Saturday, July 29, 2006

A District asks what do the numbers mean?

One of our Districts, Mid-South, asks in its recent newsletter what declining numbers mean.

Synod’s 2005 statistical tables are not completed yet, but the 2004 tables give us some insights, also of our Mid-South District:
  1. 29 congregations (22 %) had pastoral vacancies, often times of plateaus or declines in membership.

  2. Baptized growth was a meager 13, while confirmed membership declined 81, in states of increased population growth.

  3. 72 less children were baptized, 31 less children were confirmed and 89 less adults were confirmed. Losses are across the board. (As a Synod, we had 25,189 fewer baptized and 14,620 fewer confirmed members than in 2003.)

  4. As a District, we had a net loss of 21 confirmed members (children and adults confirmed, reinstatements and professions of faith and members received from other congregations versus deaths, defections and releases to other congregations).

  5. We received 132 from other Lutheran church bodies, but released 187 to them.

  6. In our schools, Pre-K gained 261, Grades K-8 declined 1,247 and grades 9-12 gained over 1,117 pupils in comparison to 2003. Other avenues gave us more outreach, as full-day child care grew by 741 and Before/After School Care grew by 558.

  7. Our average congregational size is 258 baptized and 204 confirmed members, ranking 31st of 35 districts. Putting it another way, 45 of our congregations have 0-99 confirmed members, 49 have 100-299 confirmed members, 23 have 300-499 confirmed members, 8 have 500 or more confirmed members.

  8. We have 936 in weekday religion and confirmation classes, of whom 233 are not members. Unfortunately, the latter figures are not available for children Sunday school classes or adult Bible study groups.

  9. Our Mid-South District ranks 3rd for total per communicant contributions (work at home and at large), and 5th for work at large.

Discuss these figures with leaders of your council, boards, etc and ask: 1) What do these figures tell us? 2) How do our congregation’s figures fit into this picture? 3) What areas of outreach to non-members and ministry to members need our prayers and increased efforts? 4) How can we encourage one another and also other congregations? Each figure represents people important to our Lord and to us.

I would suspect the answers
will depend on the framework one brings to bear on answering the question:

If for example the onus is
put on people and their efforts to convert others to the Gospel then the
conclusions may flow in one vein.  But if we remember the Lord's parable of
the seed and the sower and remember that faith comes from hearing the message
(Romans 10:17) and remember our Confessions stress on conversion being the work
of the Holy Spirit through the means of grace as God creates faith in what He
did at the cross (Augsburg Confession Articles 4 and 5), then perhaps we might
draw a different conclusion as to what it all means. 

In the first -- that we are
being ineffective.  In the latter that either the ground is hardening or
perhaps we are not focusing enough on  the very seed for sowing fruit into
that ground.  If the church is loosing mass perhaps its not because of how
we are preparing our meals but maybe because of what we are feeding people. 
What do you think?


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