“I used to be a Lutheran, but now I’m a member of a real church,” the man boasted.
We're both Lutheran pastors, so he had our attention. "What do you mean by a real church?" we asked.
"You know," he said. "One where being a Christian actually makes a difference in your life."
We did know because we've heard it said before in various ways: "There's no spirit in the Lutheran church" or "Lutherans don't require their members to do much, so most of them don't."
While we disagree with these generalizations, we have to admit there is some truth behind them. We know of Lutheran churches where the only requirements for membership are that one attends worship at least once a year (that's Christmas or Easter, not both) and makes at least one annual financial contribution (some figure a dollar will do). These congregations aren't exactly asking a lot of their members.
We do know many faithful Lutherans who tithe and attend worship every week. Statistics reveal that many others participate minimally in the lives of their congregations. (In the U.S. Congregational Life Survey of 2001, 69 percent of worshipers polled at 420 ELCA congregations reported that they usually attend services every week; 18.3 percent, two or three times a month; 2.7 percent, once a month; 1.6 percent, less than once a month; 1.8 percent, hardly ever/special occasions only; 2 percent, first time; and 4.6 percent more than once a week.)
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