Our “mission field” is right outside our front door. Every member of the synod is a missionary. Our challenge is to reclaim the Christian practice of sharing our faith in both word and deed. We can no longer expect the unchurched to come to us through the front doors of our sanctuaries, we must go to them. We must take the church public and to reach the spiritually needs of our communities. This is our single greatest opportunity to share the good news of Jesus.
Northwestern Minnesota for generations has been ‘Lutherland’. Most small towns have several Lutheran congregations with a strong sense of intergenerational community and caring. The identity of many of our rural churches is rooted in Lutheran Northern European immigrant story. Among the elders their faith goes deep into their bones. Among younger generations there is a vibrant faith in action.
Topographically we are a synod that ranges from the lakes of Minnesota to the rich soils of the Red River Valley, to the natural habitat of the north woods. The geographic boundaries of the synod extend from the Canadian Border to the North, the North Dakota border to the West, South just beyond Alexandria, MN and East past Bemidji, MN. Moorhead (pop. 38,065) in Clay County, Fergus Falls (pop. 13,500) in Otter Tail County, Bemidji (pop. 13,431) in Beltrami County, and Alexandria (pop. 11,070) in Douglas County are the four largest communities in our synod. The synod encompasses a large part of Minnesota lakes recreational area. Otter Tail County alone has over 1000 lakes.
The Synod includes the following 21 counties in the northwest corner of the state:
- Lake of the Woods
- Otter Tail
- Red Lake
Three Indian reservations, Red Lake, White Earth, and a small portion of Leech Lake are also located within the synod. Both the White Earth and Red Lake Indian Reservations are the first nations of our synod who are renewing their identity and reclaiming their story.
As a people we are diverse. The industrial, agricultural and recreational areas attract many people of different cultural backgrounds. The prevalence of educational and medical institutions affects the varying educational levels. NWMN is primarily a rural and small town synod. Many church members are farmers or in farm related business. The population of Northwestern Minnesota is 400,986 and showing slight growth. The largest ethnic group within the borders of the synod is Native American (4%) followed by Hispanic or Latino (2%). Ethnic diversity of the members of NWMN synod as of 2007 is less than one percent. Approximately .8% of synod members are persons of color or speak another language other than English. There are a few pockets of greater diversity within our synod. Moorhead, Bemidji, Oslo, Stephen, and Pelican Rapids have a significant Latino and Native American population.
We have communities that are prospering and growing with a strong economic infrastructure where the Spirit is gathering people into large and prospering congregations. Unfortunately we also have communities declining in population, affecting schools, businesses, and churches. The NWMN synod contains some of the poorest communities and counties in the state of MN. Mahnomen, Beltrami, Lake of the Woods, Wadena, and Clearwater Counties are among the poorest in the state. Mahnomen had the state’s highest percentage of people living below the poverty level — 20.5 percent. In 2008 in the state of Minnesota, 13.2% of the population lives below the poverty line.