Beyond Boats and Babies

We recently concluded our 2017 LCMC Texas District Annual Gathering where we explored the question, “What does it mean multiply?” About 40 pastors and church leaders attended the Pre-Gathering Leadership Seminar to explore the biblical and theological foundations of multiplication. But before we dug in, we went around the room, introduced ourselves, and each answered the question, “What does ‘multiply’ mean to me?” The responses were wonderful! We began to see the rich diversity of thought and ideas regarding multiplication. And we even had a good chuckle or two. My favorite answer came from one of our pastors who simply answered “rabbits!”
To multiply means to bring a great increase, to make many, to reproduce, etc. And after we explored these various definitions, we asked this question: “What has multiplication looked like historically for Lutherans in America?” The two answers I was prepared for were stated from the group almost immediately: boats and babies.
For the most part in our American history, Lutheran churches grew and established more churches through an influx of immigration and children born to Lutheran parents. But eventually the boats stopped bringing Lutheran immigrants and birthrates in Lutheran families began to dwindle. So Lutheran church bodies focused their attention on Lutheran migration within our country, establishing new churches in places of population growth… the places where Lutherans were moving to. As you likely already know, this was the beginning of an extended period of decline for Lutherans in America that has persisted for generations.
The truth we are confronted with today is that God is calling the church to a deeper and more faithful understanding of and approach to multiplication. Multiplication isn’t about boats and babies. It isn’t about starting churches where Lutheran people move to. It isn’t about starting churches for conservative Lutherans who are stuck in liberal churches. And it certainly isn’t just about growing the spiritual depth of our church members. Instead, multiplication is about actual obedience to Christ’s command to go and make disciples of those who do not believe.
In Acts we read about thousands of people coming to faith in Jesus before the church even left Jerusalem. We read that daily people were coming to faith in Jesus and the church grew and grew. This is our hope for the church once again in America: that the Lord add daily to our numbers those who were being saved! That’s multiplication far beyond boats and babies! It starts with individuals and congregations pursuing obedience to Christ’s command instead of settling for a lesser vision for the church. So let’s be a first century church for the 21st century!