Sunday, September 03, 2006

LCMS membership continues to drop

Despite the Kieschnick administration's stress on "Ablaze" the membership of the LCMS continues to drop as does the dollars being contributed toward church work. It is interesting that when membership declines were observed during the Barry administration, it was rated to the fact the LCMS was too concerned with correct doctrine and practice, was isolationist, and not missional focused. Now the same trends are described as typical of mainline denominations.

The LCMS reports the following:

September 3, 2006 .................... LCMSNews -- No. 55

Latest statistics show drop in LCMS membership

If there's a bright spot in the Synod's statistical report for 2005, it's that "back-door" losses -- the number of adults removed from congregational rosters (not counting deaths and transfers) -- have declined by 2,453 members. That figure dropped from 44,219 in 2004 to 41,766 in 2005.

But LCMS membership and contributions from members to congregations also declined, as did the number of baptisms, confirmations, and Christian education programs/students, according to 2005 congregational statistics reports.

Baptized membership fell from 2,463,747 in 2004 to 2,440,864 in 2005, a drop of nearly 23,000 members. And confirmed membership in 2005 was 1,870,659, a decrease of 9,554.

LCMS Senior Research Analyst Dr. John O'Hara attributes the loss of members to a "continuing trend" that is affecting most mainline Christian denominations.

In the 1950s and '60s, churches saw a "natural increase" because families were larger, O'Hara noted. Today's families are much smaller, and societal norms regarding religious participation have changed, he said.

"The expectation that you went to church [every Sunday] isn't as prevalent as in the '50s," said O'Hara. "You have to work harder to get the people in the front door."

The downward trend in membership and Sunday-school students -- in spite of a rising U.S. population -- also is a sign that "we're not reaching as many people as we could reach," he said.

Membership figures for 2005 were based on reports from 81 percent of the Synod's 6,144 congregations. Nineteen percent did not provide information on membership, so figures from their previous reports were used to compile the data for 2005.

Also down are contributions from members to congregations, which fell $10,945,272 -- from $1,307,764,010 in 2004 to $1,296,818,738. Those figures do not include contributions members give directly to LCMS entities.

The shortfall of nearly $11 million in 2005 is due primarily to the "under-reporting of contributions," says O'Hara, who estimates that some 29 percent of congregations did not provide that information.

LCMS Secretary Dr. Raymond Hartwig, who supervises the Synod's Office of Rosters and Statistics, which compiles the information, says it's "less than helpful" when congregations choose not to report -- a phenomenon that occurs every year. And, he says, "it's a little puzzling, since we've simplified the forms to the extent that it would only take a few minutes to complete them and return them."

Every three years, the Synod's national office asks district staffs and circuit counselors to contact their own congregations in an effort to get the forms returned because "delegate representation at the coming convention depends on the statistics we receive," Hartwig said. "Our [return] goal is 100 percent, and one of these years we're going to get there."

According to the 2005 report, of the nearly $1.3 billion congregations received in contributions, they gave $120.2 million for work beyond their own ministries. This "work at large" total includes money forwarded to the 35 LCMS districts, which then send a portion to the national and international work of the Synod. Congregations sent $3.2 million less for "work at large" than in 2004.

In 2005, the Synod had 6,144 congregations served by 5,343 pastors. The number of congregations declined by seven, while the number of active pastors increased by 20. Average attendance at weekly worship services was 164.2 in 2005, compared with 173.6 the previous year.

The number of baptisms, confirmations, and Christian education programs/students all fell between 2004 and 2005, according to congregations. But the number of adults gained by "profession of faith" grew -- from 12,878 to 13,114, an increase of 236.

Among the official acts reported:

  • 31,701 children were baptized (down 1,150).
  • 24,572 teenagers were confirmed (down 753).
  • 18,684 adults were confirmed (down 469).

In the Christian education category:

  • 3,922 weekday religion classes (down 230).
  • 184,934 students in weekday religion classes (down 13,120).
  • 24,078 non-members in weekday classes (down 2,582).
  • 3,804 vacation Bible schools (down 181).
  • 5,106 Sunday schools (down 224).
  • 423,958 enrolled in Sunday school (down 27,456).

Membership and attendance statistics for 2005 will be included in The Lutheran Annual for 2007, available from Concordia Publishing House by year's end.


At 5:38 PM, Blogger Didymus Williamson, D.D. said...

You wrote that the Synod had an increase of 20 pastors. Not mentioned is that 350 pastors are currently on candidate status, some of which are awaiting calls. One crisis not being mentioned is the number of qualified men not serving congregations, not opening mission starts, etc. The number of vacancies in those midwestern districts that could could be considered core Lutheran is between 3 and 5 percent. Bluntly put, the Synod is no longer able to use the number of pastors available, let alone place future seminary candidates in viable congregations. For pastors and their families the future does not bode well. This is especially true with at least one synodical VP calling for the expanded use of future retiring pastors to subsidize small congregations as well as introducing more bi-vocational ministries into the Synod.

At 5:43 PM, Blogger Didymus Williamson, D.D. said...

The approaching crisis includes far more than dropping membership. You mentioned that while membership was dropping the number of pastors increased. This does not include the 35O candidate pastors who could be serving in congregations. With the number of viable vacancies decreasing (currently between 3 to 5 percent in the core midwestern LCMS districts)and at least one synodical VP suggesting that retiring pastors be used to subsidize smaller congregations as well as introducing a bi-vocational curriculum into the seminaries, the Synod is facing a glut of pastors seeking to serve our Lord but unable to. This needs to be brought out into the open as well as addressed.

At 8:53 PM, Anonymous Lucy Schneider said...

Nor does the continued call for licensing lay ministers make any sense , unless of course the goal is to eliminate the influence of all those trained theologians/pastors who are coming out of the seminaries, which as I recall were critical of Benke and Kieschick's Sept 11 mess. Of course most congregations probably don't rise to this level of strategy, and are likely driven by dollars - wanting to keep them and not have to worry about paying the ox when a dog will do


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