Our synod has been involved in world missions for well over a century. From the start, our efforts in world missions focused almost entirely on sending WELS missionaries to foreign countries to preach the gospel to those who had not heard it. More recently, we have been focusing on efforts to train national pastors to serve the people in their own countries.
Another shift has happened in our mission efforts. In the last 20 years, immigration has brought millions of people to the United States from around the world. As a result, we have growing world mission fields right here in our own country.
Ripe mission fields here in the United States can also be found among those whom we often refer to as the “unchurched,” those who have no real personal connection to a Christian congregation. The growth in our home mission congregations is evidence that God is also blessing our efforts to reach those people.
But another mission field has developed in just the last generation or two—and now there is data to support it. Dr. George Barna, a researcher who studies cultural and religious trends in America, states, “The United States has become one of the largest and most important mission fields in the world.” He notes that a new generation is growing up without Christ.
Barna cites evidence for his conclusion. In 1991, 86 percent of Americans held a biblical view of God; in 2021, only 46 percent do. In 1991, 70 percent of Americans believed that the Bible is the Word of God. Today, that percentage has dropped to 41 percent. Amazingly, 51 percent of millennials and 47 percent of young parents believe in reincarnation. In the past 30 years there has been a consistent decline in both Christianity and confidence in religion. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States.
Such statistics and trends can be disturbing. They can also represent an opportunity for a confessional Lutheran church like ours. Never before in our synod’s history have we been surrounded by a culture in which the majority of our neighbors and fellow citizens—especially younger adults—either don’t know Jesus Christ as their Savior or have a view of Jesus that is woefully distorted. That means that the mission field truly does begin the moment we leave the church parking lot. The fields are nearby, and they are indeed ripe for harvest.
How do we best reach these young people who desperately need to hear the gospel? We begin by rededicating ourselves as parents, grandparents, churches, and schools to providing a solid foundation of faith for our children and young adults. They will be the ones whose faith will be challenged as they head into a secular and hostile world. But they also will be the ones who will be in close contact with the members of their own generation—people with whom they will study, work, and develop relationships. If we ground these young adults firmly in the faith and equip them to share that faith, they will be in the best position to proclaim the gospel boldly to their own generation.
Now is not the time to fret and worry about our culture. That accomplishes nothing. Now is the time first to trust in God’s promises and then to take the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, to that culture, confident that the gates of hell cannot withstand God’s church and that the Word of God will not return empty.
Author: Mark Schroeder
Volume 108, Number 9
Issue: September 2021