This is a summary of the Synod-Wide Review & Self-Assessment – a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) review of the practices, activities and mutual ministries with and among the conferences, congregations and congregants of the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The full SWOT review is available here, and a downloadable PDF of the SWOT review and the summary is available here. SWOT Analyses from the individual conferences of the SWCA Synod are available here.
The raw data from Conference gatherings and the summaries produced by members of the Bishop Election Committee remain primary documents for understanding the complexity of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that congregational leaders both rostered and lay see affecting the Southwest California Synod during the latter half of 2020. This summary seeks to encapsulate key observations expressed by the respondents to help guide the Synod and its new bishop in exercising the mission of Christ at this time.
- SWCA congregations are centers for service
Congregations in the Synod provide a wide variety of services both to their surrounding communities and beyond. In providing food pantries, pre-schools and elementary schools, homeless services, and meeting space for support groups and community gatherings, and supporting ministries such as LSS, LIRS, Lutheran Maritime Ministry and LWR, congregations are participating in the Realm of God and serving their neighbors.
- SWCA congregations and Synod staff are advocates for justice
Congregations, leaders and staff of the Synod are known for their commitment to seek justice for all residents of this territory. They have been at the forefront of full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in ministry; they have initiated and supported ministries in a variety of ethnic specific and racial communities, and they have raised their voice to speak truth to power.
- SWCA congregational members feel ill-equipped for outreach
Congregational leaders describe their members as feeling ill-equipped for or often resistant to outreach to the diverse populations in their neighborhoods, especially to younger generations and those whose native language is not English. The pandemic has exacerbated this sense of inadequacy. Leaders know that teachers and mentors are available, but a system for delivering this training has not been implemented.
- SWCA Synod staff needs to improve communication to its constituents and beyond
Congregants are confused about the purpose and function of the Synod, its bishop and staff, and want clearer communication about these from synod administration. Lutherans in Southern California are a “demographically thin” denomination, yet they are active in many local, national and global ministries which could be highlighted through more intentional communication both to congregants and the larger community.
- A time to build on strengths
Congregational leaders see the present as a time to build on the many strengths of congregations, the Synod and Churchwide. Embracing the commitments to full inclusion, racial and ethnic diversity, outreach to younger generations are all seen as ways to increase the vitality of congregations and the Synod. Active collaboration between synod staff and congregational leaders can create a new sense of a thriving Lutheran presence in Southern California.
- A time to explore realignments
Congregational leaders see the present as a time for realigning some Synodical staff and functions, both with adjacent Synods and with Conference leadership. Some conferences express an openness to assume more responsibilities for local mission endeavors and oversight, and to greater collaboration with ecumenical, interfaith and community partners. Synod staff support for these changes would be welcomed.
- The lingering restrictions and effects of the pandemic
COVID-19 has altered the way congregations relate to their members, to one another, and to the Synod staff. While congregations have been creative and resilient in adapting to digital forms of worship, fellowship, and education, those who are not digitally fluent and/or connected are more isolated. The elderly and economically distressed are especially threatened and affected. How will congregations look if these members are no longer connected to the congregation?
- Aging congregations threaten financial support for mission
Ministry to the elderly is an opportunity for ministry, but the majority of congregations in the SWCA Synod are comprised of more elderly than young people. While this population and disbanding congregations can provide legacy gifts for new and ongoing ministry, their absence lessens the resources needed to support current organizational structures.