to show that concern about good biblical theology is precisely what is needed to serve the mission of Christ.