What’s Wrong with the Church–LCMS Church & School

I am going to begin this personal analysis of what is wrong with the church with an examination of my own church and denomination, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS). The LCMS is notorious for providing opportunities for Christian education in conjunction with the church. Unlike Catholic schools, there are no strict nuns running around and typically most don’t require student uniforms. In 2009, there were over 98,000 students enrolled in almost 900 LCMS K-8 schools and 90 high schools with an enrollment of over 16,600 students in the United States.

I attended an LCMS K-8 school in rural Minnesota almost 40 years ago. At that time, there wasn’t an LCMS high school in the area, so I transferred to the local public school. Coming from a class of 9 students into a class of 150, the transition was surprisingly quite easy. Academically, I was about a grade ahead of my fellow ninth-graders.

Now living in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, I had the opportunity to send my own child to an LCMS K-8 school, as it was only 5 minutes away from our house. The school is attached to our church, and the church supplements the cost of tuition as long as you are a member of the church. There is also an LCMS high school right across the street from the church and school, and most of the children who go to the K-8 school transition over to the high school. I opted, however, to send my child to the public school as there were more opportunities for her there. The thought of paying $8,000/year for tuition at an LCMS high school that had limited sports and a marginal, at best, music program, did not make sense to me.

For the most part, the K-8 school has excellent teachers that provide a good education. I will forever be grateful to what my daughter learned there over the course of 8 years. Having “religion” as a class every day helped her stay grounded in her faith once she went to public school. About to enter her junior year of high school, she still does not swear or curse, and constantly reminds her friends not to say, “Oh my God!” She, too, had an easy transition from a class of 12 to a class of almost 600, again a testament to the fact that she received a quality education prior to making the switch.

However, now as a parent with a child that has “left the fold” and is not attending the “connecting” LCMS high school, all of a sudden I realize that the church and the schools are kind of like one big clique. None of LCMS students attend Sunday School or youth group provided by the church, because the parents feel “they get enough religion in school.” As a result, for the few students who go to public school, the Sunday School and youth group are sparsely attended. For a high schooler, there is no motivation to go to youth group or Bible Study on Sunday when there are only two or three other students there. As such, my daughter’s religious education and continued spiritual enrichment has ceased.

I recently found out that the LCMS high school across the street from our church did contemporary worship services and held a student-led Bible study on Saturday nights. I asked if anyone could come, or was it just for the LCMS students. The response I received was, “Sure, anyone can come!” I asked why they didn’t advertise it in the church bulletin or reach out to some of the public school students, or why they didn’t reach out to youth in the community. I thought, what a wonderful opportunity to reach out to the unchurched youth in our community! I just got a blank stare as my answer.

Some additional observations–I rarely see students from our church that attend the LCMS high school in church on Sundays. Not sure if this is again part of the “they get enough religion in school” theory or not. I also see former LCMS high school students and teachers enjoying their kegs of beer after church-sponsored softball games, or having five or six rounds of drinks while they bowl on the church bowling league. I’m not being judgmental, but it’s probably not a wise thing to drive after having six drinks within a two-hour period. My ex and I bowled on the church league for about three years. My daughter would beg to come and watch us bowl, but I wouldn’t bring her, because I didn’t want her to see her 5th grade teacher half blitzed.

Finally, what is the purpose of Christian education? Is the purpose to make sure that children don’t fall into the evils of this world? Is its purpose to segregate them from the mainstream? Or, is its purpose to build up children to be followers and disciples of Christ? To further their education so that they can be witnesses and bring others to Christ? I would think and hope it would be the latter. Instead, I see the LCMS families that promote and continue with the Christian education staying within the four walls of the church and its schools. I do not see them venture out into the community, sponsoring programs or activities that might bring the unchurched walking through the doors.

This could all be the very reasons that LCMS churches and schools are diminishing in size and ultimately closing their doors. According to the LCMS, declines in membership have been reported for the past 40-some years–average weekly attendance is about 150. Next week, I’ll explore the reasons why the LCMS appears to be a dying denomination.



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