Story Magazine - First Quarter, 2007

Notes From the Mission Field

by Richard Bliese, President and Associate Professor of Mission

Luther Seminary is in the midst of a very exciting strategic planning process. Strategic planning allows us to ask the really big questions about our future. Listening to congregational leaders about their vision for church leadership represents a major component in that planning process. The seminary's health is directly proportionate to our ability to listen to local churches. Dr. Rolf Jacobson, Associate Professor of Old Testament, has accepted the charge to chair the planning process. Dr. David Lose, Academic Dean, and I are working closely with Professor Jacobson in developing our vision for the future.

Strong Interest in Luther Seminary and Its Plan

In January we distributed a "critical factors survey" to more than 8,000 randomly selected Luther Seminary constituents, sending about two-thirds of the surveys via e-mail and one-third through the mail. We received 1,841 responses--a 21 percent response rate. Among those who opened the e-mail, 83 percent responded, which represents an excellent response rate! Based on average results for a survey such as this, these are very high response rates, demonstrating that our supporters are very interested in Luther Seminary and the work we do to prepare the future leaders of the church! (Statistics about what constitutes an average response rate for an online survey vary, but 10 percent is generally considered good.) We find the survey response rate alone extremely encouraging!

Two Clear Factors

In the survey, individuals were asked to rank 10 critical factors affecting congregations on a scale of one to 10, with one being most important and 10 being least important. Two factors clearly emerged as the most significant. These factors were consistent across groups--alumni/ae, donors, age of respondent, geographic location, gender, etc. The two key factors are:

  • The Relevance of the Christian Message--A shrinking percentage of Americans identify themselves as Christians. Church leaders and congregations are challenged to witness to the gospel and understand and participate in God's mission in a world that does not necessarily recognize our truth claims.

  • Growing Search for Spirituality, Community and Intimacy--More and more people identify themselves as "spiritual but not religious" while continuing to cry out for community and meaning. Many individuals find meaning as much through popular culture as in the gospel.

The above factors were ranked as either number one or two by 54 percent of respondents. In contrast, no other single factor was ranked one or two by more than 8 percent of respondents.We will pay particular attention to these two factors as we plan and prioritize Luther Seminary's work in the coming years.

What's Next?

In addition to this survey, we have also conducted listening sessions nationwide as well as focus groups with faculty, staff, students and board members. Based on what we learned, we have analyzed the results and effectiveness of our current strategic plan. During the next six months, Professor Jacobson and the cabinet will work closely together to complete a full-fledged strategic and operational plan.We hope that both the faculty and the boards will approve this plan in October 2007.We will work to respond thoughtfully, prayerfully and creatively to the opportunities God places before us in the world.

A Final Comment

A retired alum from the Pacific Northwest called Maria Thompson, our Director of Communication, to express his gratitude and respect for the survey. "This is the best thing I've seen come out of the seminary in years," he said. He also suggested that Luther promote the use of the critical factors for discussion in study groups, congregations, etc. Great idea! You can visit our Web site to download a copy of the factors for yourself or for a discussion group. www.luthersem.edu/strategic_plan/ten_critical_factors.asp. While his comment was flattering, it also reflected a message we have heard repeatedly. If Luther Seminary is striving to "educate leaders for Christian communities," we must listen to congregations, leaders and other constituents around the country. Please continue to keep us in your prayers as we build these results into our plan.