Pumping up those ELCA churches

The Rev. Jack Horner has got a tough job now. And he knows it.

He is the new Assistant to the Bishop for Evangelical Mission in the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

His job is to travel around the vast synod — we’re talking about 200 churches from NYC up to Sullivan and Ulster — and help congregations develop mission strategies and strengthen their congregational outreach.

In other words, stand up straight and get their spiritual act together.

I talked to Horner recently at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Mount Kisco, where he was the pastor for a decade. Until two weeks ago.

Only days after his final service as pastor, he returned in his new role. He jokingly introduced himself to his “old” congregants and handed out his new business cards.

Horner, a tall minister with a red goatee and a lot of energy, has to pump up congregations with stagnant or shrinking memberships in a synod that has been — ministers say — somewhat stagnant.

And shrinking.

But Horner told me that his new job is not about counting members.

“I’s not just about numbers,” he said. “It’s about thinking as missional churches and missional people, understanding themselves as people sent by God to do his work in the world. You can have a vibrant church with 75 people on Sunday, if there is great outreach and mission, loving God and love each other.”

He does believe, he told me, that great things can happen.

“When I read the Book of Acts, a lot of amazing things occur,” he said, laughing.

Horner is still living in Mount Kisco and his wife, Linda, remains outreach coordinator at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, a vibrant place where a sign facing those leaving the church reads: “You are now entering the Mission Field.”

“All churches have to be the Lutheran church of the resurrection,” Horner said. “I believe that to my core.”