Denominational conventions at an end?

Annual denominational gatherings may continue, but many of the trappings of annual conventions seem to have outlived their purposes, according to the Forum Letter (September), an independent Lutheran newsletter. Peter Speckhard writes about the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s (LCMS) recent convention in Milwaukee but suggests that his portrayal of the end of an era may apply to denominational conventions in general. Denominational conventions were vital for meeting up with key people, gatherings that “accomplished more than months of back-and-forth in the mail could accomplish,” Speckhard writes. “A visit to a booth of this or that parachurch ministry or publisher was the best way to get current information, see new products, and make contacts. The thousands of private, pre-convention conversations that took place all over the country about the convention’s agenda congealed into clear positions and directions for the elections and floor votes…The whole thing mattered theologically, organizationally, socially, and personally.” Today, the LCMS convention is an “attempted throwback to a time when conventions mattered, but it doesn’t quite pull it off. It offers all the fun of airports and Robert’s Rules of Order without any of the suspense of wondering how the votes will turn out.”

Source: For Such A Time As This (LCMS).

According to Speckhard, “now the election of the synod president is done online and announced long before the convention. Everything that may be in a booth is already on a website. Every book for sale is probably already on Amazon, and it is probably cheaper there. Everyone’s personal news was already shared online somewhere. And all the discussion of the issues on the docket had been happening in real time online for months, arriving at the convention pre-congealed. Nobody needs to listen to the person at the microphone to know the arguments pro and con, and none of the votes on anything except minor administrative posts are close.” The large convention worship services, as well as the presentations and greetings, can still tap into powerful emotions, as did the moving appearance of a bishop from Ukraine at the LCMS event. But Speckhard writes that “just as political conventions used to choose candidates but now are carefully orchestrated pep rallies for the already chosen candidates, so church conventions, at least in the LCMS (and, I suspect, in many denominations), rarely risk anything going off script. This lends a homogenized blandness to the proceedings, like the taste and texture of individually wrapped processed cheese.” Speckhard concludes that while the LCMS “will never be without drama…if the next convention is anything like this last one, it won’t be where the drama plays out. Twenty-first century drama, it seems, no longer fits in the oversized box of the convention hall.”

(Forum Letter,